|Abigail and Margaret moved to
our farm this spring from town, where they were raised from
ducklings in a bath tub. Abigail grew up to be a male pekin,
which didn't quite fit with the female-centric name. He
doesn't seem to mind a bit. Margaret grew up to be a female
rouen with a loud "QUACK quack quack quack" laugh that
sounded way too cartoon to be real.
Ducks need water and they quickly outgrew their little swimming pool. We dug them a small pond where the drain from the patio could drain into it. An enormous amount of water runs off the back yard and roof of the house through that drain. Even a light rain results in considerable fresh water directed into the pond, which helps to keep it from becoming too stagnant.
Directing that outflow into the pond also solved a pressing problem that resulted from finishing the patio. A persistent mud hole developed in front of the gate to the chicken yard, downhill from the end of the patio drain, making daily access to the chicken yard a mess.
At the back side of the pond is an overflow drain that directs excess "fortified" pond water through the greenery behind the pond. That greenery is almost entirely wild plums that have a sweet candy flavor, sort of like a red SweetTart. The ones in the pond outflow zone are plump and juicy this year, at least twice the size of the plums that grow just outside that zone. The water seeps across the ground through the tree strip, eventually into a bean field; there are no natural water flows or bodies within miles that could be contaminated by escaping fish.
The pond is out in the open where it gets blasted by the sun for most of the day. We built a dock to provide shade for ducks and fish. The dock was built entirely from materials reclaimed from an old deck that was removed from the house during renovations. Even the screws came from the old deck. The bolted truss pieces were still intact and just needed minor adjustments to the leg lengths. There used to be a huge pile of the trusses; we saved two of them when all the construction debris was removed, for this purpose.
These pictures are mostly from the fourth of July. The duck pond was a popular place to blow stuff up.
I stopped at the garden store one day and bought twenty five feeder fish. I don't remember what they were called. They looked kind of like little gold fish. We threw them into the pond to help keep the bugs down. We also ordered six Mosquito Fish online because they are supposed to eat lots of mosquito larvae.
During the preceding winter I took a pair of black mollies from our big aquarium and put them into a smaller aquarium of their own so the bigger Discus might not eat their babies. Those mollies had a batch of babies that was stunning. I was used to seeing two or three little black mollies after the mother gave birth so I wasn't prepared when it appeared that the entire bottom of the aquarium moved as fifty tiny baby mollies schooled in unison just above the sand. Those mollies were getting about medium size when we built the pond, so that's where they went, into the pond.
A few other fish had overstayed their welcome in the big aquarium so they were "set free" into the pond. Those comprised seven silver dollars that we got at Wal Mart and a plecostomus. The silver dollars were barely the size of a quarter when we bought them and they grew to be six inch diameter ravenous plant eaters; no plant was safe from these herbivorous close cousins to Piranha. The other fish to move to the pond was Big Fish, a huge plecostomus that moved to the farm from the city with us; the irony with Big Fish is that he was the reason we bought the big 160 gallon aquarium in the first place. He just grew too big; his long turds would drape across everything in the tank, making it look awful within a day of every cleaning. We had also read that pleco's don't eat that much algae after they get big; don't believe it!
Big Fish got the last laugh when the big aquarium was overrun by brown algae that coated everything in a thick fuzzy layer. The plants were choking to death from being coated so thickly with algae and the walls of the tank became hard to see through, in only a short time. We got seven algae eating catfish that all died, about one a day, over the course of a week with no noticeable impact on the algae. We got two tiny baby pleco's and within a few days they had polished every leaf of every plant so that it was bright and healthy and green. Every rock, statue and urn was cleaned as if it had been individually removed and washed.
By the middle of summer the fish in the pond were thriving. Frogs showed up, bags in hand, and joined the party. I like frogs; they're much cooler than toads, of which we already had plenty. It became common to see large schools of mollies and mosquito fish floating at the surface, often schooling together. The ducks go after them and I have to assume they eat their fair share. The pond should be deep enough to keep from freezing solid this winter so it will be fun to see if any of the fish make it until spring. Chicken Little said, as usual, this winter was going to be worse than ever, colder, longer, snowier, you name it; we'll see.
The ducks became like pets, coming to wherever we were working in the yard or garden. They seemed to like the company of us and the dogs but not the chickens so much. On more than one occasion, we saw Abigail chasing chickens out of their area when he and Margaret were in the yard. At some point they stopped going back into the chicken coop at night, preferring instead to spend the night on or near the pond.
One mid summer day, sunny warm and breezy, Margaret turned to Abigail and said with a dreamy voice, "Oh Abigail, I just love it here. Let's raise a family together." Margaret built a nest under a large Lilac bush next to the old wagon and lined it with down plucked from her breast. She laid half a dozen eggs and started sitting on them. Poor Abigail hardly got to see her once a day when she would leave the nest for a short time and come down to the pond with him. Their time together was always cut short when she had to return to the nest.
Several days of this routine passed so it felt odd when we didn't see Margaret for a couple of days. We looked in her nest only to find it torn apart and the eggs scattered and broken in a trail from the nest to where Paula found her feathers. One of many possible night-time predators got her, most likely a fox given the pattern of her death.
This was heartbreaking as the ducks had grown on us strongly. They are fun and funny, way more personality than a chicken. This is why we decided to build the duck coop. A little wind mill by the pond sounded fun. After a bit of planning, the duck coop took a full week to build with both of us working on it all day every day, so many little details. It's a shame Margaret doesn't get to raise her ducklings there.
Ducks need companionship or they will die. The duck coop is finished and we are waiting to populate it with some more ducks. New ducklings will be arriving in mid October from Murray McMurray Hatcheries. This is a little later than we would have expected Margaret to hatch her eggs. We ordered two female pekins for Abigail and three rouens, a male and two females. Hopefully, Abigail will keep up his quacky happy-go-lucky attitude until the big surprise arrives.
The little mill with the rounded door is kind of whimsical. Perhaps we need a large gnome near the front door.
Duck Coop Wind Mill
Polite comments are welcome.