Nov/2011  Death, the story continued from last week

Well, the predator returned. This summer a weasel or a mink came to our farm and we had some major problems with predation. It was absolutely disheartening, terrifying and gave us such a hopeless feeling. We learned the hard way that knee-jerk reactions and expenditures are not the best way to deal. Months went by, and everything returned to normal, or so we thought in our complacent little farming minds. We’d been tying one of the dogs out next to the hoophouse each night, but feeling bad for them, we stopped after a month of calm.

One morning, after the turkey & Rosie harvesting days, Andrew found a dead duck. I was sleeping in, exhausted from the days of emotional work we’d been doing. Sleeping in, I can’t even believe I did that. SO irresponsible. As he reported what he’d found during morning chores, my heckles stood on end. We went out together and found another dead duck, and then noticed 3 who were maimed, but trying to act normal with the flock. Ducks are really tough birds. But these poor gals, their necks bitten and covered with a small amount of blood, bobbled about as we tried to get closer to inspect them. The predator had returned.

Panic mode set in. The helpless feeling of trying to maintain delicious-to-predator livestock in the country. It is stupid to think we can avoid predators, but we were lulled into complacency by nothing happening for so long. That afternoon after the morning’s attack, Andrew sat in the hoophouse with his grandpa’s rifle, motionless, waiting to see if “IT” would return. And it did, about three hours after the initial discovery. He said it was long and dark, almost black colored. It crept right past him, alongside the edge of the hoophouse, making a bee-line for the flock of ducks. He fired his gun, missed, and went for another shot. Tragically it locked right as the thing saw him and raced away, back where it had come from. Goddammmmit. Andrew fired another shot to make warning noise- listen you thing, we’ll have no problems shooting you in coldblood.

Back to dogs on patrol, more specifically inside the hoophouse, right along the back endwall where the thing had come in. Barking inside the hoophouse seems like the best way to let the predator know he would not really like to be attempting to enter for dinner. Each night we restlessly slept, full of terrorizing weasel dreams. I’d get up at 3 am and pack up strong cowgirl coffee, some books and my journal, bundle up in snowpants and all the winter wear I could fit on my body. I’d sit in there in the fridgid cold and wait. Nothing happened, but we were freaked out.

How in the world do you keep birds safe from predators, especially birds who sleep on the ground? Chickens at least perch up high, which can increase their odds of surviving an encounter with death. Ducks sleep nestled on hay, in groups. They are literally sitting ducks. Making the hoophouse entirely sealed up is nearly impossible in a retrofitting type scenario. Meanwhile, we had to do something. Attempting as best we could, we made a safehouse inside the hoophouse. It’s essentially an arena made of OSB panels, which we hope will deter any dinner attempts, if the weasel or mink somehow decides to get over his/her fear of a dog’s bark sounds and smells. A puppy has come to the farm get the downlow from the big ole’ guys on barking and patrolling. We continue to keep the lights on all night, and now with this system in place, and lots of walking with the dogs in the wooded area we presume the predator first came from, nothing more has happened. But it absolutely terrifies me.

1) I LOVE these ducks. They have been with us a long time, some up to 5 years. It’s always been my duty to care for them, keep them safe. They don’t deserve to be terrified and killed or maimed, even if by nature they are prey animals.

2) these birds are part of our livelihood, and if we can’t keep them safe, what the F are we doing?

3) we had just gotten our Kickstarter funding completed!! I was disparaging over this- we can’t even keep these birds safe, what the F are we doing trying to go forward with getting more weasel snacks??? I felt like we had let the ducks and EVERYONE down.

Like I said, we can’t perfectly retrofit an existing hoophouse to keep out predators. We’ve done our best to deter any more attacks, but as we are planning the new flock coming next spring, the heat is on to figure out how to better start from the ground up. Lots of researching duck housing- you’d be amazed at what we’ve found. In the tropical parts of Asia, some ducks are raised in wire mesh enclosures, off the ground. Some are herded into cement walled courtyards at night, after foraging for snails with a duck-shepherd tending them all day. In England we found a commercial duck egg farm who keeps their 28,000 ducks locked in barns 24-7, because they know what could happen if 28,000 ducks were out in pastures. But aside from the shepherded ducks, these ideas are not how we want our ducks to live. They need to be able to go outdoors during the day at their leisure, to be in the sunshine, schnibbling in the dirt and foraging on varied pastures. Can we dream big? And keep them safe?

Recently, someone emailed us wanting to know if she could come see how we raise ducks. SHE wants to start raising duck eggs. Heckles up. Sorry, it’s true. But it’s not just because this is our product that we sell———nowadays I am realizing we don’t know anything about anything. Why should we pretend to be knowledgeable about it? Once we have everything figured out, well maybe then we can act like we know something. But those days are quite a ways off. No one is raising a large flock of freeranging ducks for eggs in this region, that we know of. Wonder why??

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