Mail-Order Ducks

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If you want to get connected in your community with good people, grow a garden – it’s a natural conversation starter.  If I’m out in my driveway or on the front porch, people passing by might give a friendly hello, but when I’m in the backyard garden, folks stop and TALK. These conversations often begin with the visitor leaning over the fence and saying, “You know, when I was a kid, my parents/grandparents had an amazing garden. They grew… ”

If they don’t ask about the garden first, they ALWAYS ask about our ducks. Who expects to see ducks right in the city… in downtown no less? And our ducks look pretty unusual to most people. Our ducks are heritage breeds instead of common mallards… breeds like Welsh Harlequin, Blue Swedish, Cayuga, and Buff Orpington.

Then there is the “star” of our garden… the duck EVERYONE asks about – Miss Muffet’s White Crested, “Bingo.”

Bingo, our White Crested, in top center.

“Look at the funny hat on that duck!”

“Wow, that duck looks like Beethoven!”

“Why does it have all of that hair on its head?”

 

As you may remember from a previous post, last summer we decided to tackle our slug problems head-on by getting some ducks. I was having trouble sourcing local ducklings for sale that weren’t mallards (which could fly above our fence) or muscovies (a duck with serious claws that might hurt our toddlers).

After a lot of research, I decided to order duck hatchlings from Metzer Farms, across the country in California. I was a little worried about ordering our little ducklings from so far away, but Metzer Farms’ impeccable reputation set me at ease.

We decided to order four female ducks, and since we had no experience with any breeds other than mallards, we would each choose a different type. It was fun sitting at the computer with the girls, looking at pictures from Metzer Farms’ online catalog, dreaming about the ducks we would choose. When the White-Crested photo popped up on the screen, Miss Muffet immediately knew that this would be her duck.

As I tucked her into the bed that night, she yawned, “I’m going to name her “Bingo.”

 

About a month later, the shipping date for our ducks had arrived. Metzer Farms ships just-hatched ducklings on Monday mornings, a little bit of insurance so that in case of a shipping delay, at least it won’t last over a weekend. Tuesday came and I anxiously awaited the call from the post office… no ducks. Wednesday came and I called the post office… no ducks. They had been delayed in shipping; stuck in Lexington, KY, they wouldn’t be shipped until the following day.

Panic set in. Newly-hatched ducklings are fine in a box for a day or so, continuing to get nourishment from the remnants of their yolk sac. But over 3 days in a shipping container? There could be casualties.

What did I do? I loaded Miss Muffet in the car and we made for Lexington. We would intercept the shipment at the mail distribution center and save the ducks.

Miss Muffet smiles down on her little ducklings, intercepted at the Lexington USPS distribution center. Here we’ve placed them into a larger box with fresh water and heating pad (charged with the car’s cigarette lighter).

Back home, the girls were dying to pet the ducks. I explained that we needed to wait a few days, that the ducklings were already stressed enough from the trip. Bingo in particular looked REALLY stressed.

Bingo wouldn’t eat or drink. She stayed away from the other ducks, who would occasionally come over and peck on her. I decided that she needed to be separated from them.

The next day, Bingo was looking worse. I called Metzer Farms. They were incredibly helpful and offered to ship another duck should Bingo not survive, even though the shipping problem wasn’t their fault. It didn’t sound hopeful.

Desperate to save Bingo, I tried giving her some Pedialyte from a small bowl, followed by a medicine dropper; she didn’t even try to drink it. I picked her up from the box and held her under my jacket to make sure she was warm enough.

Miss Muffet came in the room, excited to see that we were finally holding the ducks. “Can I, Mom?”

I cupped my daughter’s hand in mind – Bingo fit perfectly in her tiny palm.

 

And then I saw it… That final long last breath.

Bingo was dead.

 

Try explaining to a toddler that their pet, a pet that they never even got to hold until that very moment, is dead. Try also explaining death at that moment, to this same toddler who has no concept of it. I did, and it broke my heart!

To this point in my life, I had just heard of the expression, “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Now I was seeing it.

“Bingo! I want my Bingo back!” she cried. She was inconsolable.

 

As much as I mourned Bingo and tried to comfort my daughter, I was also feeling a little sorry for myself. Tomorrow was a full day at work – my busiest day of lectures for the year. So I did what any other rational working mother would do when faced with the prospect of a sleepless night with a crying toddler… I lied.

“Did you see that? Bingo looks better. I think I was wrong; she’s just very sick.” I was committed now. How on earth was I going to get myself out of this one?

 

“I bet she needs her mommy,” sobbed Miss Muffet.

Bingo! Here was my way out.

“Yes, yes. She does need her mother. But her mother is all the way in California. Should we put Bingo outside so we can let her fly home to California and get better?”

 

Miss Muffet gently placed Bingo outside the kitchen door. “Bye, Bingo! Come back when you feel better!”

I picked Miss M up, gave her a hug, and carried her back inside.

Pa Hubbard watched us come in the door. I nodded in the direction of the dead duck, and mouthed emphatically, “Go get rid of it RIGHT NOW!”

 

As I placed Miss M in her bed, the wailing commenced anew. “I want Bingo. Bring back my Bingo!”

I carried her to the kitchen door. “See, Bingo has already left. It doesn’t take long to get to California. I bet she’ll be back in a week.”

Miss Muffet smiled and waved to the night sky.

 

The following Monday, Bingo II departed from California. Again, Tuesday came without any word from the post office. The office manager explained that they usually received mail at around 3 in the morning. If I wanted to, I could call the post office then and pick up Bingo as early as I wished.

 

But Bingo didn’t arrive… the shipment had been delayed again and they would try to locate it. I explained the death of the first Bingo and my daughter’s heartbreak to the postman. I was really panicked at the thought of losing another duckling.

Mid-morning, I received a call from the post office. A mail carrier with a very soft heart was going to drive many miles out of their way to intercept the package, otherwise it would be delivered too late. My friends, the people of the U.S. Postal Service deliver to you!

 

I nervously opened the package. Two cute healthy ducklings peeped back at me.

Two.

Are you my mother?

 

Metzer Farms will not ship just one duckling (newly hatched ducklings are unable to maintain their body heat alone). They had included a duck free of charge. These “bonus” ducks aren’t sexed, and the breed isn’t noted. My friend, Naomi, herself now living in California, suggested the perfect name: “Mystery.” I secretly hoped this duck would be a “Miss Tery,” so we would have even more eggs than planned.

Reunited.

 

The new Bingo thrived, as well as the other ducks. We kept them indoors in a huge duck palace constructed of moving boxes until they were about 4 weeks old, occasionally letting them have a swim in the bathtub.

The duck palace, with heat lamp and filled with corncob bedding.

Another view. In case of any water spills (ducks can be messy), we lined the bottom of the palace with plastic to protect the floor.

Miss Muffet helps the ducks take their first swim (although ducks don’t need a backyard pond… just a water bowl deep enough to dunk their head into to stay healthy).

 

Miss Muffet, once scared of worms and slugs, now reveled in catching them and feeding her ducks. We gave them fresh tomatoes from the garden, and in the late winter let them feast on the less-palatable aging greens in the upper part of the garden. They were a delight to watch.

There was a girl that had a duck, and Bingo was its name-o…

 

In early March we got our first egg. A few weeks later, they were regularly laying four to six eggs a day.

Every egg is different. The largest eggs frequently contain double yolks.

 

Today, I can’t imagine our backyard without its little badling of ducks. They play in the sprinklers with the girls in summer. They line up at the duck fence while I work in the garden, hoping for a handout.

Ducks and girls cooling off on a hot summer day.

 

The ducks are incredibly entertaining and each has a unique personality. Sarsaparilla, Pa Hubbard’s black Cayuga, is the loud-mouthed rebel. Coco, my freckled Welsh Harlequin, is incredibly sweet and a little nervous. Nee-Nee Quack-Quack, Bo Peep’s gray Blue Swedish, is the broody one, frequently laying eggs outside the duck house or trying to hatch a rock. Bingo is their courageous leader, usually the first in the duck house at night, or the first to explore new areas when I move duck fence in the garden.

 

Our Buff Orpington, the bonus duck? Well, as Miss Muffet explained to a complete stranger one day, “That duck is a pest… It hops on every other duck in the yard.” It’s taken us awhile, but we’ve grown to love “Mister E” too.

 

If you would like to learn more about raising backyard ducks, subscribe to my blog… future articles will cover feeding, general care, and Pa Hubbard’s duck house plans. In the meantime, please visit Metzer Farms’ website, which contains a wealth of information. Should you wish to raise ducklings, I highly recommend them to you – they breed quality ducks and have exceptional customer service. I also highly recommend Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks, by Dave Holderread, for more detailed information about duck breeds and care.

 

3 Comments

  1. darlene

    November 19, 2012 at 5:26 am

    It is amazing what we do as “Mommies” when it comes to our children. Although I taught my children to never “lie”, I believe this was one of those times when a small white lie was allowable to keep from breaking that little girls heart! I loved reading this!

  2. Tyler Danke

    November 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Congratulations on your beautiful ducklings

  3. Ma's little sis

    November 25, 2012 at 8:31 am

    I still like Mystery lol!! He is funny. Miss M was so brave. Tis why I refuse to buy anything for her cousin. Toto is more than enough!