Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dinner and Mashed Potatoes

I told the Banshees that I was going to name the new ducklings Dinner and Mashed Potatoes. They seemed to think that those were inappropriate appellations, I can't for the life of me think why. So, for the record, they are now known as Sir Edmund Hilary and To Be Announced, TBA for short.

Left: TBA, Right: Sir Edmund Hilary

Sir Edmund may or may not be accurately named, genderly-speaking, but temperamentally it's dead on. I've never known a duck so determined to get to the top of things and he/she is very nearly as curious as a mongoose. TBA is much more laid-back.

For the record, Sir Edmund is the duckling pictured in the cup and among the eggs , and the duckling that EB is holding is TBA. They're even cuter in person.

But I still think we should have named them Dinner and Mashed Potatoes.....

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Thumping! A Bumping! A Wild Alive Scratching!

"My egg!" shouted Horton. "My EGG! WHY, IT'S HATCHING!"

Of course, I was out ordering duck food and buying bedding so I missed the whole thing! But that's all right, the Banshees and DBS got to see it all. I may have to tie anchors on them before a strong wind blows them away on their cloud of bliss....

What A Difference A Day Makes

24 little hours....

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Almost There

On occasion a duck will hatch and still not have absorbed all of the egg yolk. (This can be due to too high a temperature or an over-eager midwife. Poor Quacker.) When this happens, you're supposed to keep the duck as still as possible and as humid as possible. Hence, measuring cup and wet paper towels and tucked back in the incubator as soon as the photo op was finished. This one is now out of the measuring cup and the rest of the egg but its belly button is still a bit distended. I'll rest a lot better when everything is where its supposed to be.

Egg Number 2 is a-rockin' and a-rollin' and we're expecting great things tomorrow. I get the funniest feeling that this one is going to be a dark duck, which is cool -- it's LIVE duck that I'm really rooting for.

The hatching of Egg Number 1 was marred by the loss of one of the Cayugas. We don't really know what happened, but given the set of symptoms we're worried about the rest of the Quackers. It could have been a bit of moldy feed and a particularly vulnerable duck, or it could be a contagious disease and the possibility of losing the whole flock. Now I'm nibbling the other set of fingernails up to the elbow. If everybody is still healthy in seven days I'll let out the breath that I'm holding right now.

More pics tomorrow if Hatchling Number 1 has continued breathing and will hold still long enough. They're called runners for a reason, folks!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Guess I Won't Be Getting Sleep Tonight

Day 28

Okay. The timeline for hatching ducks is 28 days. Give or take a day or two. I just have to keep repeating this to myself and save the liquid depressant celebration for later, after they are well out of the shell.

But come on, already.

This really is no lesson to impart to the children, staring obsessively at a styrofoam box while picking incessantly at my nails. You're in there, I think, I know you're in there and I'd love to help. Just crack the [expletive(s) deleted] shell and I'm on it.

Okay, I'll wait until it's clear you're not going to make it on your own.

For all of you purists out there who insist that ducks get out of their calcium cages themselves I'm going to point out that I'm going to ignore you. Don't bother telling me that I would be doing the absolutely worst thing possible. These are going to belong to a backyard flock, it doesn't matter if they're less than perfect. I'll also point out that I have midwifed ducklings before -- granted I was twelve or thirteen at the time, but the operations were successful and the poultry all thrived until Mom put them in the stewpot. It can be done. Some of the tidbits I've pulled off of the web in the last six weeks leads me to believe that a perfectly healthy duck or chick might not make it out of the egg because of less than perfect incubation. And darn it, I can't stand to think that a thin (to me) bit of shell is all that stands between life and death. Especially since I've already lost so may otherwise viable eggs to my less-than-perfect home-made incubator. These runners are the last of 13 eggs (6 Appleyard, 7 Runner) that went into that system; I'm going to fight tooth and nail to see that they have a decent chance.

There are highlights to leaven the anxiety. There is some very busy pecking away at the inside of the shell; all I have to do is hold it up to my ear to hear those changes. A couple of days a go it was peck..........peck..........................peck. Today it's like a little featherweight jackhammer in there. I want out, I want out! And there's an addition: peeping. Every once in a while I hear little tiny chirps.

I candled the whole incubated lot yesterday since we're far enough along to see some sort of growth on all of the eggs. I had to throw out 13 of the 36 I had in there, including one that had started to develop but then the shell got cracked. You couldn't see it without a strong light on it. There were one or two that were iffy-looking but I saved them anyway on GP. Because, as luck would have it, when I was candling the two runner eggs that I thought were dead...turns out one of them isn't. Granted, the egg isn't in optimal shape. It has much more airspace on the inside than it should, but that critter is making a go of it. Tap, tap, taptaptaptaptap. I want out!!

28 days. It's a guideline, not set in stone.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chewing Fingernails Up To The Elbow

I have but one viable runner duck egg. I've been using my nifty new candler on it, that's how I know it's still viable.

Yesterday I could see the duckling moving a little.

This morning it was a very active little wriggler.

This evening it had pierced the inner mebrane, a necessary first step for breaking out of the egg.

I'm hoping tomorrow it will manage to get a beak out of the shell.

Oh yeah. And I'm a nervous wreck.

Did I mention that hatching can take days?? I think I'm going to pull out that dog-eared copy of Good Omens, pull out a chair next to the incubator, and make like an expectant father.

Pics to follow if I'm not shaking too hard to get good ones.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Alas, still just 24 hours long

We didn't get to the fair.

I haven't done a lick of housework.

Park day was accomplished and we've all decided to shift it two hours earlier next Sunday because it has become the High Desert's usual imitation-of-eternal-damnation-on-a-skillet hot.


The most Important Part, of course

The Banshees have their very own bicycles. Whee!

One Cloud is Often Lonely

To quote Richard Adams, of Watership Down Fame. It sounds a lot better than omygodomygodomygodomygod....

Which may be translated, by those who have known me for any length of time, as stuffing 48 hours-into-24 again.

Today, DBS's one day off this week, we have 1. bicycle shopping, 2. park day, 3. possibly the county fair, and 4. more housecleaning. Of course DBS won't be participating in at least two of those events but the Banshees and I will be. Tomorrow morning I will roll over and eye the ringing alarm with much disfavor. I won't be able to ignore it because of the cheeping, squeaking, peeping crew in the bathroom. They're like babies everywhere; they do nothing but eat and sleep and make noises and messes and demand attention. Also like babies everywhere, they're utterly adorable even when up to their eyeballs in the latest round of mischief. However, unlike the Banshees, these little quackers are getting thrown out of the house next week when they start to get stinky. I'll get my bathroom back!

I have a confession to make: I actually bought a smidgeon of curriculum last week. Specifically, I bought Saxon math for homeschoolers. Right now I'm poking at it gingerly with a long, long stick, hoping it doesn't blow up on me or bite me or something equally unpleasant. It's a fairly pricey bit of work but I finally came to the conclusion that I need a bit of structure when it comes to teaching math and the Banshees will just have to lump it. Yes, they're miserable right now, moping and whining "Mom, can we have math now? How about now? Now?? Please? You said...."

Some days it just isn't worth chewing through the restraints.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I ordered 15 ducks. I got 15 ducks, but it appears that the order was skewed just a little -- I got 9 Cayugas instead of 8 (their famous extra in case of fatality). Obviously I was missing something else somewhere.

Based on body configuration, that Chocolate Runner evidently is not a Chocolate Runner. So they're sending me a Chocolate Runner and a Surprise Duck breed TBA next week. Wheee! I love surprise packages! I'm just going to be a little worried until they get here safely: there's a reason why most hatcheries will send no fewer than 10 at a time.

A friend loaned me the 4H poultry package. I like the looks of it and if I can persuade the Banshees that it's a good idea (and if they believe me) then we might be joining up. I like the idea of showing the ducks off. Even if we don't officially join I may just have them run through the program anyway -- there's a lot to learn there, and I'm evil, mean, and sneaky when it comes to getting knowledge into tiny craniums.

I also learned from the horse's mouth, as it were, that I cannot bring a cow onto the property unless I have an educational permit. When I had the dog shot and tagged I asked Animal Control about backyard bovines. Evidently there are 'agricultural' zones in our fair city that don't require any sort of permits, but I'm in a special license zone. If we ever get around to being able to afford that cow I'll start investigating what hoops I have to go through to get the permit. Considering the price tag on Buttercup and Barbeque though, it will be at least 15 years and another property before I can even begin to think about affording them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ducks: The Sequel

You knew I wasn't going to able to leave this alone, right? I was getting used to the pitter patter of webbed feet, the cheeping and the peeping and the red light of the brooder lamp turning our bathroom into something like an extra from Amityville Horror: the (poultry) Obsession. So I called Metzer Farms and groveled. (Actually, I didn't need to grovel much; the ducks I wanted were either in wide demand or the amount I wanted was so small that the extras could come my way.) Without further ado, let's meet the new flock.
In The Tub
Fifteen ducks. Fifteen. Yes, I need my head examined.

One of the new Cayugas: 6 females, 1 male, 1 undecided.

Golden Hybrid 300 Four of these little ladies.

Queen Bess, Chocolate Runner

Just one, and she already has The Royal Attitude

Khaki Campbell

Aristophanes (not pictured) and Lysistrata

And shall I mention that I finally found a place that would sell me White Runners? Because they have a minimum order of 10 and the White Runners are for the spouse, who doesn't care whether they're male or female, I ordered 2 of his ducks and 8 Saxony ducks. I'm hoping that I get at least one female with the group so I can start a breeding bunch there. Big duck, the Saxony. I know they have big eggs.

How do I know the Saxony can produce humongous eggs? Umm....

Well. The home-made incubator didn't do too well with the temperature regulation. I'm sure that it would have if I could have been there 24-hours a day to keep careful watch, but I have three children and a spouse and a large parcel of land, not to mention the other projects that keep me busy (and shall we throw in the fact that I do need sleep every once in a while??), so the temperature swings on that critter got very wild and wide. I'm trying to save the four remaining runner eggs, but the original Silver Appleyard eggs are toast. They're supposed to hatch out this weekend and I can't bring myself to bury them before then, but come Monday morning they're gone.

Which brings me to my DBS's dental visit last week. He sat next to a woman who was knitting, something he happens to know something about because he's married to a woman who knits. Obsessively. He asked her what she was knitting, she said "A scarf," and he said that his wife knitted too and she was working on a shawl. In the course of the conversation he mentioned that his wife was raising ducks, and she said, "How interesting. I know a couple of women who are raising ducks!" She told him that she raised llamas, that she spun the fiber and used the yarn for items that she sold on Etsy. He said that was great! And by the way, his wife also had an Etsy shop that she might have heard of -- MadWoman Soaps.

Whereupon she looked at him and said, "Stephanie...you're Stephanie's husband?!?"

Hello, Marti. Forgive me for butchering at least part of that story, I'm sure.

Marti in her infinite generousity gifted us with an incubator and I promptly set about filling it up with eggs. First, the four surviving runner eggs. I don't know if they're going to make it but they were only in my incubator for a week, so there's a chance. Then there were the 13 Silver Appleyards I ordered to make up for the ones that I have a sneaking suspicion I've lost. And then I went absolutely barking mad and ordered some Saxony eggs. I won 12 at an Ebay auction and the woman sent me 19. WOW. If I'm counting correctly that's 36 potential ducks. If I get a 60% successful hatch that's 21-22 new ducks.

(We shall respectfully pause while the author runs around the computer area like a headless bit of poultry.)

Well. There will be a bit of culling going on here come Thanksgiving. I will send the offspring and DBS to the mom-in-law's and promptly become very, very sick. But I shall also be up to my freezer-top in roast duck and in these days of rising food costs, that's no small thing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It Doesn't Get Grimmer Than This

Today our dog ripped the greenhouse netting to shreds, pulled the ducklings out from under the wire netting, and mauled them to death. It was hard enough finding the pitiful little bodies. It was worse when the children demanded to see them. How do you hide one of the more bitter realities of life from your babies? Should you even try? The dog was being a dog; the protection that I thought was adequate was not. I chose not to hide the consequences from them; I didn't see how I could, given all that needed to be done to deal with the situation.

How do you deal with a child's heartbreak when they realize that Mommy can't sprinkle magic dust and make everything all better? My five-year-old still seems to think everything is going to be all right in the morning. My seven-year-old is angry with the dog. My 8-year-old wants everything to be a nightmare she can wake up from. Oh my darling dearest heart, would that it could be so.

My husband made an executive decision on his way home after hearing the news. He called his mother up and our dog now has a new home. My MIL thinks of this canine as her first grandchild, so it will be a good home, probably better than this one in many respects.

I feel awful. I feel awful that I didn't protect those ducklings better, that I wasn't there to rescue them. I feel awful that we're getting rid of the dog, who has been with us for so long and really is a good dog. I feel horrendously guilty for feeling glad that we're getting rid of the dog. Conflicted is not even the beginning of this feeling. Some time in the night the tears will finally come and I will weep the ending to this terrible, terrible day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Other Events That Cause Moms to Run Screaming Into the Night

When I candled last night to make sure that all of the remaining eggs were okay, it turned out that they weren't. I still have a couple of Silver Appleyards that are just (pardon the pun) ducky, but the rest of the eggs have quit developing and are getting very dark. I'm going to candle again tonight and if there isn't any movement, deep-six the unfortunates. Bah. Those temperature swings were bound to take their toll but I was hoping down through my toenails that they wouldn't. I also had to get rid of a runner duck egg that simply wasn't developing; that's not nearly as heartbreaking as having to make the call on something that had already shown potential. Some of the runner ducks are showing development but I couldn't detect heartbeat. I'm gritting my teeth and hoping that at least one duck out of the dozen I've been cultivating manages to hatch out. I don't want to be posting that "And Then There Were None" piece. I also accept that Mama Nature, while resilient, is a tough, unsentimental anthropomorphic personification who is willing to throw in the towel when circumstances demand it. I, however, am terribly sentimental and not at all tough. Hatch, darn it.

I wonder what the going rate on kidneys is? Because trading one for one of these:

is beginning to sound very appealing.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Candling: An Important Point

Candle your eggs.

Candle ALL of your eggs.

I didn't candle the runner duck eggs. The suspicious looking one that I was going to candle tonight blew up before I could. The smell is not insignificant, but I've had three babies -- I am comfortable with my ability to handle the smell. It's the bacteria load that's been put on the remaining (hopefully) still-viable eggs that's got me chewing fingernails up to my elbow.

St. Vidicon, meet St. Francis. You think you guys can work together on this one?

For Colleen, Because I Said I Would

And for Bobbi, Because She Asked

The repurposed greenhouse with its new tenants....

Khaki Campbell duckling

Cayuga duckling

Saturday, May 3, 2008

10 Reasons Why I Love the United States Postal Service

They called me Tuesday to pick up a box of peeping, squeaking ducklings that had been shipped out Monday. All of them healthy, happy, and not terribly sure about the strange woman who chirped at them all the way home.

A breeding pair of Khaki Campbells. 8 Cayugas -- 6 females, one male, and an extra that hasn't declared itself yet. (The hatcheries sometimes ship an extra in case of mailing mortality.)

Since they aren't feathered yet and it's still cold in these parts (newly-hatched quackers need about 90 degree temperature to feel comfy), they're spending the nights in a Rubbermaid storage bin and their days in my tub under the cosy red light of a brooding lamp. They've grown like weeds in the last few days and their tail feathers are starting to come in.

The last parts for my hoop house have also come in; no excuses now, I have to build that duck run.

Monday. Today I have a field trip to CalEarth that is part of a birthday party for a friend of the Banshees. Sunday I have park day with another friend of the Banshees. Monday I ship Banshees off to a babysitter (who happens to be the mother of two of the Banshees' friends) and I get a few blissful hours where I can concentrate utterly and wholely on a project.

Yeah. Homeschoolers. Unsocialized. Totally.

Adventures in Candling, part 2

Like an over-anxious grand-mama I've been hovering. This morning I candled and stared at the dark mass, wondering if it was a duck or if the poor egg had been stressed past the point of viability.

Movement. Is it a heartbeat? A duckling turning over in it's sleep?

It's a little webbed foot, actively swimming in the heart of its shell.