TRUSTED NEWS LEADER FOR COTTONWOOD, CAMP VERDE & THE VERDE VALLEY
Thu, May 23

Life in the Slow Lane: 'Too Stinking Cute'

I gotta ask. Are these not the most stinkingly cute critters you're ever seen? Ducklings! I got ducklings and it's not even Easter yet.

I've been wanting to raise ducks for almost ten years, from the moment the stock pond went in. Why? Because it's seriously cool to have a pond filled with cattails, lined with mint and water irises that has a flock of white ducks gliding around in it.

Okay, that's one reason, but the real reason I've wanted ducks is for snail and slug patrol. I cannot believe how many snails live on this property. Yes, here in Arizona! As for slugs, sometimes I think I've moved to the Amazon rain forest. I swear I've got banana slugs. Some of them are longer than my hand. Along with the rollie-pollie bugs, otherwise known as pill or sow bugs (and which aren't really bugs but crustaceans), the snails and slugs wreak havoc in my gardens. I'm told that ducks love to eat all three.

The reason I haven't been successful bringing ducks onto the property is Moosie. Moosie wants to kill ducks almost as much as he wants to (and

does) kill raccoons. He's over 30 coons now. I blame this blood lust on his first experience with ducks. He wasn't more than 4 months old when a pair of wild ducks visited the pond. Moosie stood at the edge of the pond watching them, his head tilted to one side, then stepped out onto the water's surface as if he expected it to be solid. Needless to say, he sank like a stone. (And needless to say I roared with laughter.) From that moment on he's made it his mission to drive off all ducks.

You may recall that I made an attempt to bring in ducks a few years back when my friend Su gave me her last three Rowan ducks. To prevent a Moosie mistake, I fenced in the pond. Although Moosie didn't get to them, life occurred. One of the drakes made it to the ditch and swam off while I'm guessing the hen was taken by an otter. Su took the lonely drake home and an owl took him. That escapee drake may still be alive. I think he went off to mate with a wild mallard. I think it's he who returns to the pond each winter, bringing his new family with him. This has been a good thing, because the more often the ducks appear, the more Moosie gets accustomed to seeing them and the more chances I get to point at them and inform Moosie "these are mine and you can't kill them."

Earlier this year I began buying duck eggs from another farmer-friend, Lu, and fell in love with their taste. They're higher in protein than chicken eggs --it's actually a different protein and folks who are allergic to chicken eggs can often tolerate duck eggs-- and make excellent omelets. A month ago Lu informed me she was putting a clutch of duck eggs into the incubator and did I want some ducklings? I immediately said yes even though I knew as I spoke the word that I have some serious hurdles in front of me if I'm going to successfully raise waterbirds. Clearly, keeping them in the pond, while aesthetically pleasing, isn't going to work. More importantly, keeping them in the pond isn't going to help me with one of my most difficult gardening problems and the reason I wanted ducks in the first place.

You see, ducks love to eat snails and slugs. Yes, here in dry Arizona, I don't just have snails, I have slugs that are the length of my hand. I swear that my slugs are the same ones found in the Amazonian rain forest. I'm also told that ducks enjoy rollie-pollie bugs, otherwise known as pill or sow bugs, which are actually not bugs at all but crustaceans, and those I have by the million. So what I really need is ducks living in a mobile coop that I can position in the garden where and when I need it.

That brings me to my six-week-old chicks. I had to move them from the brooder coop to make room for the ducks. Since they're still small enough to get through chain link, I put them in the mobile coop I built last summer, the one June the Cow broke into just because she could.

Rather than replace the cow-smashed door, I fixed it, the fix consisting of drilling a hole through the separated pieces then wiring them together. Hey, it worked. Actually, the latch even aligns better. More importantly, the little hens fell in love with it. They get so excited when they realize their house on wheels is about to move. They all rush to the front of coop, wanting to be the first to reach the fresh grass and untouched soil.

So even though it makes me sad that I won't see my ducks gliding across the water of the pond, I think I will be happier and they will be safer if they're cooped up. That means sometime next month I'm going to once again enter the barn and once more risk my ability to type by using power tools as I attempt to make a duck-friendly mobile coop. Until then, I'm going to keep visiting the ducklings a few times a day.

I don't care that they cringe when they see me coming. I don't care that they try to hide under each other as I reach out to catch one of them. I don't care that the one I catch is screaming in duck, "Help! She's going to hug me!" They are just so stinking cute!

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