As you may recall from the beginning of the saga, my husband, Andrew, has been deeply skeptical of this whole venture. He’s a lifelong cat lover but otherwise not really into animals, neither furry nor feathered. So my whole “let’s convert this place to a nature center project” is something he tolerates rather than promotes. He does enjoy the garden fresh cooking (excuse me, hon, while I trim some tarragon, la di dah) but he doesn’t really have any experience, or interest, in dirt. His one attempt to use my new push mower last summer ended in disaster but that wasn’t his fault, really. I put it together out of a box, had some issues with the bolts…whole ’nother story.
Andrew is a screens man and I don’t mean the kind that keep out mosquitoes. He prefers to relax in front of his not-too-big TV, on the laptop or, if pressed, on the micro-screen of his BlackBerry, playing micro-poker (for micro-stakes, I guess.) To chill out, I prefer to wield my favorite dandelion weeder * or to push around the aforementioned hinky mower or to merely sit on my suburban stoop and watch things. I guess it’s hard to get the Philly out of a gal.
All of which means he didn’t growl too much when we first laid out the D-Day plan but it’s also fair to say I’d been kind of anxious about this initial meeting of Ducks and Spouse. As it happened, he managed (created a reason?) to be out of town the week we were expecting the hatchlings. In the end, it worked out easier for me–one less mouth to feed. And that’s no small thing now that I would have three humans, two cats and six ducks to consider!
Andrew rolled in after midnight on Day Two and apparently abided by my email request to “leave the ducks alone.” Now, the next morning, I try to control my excitement about the introduction but end up chattering on about some of the challenges while attempting to give the impression that everything’s hunky dory. He’s deep into his pre-work departure routine—check email, check cable business news, put on shoes—but agrees to take a peek at the peepsters on his way out. I had already checked on the girls while he was getting ready and had left them merrily drinking and eating in the pen. I lead him into the garage and over to the enclosure, ta daaa! And there is Gladys flat on her back, flailing under the brooder lamp. The other ducklings are huddled together, keeping an aloof distance. It’s absolutely pathetic and as I lean over to help her right herself, Andrew walks away.
“Don’t spend too much,” he says, and then leaves for the train.
Of course, I’m crushed. Luckily, the daily AM panic of getting the cats fed and watered, breakfast made, and Pamela up, fed and off to school (yes, in that order) doesn’t allow me the luxury of disappointment. And, in a reverse of the car that rattles only when the mechanic is not around, Gladys is immediately better when everyone else leaves. She feeds herself easily and sleeps peaceably with the rest of the bunch as they settle in for their post-meal nap. Guess it’s safe to say she gets a slow start in the morning.
So while the babies sleep, time for some avian housekeeping. It’s only three days in but already I can see the wisdom of placing the watering bowls on some kind of platform, to cut down (a tad) on the sloppiness factor. (It’s not the ducks’ fault. They’re waterfowl, not puppies! Although, come to think of it, puppies are pretty messy, too.) I enlarge the cardboard walls of the pen to the maximum, trying not to think too hard about where we go from here, size wise. This gives me just enough room to add the plastic grille from Premier 1. (I bought two–one for the feeder, to use outside– but at this point I just use both with the waterer. I swap out the dirty one for the backup clean one and then alternate.)
The hole in the middle is too large for the smaller watering container not to fall through so I continue to use the lid of a cookie tin as a base. The instant next problem is that the height of the grille is about 2 inches and although the other ducklings have no issue getting to the water, Gladys probably will. The solution? Create a slope around the edge with extra bedding. In a couple of minutes, I see that this works well.
But it raises the question of accommodation. Thorny. Queasy-making. As a newbie hobbyist, not from farmer stock (my mother’s own adventures with chickens, sheep and guinea hens notwithstanding), I have a tendency to over-analyze what surely must be automatic to those with more experience. So….today’s Big Questions:
- How much should I coddle Gladys?
- How much should I let nature take its course?
- How much should I give preference to Gladys’ needs over her pen-mates?
Jeez, can I not lapse into philosophy while mucking out the pine shavings? What a poultry poseur! If I don’t feed them the right crumble, they’ll never get into a good flock! I stop musing and keep mucking.
And, that night, when Andrew comes home, he asks first about Gladys.
* A shout-out here for Grandpa’s Weeder, a nifty device that you stab into the heart of the dandelion (take that!), step on the foot pedal, twist and yank. Totally easy once you get the hang of it.
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes