Friday, October 4, 2013

Tuppence's Tale, or Why You Should Name Your Animals with Care

We recently were given the chance to add two more Ancona ducks to our flock and, me being me, I simply couldn't resist. One of the new ladies is this gorgeously marked blue duck named Tuppence. My #1 daughter is currently reading through all of Agatha Christie's novels and thought it would be fun to name a duck after the character of Tuppence Beresford.

We should have known better.

Invariably, our animals have all exhibited the character traits of the people they are named after. Doofenshmirtz the Buff Orpington rooster? He's evil, all right.  Aragorn the Cream Legbar cockerel is definitely in charge while Faramir plays second fiddle.  Lita Ford the Easter Egger was unfortunately a one hit wonder much like her namesake; she is our one and only loss to a predator, cut off in her prime. Of course, there is the conspicuous exception of our Mini Lop rabbit, Snuggles - she's neurotic rather than cuddly - but for the most part, the rule has held true.

I always shut my birds up for the evening right at dusk, but last night I didn't go outside until it was already pitch black. Most of the ducks in my main duck pen had already put themselves to bed. I shone a flashlight around and under the house to make sure there weren't any stragglers and locked them in for the night.

Then I went to the pen where the two new ducks are currently living. Although I have no reason to suspect that they have any diseases, it is still good practice to keep them separate from the rest of the flock for a few weeks. I shone my light around the pen and quickly found Bluebell. Tuppence was no where to be seen.

I felt absolutely sick to my stomach. Had a predator somehow grabbed Tuppence and pulled her through the fence? Did a hawk make its way through the fishing line strung like netting over the pen? The Man of the House and I searched all around the pen's perimeter, looking for any gaps in the fencing. We even lifted the duck house off the ground in case she had somehow wedged herself underneath it.


The Man of the House and I looked at each other with perplexed expressions. (So I assume. It was too dark to see if his confusion matched mine.) Then he asked me if I had counted the ducks in the main duck house when I locked them in.

Well, no, I hadn't. We rushed over to the main pen and shone the flashlight through one of the ventilation windows. The ducks freaked out at the unexpected beam of light, but we were able to count nine ducks.

There were supposed to be eight ducks in that pen! And there was Tuppence smack dab in the middle of the frantic huddle. We had no earthly idea how Tuppence got into the pen, but we were just so thankful that she hadn't become a coyote's dinner that we didn't over think it. We put her back into the proper pen with Bluebell, said good-night, and locked them in.

The ingenious little Tuppence tried to play the same trick the next morning, but this time I was there to see it. She squashed her skinny little body through the tiny gap between the gate and the rest of the fence and decided to go check out the chickens' premises. Thankfully this happened while I was doing my morning bird chores so I was able to intercept her before Wile E. Coyote did.

We moved Tuppence and Bluebell into the pen we raise our youngest ducks in. The extra reinforcement seemed to do the trick... or so I thought. The very next morning I witnessed Tuppence fly six feet into the air, which is easily enough to clear the gate. Anconas are not supposed to fly like that and I've never had one get up more than three feet off the ground.

We've never had a duck do shenanigans like these before. But then again, we've never had a duck named after a very impulsive spy from a detective novel, either!

Take note, animal lovers: name your friends with care.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How Dorcas Got Named and Became a Part of Our Flock

Although I am the main person in charge of our poultry projects, our whole family is definitely involved. I try to be the more business-like, scientific person when it comes to choosing which birds to keep and breed from and which others to sell. Sometimes it is a lost cause because a family member has become sentimentally attached to a particular bird. Such is the case with the little Ancona duck we call Dorcas.

Dorcas at hatch

Dorcas is the product of mating between Hyacinth, an over-marked blue drake, with a bevy of blue and black females. I wanted to see if I could get some blue, lilac, or lavender ducklings using Hyacinth's genetics, but without his over-abundance of color.

When Dorcas (then called "little purple duckling") was born, it was obvious that she had too much color; the goal is to have no more than 75% of a bird either colored or white. I was intrigued by the color she had, however. I hadn't hatched any lavender ducklings before, and I thought the little purple duckling matched the description, but I really didn't think I should keep such a strongly marked duck.

All of these ducklings had the same daddy! Hyacinth has since been re-homed.
"Little Purple Duck" is in the middle. 

In general, we sell our ducklings straight-run. For those of you new to the poultry world, that means we do not sex the birds ahead of time, so buyers will on average receive 50% male, 50% female ducks. We do, however, vent sex the ducklings we keep for ourselves. We are over 95% accurate with our vent sexing, which I think is pretty darn good.

Vent Sexing is usually not hard as long as you have good light and a gentle touch. (Learn more about how to vent sex waterfowl here.) It does not harm the duckling as long as you are careful.

That is the way it is supposed to go. This is what happened when The Man of the House (TMotH) and I decided to vent sex "Little Purple Duckling":

As per our usual routine, I held the duckling and pulled the tail back while TMotH gently pulled back the tissue surrounding her vent and examined the vent under strong light.. No penis popped out, so we knew that Little Purple Duck was a girl. At that moment, my #2 daughter walked in and shrieked, "Why are you beheading that duck?!"

That was confusing because #2 daughter had seen us vent sex ducklings numerous times and, of course, we weren't beheading the duck.

Then I noticed that Little Purple Duck was dangling lifelessly in my hands. I gave her to TMotH. He proceeded to give mouth to beak CPR and pump up and down on her little chest. He later told me that he gently blew into one of her nostrils so that the strong force of his breath wouldn't damage her tiny lungs. I was amazed that he could think about the difference between duck and human anatomy at such a time. I guess that's why he's an MD! I grabbed another duckling from the nearby brooder in the hopes that his peeping would help stimulate the Little Purple Duck.

A few tense moments passed and then she started breathing again and made a full recovery.

We still don't know exactly why the duckling passed out while being vent sexed. It has never happened before or since. Needless to say, TMotH feels a strong bond with this particular duck and absolutely refused to allow me to sell her.

We named her Dorcas after this story from Acts 9:36-42:

36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas.[a] She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him,“Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics[b] and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. (ESV)

Dorcas and her brood mates at about 2 weeks of age

Dorcas at 1.5 months of age

Dorcas is still over-marked like her daddy. Unlike her daddy, however, she has a permanent place in our flock. Saving an animal from death tends to bond you to it pretty strongly! She is growing into a pretty lavender duck and, paired with the right, lightly-marked drake, she will give us lots of pretty Ancona ducklings.