I really hate to say this but I’m beginning to think my ducks, well , a couple of them, at any rate, are smarter than my cats. (Sssssh, don’t tell them I said that! Mrrrrowwww! Too late.) The reason for this re-assessment of acuity? Once the ducks realized the way to get out of the garage and into the world of fresh grass and bugs involved getting into the cat carrier, they just up and did it. Walked themselves into the carrier. Just like that. Well, almost just like that. Yes, it took a few times for them to learn and no, they don’t do it each and every time. But they do it often enough that I am reassessing species comparative IQs.*
Now don’t send me emails about your cat that uses a toilet. I know cats, have had cats forever and recognize they could very well walk themselves into a carrier if they darn well felt like it. But, as we know, by the time you wait for them to feel like it, they will be old and gray–or you will. And the vet or the kennel or the plane waits for no cat. Sometimes you just need a duck to get somewhere. And my ducks will sit there, like, er, sitting ducks and just cooperate. That can be kinda nice, actually.
All this meandering to say I had a slim but real hope that my girls might be willing to waddle up a ramp and get inside a coop, even one meant for chickens. When I first signed up for Mission Impossible: Duck House, I wasn’t totally sure. What I really wanted from those pre-built models was not so much coop as pen. Remember the coop is basically a fancy chicken condo for sleeping, sheltering and egg-laying, kibble and water on the side. Since a duck prefers to sleep on the ground, needs far less shelter from the elements, probably won’t lay an egg in a nest box and can forage and chow down outside if necessary, the coop becomes a fancy poop container with all its attendant muck-out duties. In fact, we have seen duck owners make do without a coop (mercy!) and the ducks appear to be (webbed)footloose and fancy-free.
With our ever-present Raccoon Issues, though, I just can’t go coop-less. Or, at least, not pen-less. It’s the pen that I really was after; the coop came with it whether I wanted it or needed it. In fact, I had already made calls to a variety of coop-sellers asking if they had runs they could sell separately but the ones I spoke to said “nope.” That is, they had them but they were for daytime use only, were not predator-proof and most were designed to attach directly to the coop (in other words, they opened wide on one end—not very raccoon-resistant.)
And they were too small. The biggest ones were tall rather than long which didn’t buy me the requisite floor space for five ducks. Plus, they were often pretty pricey. They ranged, not free, from about $500 to several thousand (but some had free shipping!) I even went so far as to try and design my own coop for a carpenter to custom-build. When you have to consider building permits while discussing where your five dollar ducks are sleeping, something is seriously out of whack. I took a deep breath and went back to browsing.
One of the more intriguing chicken-ready designs I encountered came not through endless web searching but through assisted serendipity. Having been referred by two different people in two different parts of the county I discovered our very own Westchester Duck Mavens, the Zanders of Running Duck Farm. Peter Zander and his daughter, Clara—a young woman with duckspertise beyond her years!—very kindly walked me through some of the ins and outs of waterfowl husbandry. Peter also designed and sells what has to be the wonkiest coop ever. The top of the line model Front Yard Coop is solar-powered, self-propelled, secure and stylish. You can even choose your own Benjamin Moore color for the siding. (Did I mention this is in Martha Stewart country?!) It features an optional built-in electric fence which many experienced duck raisers emphasize is the best way to truly secure your animals from predators. As much as I strongly considered owning the Al Gore version of a henhouse (I said wonky, right?), we agreed in the end that it was too small for my specific situation. Sigh.
At this point, we have reached early April, about two weeks before the arrival of the long-awaited soon-to-be ducks. Lest you think I am cutting this a tad close, please realize we wouldn’t be putting our girls in the yard right away. In fact, they couldn’t sleep out until they were fully feathered and the weather clear of all chance of frost (mid-May.) But I had a self-imposed deadline. We were going away for spring break and I wanted to get this all sorted beforehand so I could actually enjoy my vacation.
On the day I finally came across the model I eventually bought, my mom, all excited, called to tell me about a $99 Amish coop special available in her neck of the woods. Tempting, but by then, I was already smitten with this other option. Not to draw this out too much more but in Part III, I will introduce you to the chicken pen/coop we currently have perched in our backyard. Meanwhile, here’s a teaser photo of Coop X:
Gotta go. It’s time to get the girls out. Those worms aren’t gonna eat themselves….
*By the way, one of my cats does go into her carrier every once in a while, too. That’s right, the female. No further comment.
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes