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Photo by Cherie Langlois
The excited Muscovy parents-to-be.
You would think after keeping them on our farm for near twenty years, I’d have discovered a consistent, efficient, responsible way to deal with my Muscovy flock’s obsession with reproduction (I suspect they’re plotting to take over the farm, then the world).
But no. For example, spring has barely sprung and already a teen mother wannabe—one of last summer’s ducklings—has been sitting over two weeks on a clutch of 16 eggs.
This is not a surprise, because past experience has taught me to expect R-rated Muscovy behavior and fertile eggs anywhere from March to November.
Since we haven’t been able to bring ourselves to eat surplus ducks (yet) and I don’t want our farm over-run with super-poopy pet fowl, I try to be diligent about gathering duck eggs (great for baking, by the way), except for the annual summer clutch I let one mother duck hatch out for these reasons:
1. The growing ducklings devour lots of slugs and other pests, providing eco-friendly pest control around the farm.
2. Inevitably, we suffer winter duck losses due to predators—usually eagles or raccoons—so keeping two or three of the ducklings each year helps maintain our flock at five to seven birds, the optimum number for our farm.
3. Ducklings are just so darn cute and fuzzy.
Unfortunately, my ducks don’t give a quack about limiting population growth. They have their own reproductive agenda, with the females—determined to give us duckling surprises whenever possible—stashing their eggs in secretive places, from a dim corner in the sheep’s stall to underneath the pump house.
This time, though, the nest was an easy find (in the duck pen), so the fault is mine: I slacked off on duck egg-gathering, and then when Tally the duck started incubating, I procrastinated about removing the eggs until too much time had elapsed to do so without feeling guilty about it. So given the Muscovy incubation period of around 35 days, it’s now only a few weeks until D-day.
In past years, I’ve bartered surplus ducklings to my feed store for feed or sold them myself to other farmers. The downside is that I can never be sure what happens to my ducklings down the road. Maybe they live happy-ducky-ever-after lives, but maybe they don’t. What if they become victims of neglect—starved, or dumped on a city pond somewhere?
Every year I argue with myself that it would be more responsible to raise any extra ducklings with respect, kindness, and good care, and then humanely send them to the freezer. After all, Muscovies were domesticated for just this purpose: to provide humans with food.
So how do you other duck-raisers deal with your ducks?