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A few weeks ago my Muscovy hen, Goldie, hatched out four adorable ducklings. Three yellow chicks and one brown. Goldie is a dedicated mama duck and has spent the past few weeks tentatively caring for her babies. They follow her everywhere. Such a privilege to watch her teach them how to eat, drink and be a duck.
Check out the videos below to see what I mean.
Like I said at the start of this post, I’ve lost 3 out of the 4 ducklings. By lost I do not mean they died (though they probably did); I mean that I do not know where they are.
Each morning, as the sun is rising, I head out to the barn to tend to the ducks. This routine involves opening all the doors to the barn and the doors to the stall that the ducks/ducklings stay the night in. Since their birth, each morning I open the stall Goldie and the ducklings are patiently waiting at the door. I slide the door open and they sprint to the mini pond at the back of the barn. The pitter patter of duckling feet across the floor in the morning is a divine way to start each day.
After the ducks are released I take my daily video of the sunrise over the back pastures and get started on cleaning the barn. I have 16 ducks. They are free range and can go wherever they want, but they choose to hang out in the barn. As a result of their spending all day in the barn they poop all over the barn. 16 ducks worth of poop. So, after the ducks are released from the stall I start hosing down the floors, refilling the pools and giving the ducks their food.
Well, earlier this week I opened the stall and Goldie and her 4 ducklings came running out. As I always do, I immediately filmed the sunrise and then returned to start my morning routine.
Uh oh….I only count three ducks. This happens sometimes. A duckling gets separated from the flock and cries out for mama and then Goldie tracks them down and brings them back. But I don’t hear any duckling chirps. I immediately start searching the barn. The ducklings are little so there are numerous places they could hide or get stuck. I searched them all. No duckling.
What happened to it? Where did it go? If an animal had come in I would have heard the ducks (I do have 16 after all) react in some way. I found no blood. I found no feathers. Goldie did not appear upset. What the duck?!
And then there were three.
The next few days are just like any other – I go to the barn, let the ducks out, clean everything and let them roam free. Goldie and the babies do not leave the barn. They can – but I have not seen them more than three feet away from the barn. I like that they do not wander. Hawks live in the yard and have been very visible lately. Staying near the barn will keep them safe from the flying predators.
The other night when I went to close the barn up I realized another ducklings was missing. There were three feather babies when I let them out in the morning, but as the sun is setting I only count two. Goldie is fiercely protecting the two ducklings she has. Very territorial when I come in to close the stall doors.
But where is her duckling? I search the barn again to see if the baby is stuck somewhere. I found a dead barn swallow and some huge spiders, but no duckling. What the duck?!
So, last night, I tucked Goldie and her two babies into the stall as I always do. This morning – only one duckling.
No blood. No feathers. No corpse. No indication that any predator was in the stall.
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I live a charmed life. I am reminded of this fact every morning when I go outside. I’m surrounded by the tranquil sights and sounds of nature. After all, I basically live in the middle of the woods. Deer hang out in the yard, a Blue Heron is living in the pond and a family of Beavers call our wetlands home.
The cherry on top of the charmed sundae I call my life though, are my Muscovy Ducks and Bronze Turkey. Until a year ago I didn’t even know Muscovy Ducks or Bronze Turkeys existed, much less believed I would ever call them my friends. These quirky feather friends continue to take me on new adventures each and every day.
The birds teach great life lessons and are actually wonderful role models for me.
The ducks welcoming the turkey, Gladys, into their flock reminds me of the importance of welcoming others into my circle and accepting people as they are.
Seeing Amelia Air Duck build a nest in an empty box in the barn (instead of in the nesting box I built her) teaches me to think outside of the box. (Haha…a duck in a box inspires me to think outside of the box.)
And watching Gladys stay near the barn for over a month after she was attacked (neighbor dog ripped out all her feathers on her back and breast) instead of heading to the pond with her duck friends highlighted the importance of taking care of myself.
The Muscovy Ducks and Bronze Turkey of Functional Rustic teach me a lot about ducks and turkeys too. For instance, Muscovy duck eggs are twice the size of extra large chicken eggs and a bronze turkey egg is twice the size of the Muscovy egg.
Today’s lesson from the Muscovy Ducks was also about eggs – making the eggs that is. That’s right folks, I’ve got duck porn for you!
The morning started out normal enough. I was filming the sunrise and decided to get some video of the birds. Usually these videos are of them wiggling their butts, eating or swimming – duck stuff. Today though, I happened upon Brutus, Goldie and Amelia Air Duck in a duck ménages à trois.
So here is how I think this all happened. Amelia Air Duck started to lay eggs in an empty box in the barn again. Yesterday I cleaned out her nest so I could eat them. Realizing that her nest is no longer safe (someone did steal all of her eggs after all!) she needed a new, safe place to lay her eggs.
Goldie, the other Muscovy Hen, is currently sitting on eggs. I theorize that Amelia Air Duck decided that laying her egg onto Goldie’s nest would keep her egg safe. The flaw in that plan though, is that Goldie is not just gonna get off her eggs because Amelia wants her to. So, again I am just theorizing, Amelia just climbs on top of Goldie and lays the egg on top of Goldie.
However, while Amelia Air Duck is trying to pop one out Brutus sees a great opportunity to pop one in – so to speak. When I walk on the scene all I see is Goldie on her eggs, Amelia Air Duck on top of Goldie and Brutus on top of Amelia – duck humping his little heart out.
I still can’t believe how fresh that egg was. It was hot, not warm, hot. And wet. So fresh it had duck juices on it. I didn’t even know that fluids were involved. Now that I think about it though, I’m quite happy to learn that my little ladies have some lubrication to get their eggs out.
To round out the morning it only seemed fitting to get at least one video that wasn’t pornographic. The video below is a typical morning in the Functional Rustic Barn – birds eating while I fill the pool and hose out the barn. Once the coffee is made I fill up my cup and head out the barn see what lessons are to be learned that day.
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Oh No! There is a turkey on the duck nest! Before I share that video though, let’s explore the back story.
Goldie is one of the Muscovy hens of Functional Rustic. In the cold of winter 2017 Goldie laid her first clutch of eggs in the nesting box I built. Actually, the nesting box started as the first duck house I built for my feather babies. This was before I learned how huge these colorful birds grow. They grew out of that box within a few weeks!
I don’t have any pictures of the build process because I created it before I started Functional Rustic. The only power tools I owned at the time I built this was a drill.
I already had sheets of plywood that were 2 feet tall and 8 or so feet long. When I tried to saw them the plywood shredded though. Eeek – can’t have that.
My solution, bend the board back and forth near the place I wanted the board cut. I already had part of the board cut before it started to shred. (it was old, cheap plywood) Just as you might break a long stick in half by standing on the middle and then pulling, I did the same with the plywood.
It wasn’t pretty but it actually worked effectively. I did not need clean lines or the boards to be symmetrical. I just needed to be able to make 3 walls and a floor with it. I used my newly ‘cut’ boards for the bottom, sides and back of the box. I put 1 foot length of 2×4 wood in each corner and screwed my plywood to the 2x4s.
Duck enclosures need a lot of air flow and a way for moisture to escape. In the floor of duck house I drilled small holes so that water, duck poo and other liquids can drain out of the bottom. The holes allowed me to later hose down the enclosure when it needed to be cleaned.
For the roof of my enclosure I used a steel screen from a storm door. That screen top actually dictated the size of the house. I felt so clever when I thought of how to repurpose that screen.
My duck house was going to be inside the barn. I used to keep my ducklings running free in a horse stall in the barn but, I learned that small animals can still harm my feather babies in the stall and I needed added protection for small predators. Because my duck house was indoors I did not need a roof to protect from the elements, just small animals.
I liked the stiff metal top because the birds were going to perch on it. I later learned that they will also poop all over it and anything under the screen. Also, steel or not, with enough force everything bends. It was a learning process. Ha.
You’ll notice I am not showing any pictures…..it doesn’t exist anymore. These are some big birds. In no time their fat feathery butts managed to bend the steel screen and separate the walls from the 2x4s.
The front of the duck house was my crowing achievement though. Some of the scrap wood that was left behind when we moved in had grooves carved in them and enabled a sliding door to be built without any hinges or attachments. The top and bottom boards were attached to the 2x4s in the front corners and the “door” slid into the grooves perfectly and allowed me to open and close the duck house by just sliding the door.
My babies were safe at last.
But this isn’t a story about the duck house/nesting box. This is the story of Goldie defending her first clutch of eggs from Gladys the Bronze Turkey.
Goldie laid 12 eggs in the nesting box. I had no idea this was going on until long after she had been sitting on them for awhile. She was still a baby duck in my eyes and I couldn’t fathom my baby having her own babies. Also, it was December in Michigan and well below freezing.
I only figured out what was going on when I realized that I didn’t see her move from that spot for a few days. It was not until she got up to eat one day that saw the eggs. She actually hid them before leaving the nest, but I watched her cover them with straw so her plan was foiled!
The plan with the ducks was always to eat their eggs. I don’t want to be a duck breeder, just a mama. Well, like I said before, I didn’t know she had laid the eggs so I had no clue how long they had been sitting there. No way I was gonna risk eating them and finding a duckling.
So, I got on the google machine and learned a great deal. Apparently, Muscovy ducks are known for being broody hens. Broody is a term used to describe a bird that is nesting and sitting on eggs. Some ducks just lay eggs and abandon them or only sit on them for a short period of time and then leave the nest. The broody hen sits on her eggs all day until they hatch.
A hen cannot easily sit on her eggs and eat and drink and poop all at the same time or in the same place. She must get off the nest at some point.
Fun fact: a broody hen only poops once a day. Normally the duck poops several times an hour. She still eats similar amounts of food and water. She still has the same amount of waste product to expel from her body. However, when she is broody she drops all of that feces at the same time.
That is a big pile of poo. AND….that poo has been stewing and getting extra ripe all day. So, when it comes out you get the smell of an entire days worth of hot crap being shared all at the same time. Absolutely foul. Fortunately she knows it is gross and gets as far from her nest as possible when she does it.
When she gets up for her daily dose of diarrhea she gorges on food and water. My google search taught me that it is good to keep food and water near the broody mom to be to help her stay strong. Food rich in calcium is also suggested to help promote strong egg production.
I noticed that the longer she stayed on her nest the more orange her caruncle was becoming. By this point I found an amazing discussion board called Back Yard Chickens and started to go there for all my duck questions. There I learned that if a Muscovy is lacking in protein their red caruncle will start to lose color. This is normal, apparently, for a broody hen because of the limits on her ability to hunt for protein while nesting.
Even though I knew it was normal, I felt like such a bad duck mom knowing she was not getting all the nutrients she needed. I did give her, and the other ducks, some grass hoppers. That didn’t go as well as I hopped though.
When I gave them grass hoppers over the summer the ducks chased them all around and it was great show. However, it was below freezing. Did you know that grasshoppers do not live long when it is 15 degrees outside? Well, now I do. Seems pretty obvious now, but at the time I was excited to try and offer them an extra treat. The ducks didn’t seem to understand that the now frozen treat before them was a bug they were supposed to eat. Usually the bugs they hunt are fleeing for their lives.
So, Goldie is being a broody hen and spending all day every day on that nest. She doesn’t even get off the nest to shoo the boys away. And you better believe her tail shake brings all the boys to the yard. (hahaha….that’s funny when you know that Muscovy ducks communicate with tail wiggles instead of quacks. Also, jokes are always funnier when they immediately have to be explained. Ha.)
When Goldie is off of her nest and someone goes near her eggs she gets really low to the ground, sticks her neck out, wiggles her tail furiously and then charges at the intruder. It is quite a sight if you ever get the opportunity to witness it.
Well, Goldie is not the only broody hen in my barn. I have another Muscovy Hen, Amelia Air Duck, and a Bronze Turkey Hen, Gladys.
Amelia Air Duck tried laying some eggs before the weather got cold but she abandoned that nest shortly after starting it. She was no longer broody by the time the snow came. Gladys however, she wanted to be a mom more than anything.
One guy on the discussion board said his Bronze Turkey Hen would get so broody at times that she would sit on rocks if she was not laying her own eggs at the time. hahaha. Can you imagine that sight?
I can, apparently. Gladys did lay eggs, but not many and not for long. Her eggs were big, beautiful and delicious. Since there was no Tom (boy turkey) around to fertilize her eggs there was no point in letting her keep them. She was very upset that I took her egg each day.
She wont let a lack of turkey eggs to keep her from motherly instincts. One day, when Goldie got up for her daily “routine” Gladys confiscated the nest!! She strut over there with a purpose and plopped down immediately. Went into full “boulder” mode as I like to call it. That is when she grabs the ground with her feet tightly and firmly holds her wings in place so you cant move her – much like a boulder.
Gladys stole that nest like a boss. I couldn’t believe it myself. Goldie shared my dismayed. I realize I may be projecting onto the duck, but I swear she gave me a “WTF” look regarding the latest development. She was pissed.
Obviously, I want to find out what happens next. So, I squat down on the floor a few feet from the fray (really on the front lines of the battle) and filmed the great “Retaking the Nest of 2017!”.
Below you can see what unfolded between these two broody hens and how the victor tended the eggs afterward.
Be sure to follow Functional Rustic for daily inspiration and stories from around the barn. Don’t forget to check out the Functional Rustic Store to see what the ducks help me build in the barn.