Oh dear. We have acquired a duckling.
It’s not our fault! We forbade ourselves from having any kind of pet until next year, after we’d had time to settle in. We surely don’t need more commitments during this busy phase. But this little fellow dropped into our laps on the very day we moved to the farm! Such serendipity is hard to brush off.
A duckling is one of the most adorable baby animals – everyone knows this is fact – so how can we be expected to have turned it away? We take no responsibility for our choices in light of such will-crippling cuteness.
That’s Char’s little sister, Aria. She and her mum were en route to the farm, towing a horse-float filled with our furniture. When they stopped for lunch near a pond, Aria found the duckling abandoned “in mud and covered in bugs”. She briskly rescued it, and when she turned up later that day at our farm, presented us with the sweet little orphan. As they live in the city with a dog (who had a taste for duckling in the past), it was decided that the best place to rear the little guy (we’ll assume its a dude for now) was our farm.
The duckling survival rate is pretty low, and without proper attention it’s quite easy for them to perish. We immediately jumped on the net and did some reading. The most common cause of death, it turns out, is hypothermia. You’ve got to keep your duckling warm! Without the comfort of a mumma-duck’s insulating down to snuggle into, it’s imperative that the duckling is kept toasty, usually under a heat lamp, or, if you’re willing, in your perpetual embrace:
We didn’t have anything suitable, so for the first couple of nights we kept it in the hot water cupboard atop a hot water bottle in a box. It was fine the first night, but the second night it somehow fell out of its box. When we found it that morning it was limp. Couldn’t even hold its head up. We were distraught. We thought we’d lost it. For an hour or so we sat with it in the warm sun and administered egg diluted in water with a bit of sugar mixed in. To our relief the poor little guy came right. That day we took a trip into Hamilton to pick up some chick-starter food and a few supplies, including a lamp to keep the duckling warm overnight.
By this stage we had affectionately named the wee thing “Echo”. Echo loves egg. We boil it and mash it up for him and he gobbles it down. We’ve also made a blend of spinach, oats, corn meal, and chick-starter feed. We chuck some brewer’s yeast into the mix, which contains niacin. This is to prevent a deformity called “Spraddle Leg”.
His favourite food, hands down, is live blowflies. They’re dopey enough for us to catch by hand, and he gets beside himself with excitement when he sees us reaching down with a fat crunchy insect for him to devour. Better yet, if there’s blowflies on the windows, he can catch them himself, providing you hold him like a little duckling gun:
Echo is super active. He’s quicker than you’d think, and runs around us so fast that we lose sight of him. When he loses sight of us for whatever reason, he immediately sounds his ear-piercing alarm, and continues to do so (annoyingly) until he feels safe again. Sometimes I think he does it just to be a little shit.
When he’s not snuggling into a poop-covered towel in a little box we made him, he frequently accompanies us on trips to the garden. He’s an avid gardener himself. Oi, not the basil!
When he’s fully-grown, hopefully he’ll stick around to keep our garden free of slugs.
He took to swimming like, well, like a duck to water. He’s a boat with legs.
The first thing we do in our nice new pool is, of course, poop.
When we’ve had enough of swimming in our own faeces, we find the most awkward and alarming way to get out.
Feeling sorry for the lonely little guy, we put a mirror in his crib. He pecked it a few times, but quickly made friends. We catch him from time to time peering longingly into his twin’s eyes.
We’ve had Echo for two weeks now, and it’s amazing how fast he’s grown. He doubled in weight in three days. He’s beginning to shed his soft duckling down and starting to look like a gangly teenager. He’s preening with the use of his oil gland now, too, which makes his feathers hydrophobic. It’s fascinating watching water just bead off him. When he dives under, his body is encased by a thin film of silvery air. It’s great that none of this instinctive behaviour needs to be taught.
What a pleasurable waste of time it is caring for a duckling, or any defenceless baby animal for that matter. You can watch them explore the world for hours. And what a handsome photographic subject!
Echo’s getting big. He’ll be too big for his little cardboard box soon. He’s taken to sifting his water, which seeps right through the cardboard to the floor. He poops A LOT. As such, this cute little nightmare is starting to stink out the house. Egg, poop, water, feathers… it all adds up to one pungent duckling. So, yesterday I built him a run. Outside.
Yes, that’s Char in there. I’m keeping her outside, too.
He has some steps up to his own swimming pool, a spacious area for running around, and a watertight home filled with straw for keeping cosy. Not a bad pad for an orphaned duckling! He’ll start by spending the day outside, but we’ll continue to bring him in at night while he’s young. In a week or so he’ll be big enough to sleep out there. Hopefully like any teenager he will relish his independence.
What will the future hold for little Echo? Will he hang around the farm once he’s come of age? Will he remain tame and affectionate? Will he fly off to mate and return every now and then? Will he be a “he” at all? As is the business of blogs, we will keep you posted!
In any case, what better way to celebrate our new path in life with new life itself.
Welcome to the farm, Echo!