Over the last 8 months, Bullsnake has learned to be not only a survivor….but a gallant protector. Just recently, these two again found their way into the barnyard (not really sure what the draw is here…other than the proverbial grass….) and then, not being the most intelligent of farm animals, they couldn’t figure out how to get back out. There are only a few gates that they can fit underneath in the barnyard and pasture corridor …. In the meantime, the two maremmas had spotted them and were closing in fast, running down the pasture corridor.
Now, in all fairness to the maremmas, up until just recently, Bullsnake has been in a MEGA attack mode — going after everything and everyone: Warranted or not. It was a standing joke for Bob, that I couldn’t step off the front steps without Bullsnake charging over from wherever he was for the sole purpose of finding that one bit of bare skin on my feet or legs to bite: Even if it meant going up under a pants leg. And not just a nip, mind you….a bite! My feet and legs were beginning to look like they had been tie-dyed. The maremmas (and Corky!) had been going through the same thing. Revenge was at hand.
I heard the frantic squawks and came running. The maremmas had the two ducks cornered in the barnyard end of the pasture corridor: Paybacks are a bitch. From my vantage point, it looked like Missy had been hurt and couldn’t move…. NOT good news for the animals that are supposed to be protecting the livestock to be killing it!! But by the time I reached the scene, I realized that my dread had been premature! Good old Bullsnake was on top of Missy — making himself as huge and puffy as he could be (actually pretty funny looking!) — all in an attempt to keep Missy safe, irregardless of whatever happened to him. What a hero! As it turned out, the ducks were just scared…and very wet from dog slobber. They both slept to the point of being comatose for the rest of the day….. The dogs spent the afternoon chuckling to each other.
The next day, because Bullsnake had proven his mettle in the role of “protector”, I decided to see if his attitude towards the ducklets had changed. Both Bullsnake and Missy had been very aggressive towards them through the pen fencing; the few times that I had previously allowed them into the pen, they had both blatantly attacked the ducklets. Missy had actually tried to squish one of them!
But I sensed that something had changed…..I opened the pen of the younger ducks and let them know that they could go in or out …. free range. They spent the day alternating between being close to the gate of their pen and maybe 75 feet away….they were ecstatic and it was hysterical to watch; both Bullsnake and Missy had taken over their tutelage. When the ducklets ranged too far, Bullsnake or Missy would herd them back towards the house, guiding them all around the yard: Even taking them over to their own little “safe” area and pool, and an assortment of other “hot spots” for bugs. They had evolved into a flock. Fantastic!!
Around noon the next day, after viewing a repeat performance of flock mentality from the six ducks, I decided to combine their two separate living quarters into one…..and use the newly completed, smaller duck house as their home. The rest of the afternoon found me moving fencing, pulling out metal T posts, taking down tarp raincloths, and moving all manner of other duck “stuff”. In the meantime, all six ducks were roaming all over the property — curious, but not overly so, as to where their living accommodations had disappeared to.
And then I heard George’s “it’s time to go to bed” raucous honking to his flock of runner ducks. Oops. Too late I realized that I had NEVER herded the ducklets when they were free range, only in their little pen…and now I was going to have to herd them into a totally foreign area of the yard AND inside a pen — and time was a problem. It would be dark soon: Not city dark — country dark.
After several vain attempts at rounding them up (which luckily were NOT caught on camera!), I snagged Bob and a partial roll of chicken mesh and we succeeded in directing them into the new pen. Of course, now we had to get them into this strange, new duck house ….with the added attraction of an entrance ramp (not a natural for ducks!). Remember too that Bullsnake and Missy hadn’t been sleeping in any type of constructed enclosure for about 5 months; they seemed to prefer just hanging out in the tall grass by their kiddie pool.
So….using my usual techniques, I attempted to steer them towards the duckhouse ramp. Right. Even with Bob’s help and the use of long, stiff, old growth blackberry vines to make my arms look longer, it was a disaster — they just ending up madly circling their yard over and over again, running across the kiddie pool water like Jesus in the process. Quite the sight. The problem was that they had NO concept of what was wanted from them, nor what the duckhouse structure was intended for. I finally gave up and just used my “faster than a speeding bullet” routine — grabbing duck necks as they ran by and cavalierly throwing the ducks into their new house; Bob adroitly operated the small duck door to keep whoever was inside, inside. The quacking noise in the house became louder and very incessant. Strange. Then, as I launched the last duck into the house, I caught a glimpse of fur inside. Poking my head in through the small duck door opening, I found myself eye to eye with Hairy (commonly known as Harrison Dorf), one of our 4 month old kittens, eyes wide and circled with white. The ducks, with necks stretched as tall as possible, were circling him and Bullsnake was in full on attack mode.
Hairy and his brother have taken to exploring all of the barn structures lately — especially if there is straw inside for them to romp around in. None of the ducks or geese trusted them though: Maybe rightfully so…. Hastily, I grabbed Hairy by the scruff and dragged him out of the duckhouse …. Apologizing to the ducks the whole while.
Praising myself on how a possible disaster had been narrowly averted, I locked the small, duck door and went around to the front of the duck house….and quietly peeked in through the window, just to make sure that the ducks were all settling down. That’s when I spotted him. Hidden in the straw, curled up in a ball, eyes glistening, surveying his domain …. and possible dinner, is Gus (commonly known as Asparagustus), Hairy’s brother and hunter extraordinaire. Do cat’s smile?
As an aside….the next two nights, Bullsnake has guided everyone into the duckhouse without a hitch. He only needed one lesson….what a duck!
What had appeared to be 4 female offspring…Judging by Bullsnake”s mating behavior towards all 4…have turned out to be 2 females and 2 males. Which is what I had thought they were when they were ducklings. So much for heaven, Bullsnake style. Evidently duck mating behavior can ALSO be classified as a dominance ritual. Go figure. Anyway, we now have 3 “pairs” of mutant ducks plus the new addition of 4 ducklings that haven’t feathered out yet. One of these is a runner duck—kind of looks like that tall, gangly kid in grammar school that stood heads taller than everyone else. I speak from experience.
So far, this group of ducks (6 adults and 4 ducklings) is one big happy (mostly) family. During the day, they all forage through the future vegetable garden, little ducklings in tow; at night, the ducklings have their own little warm, brooder room in the duck house, as they don’t have their feathers yet…..complete with a picture window to see the other adult ducks. Bullsnake still occasionally feels the need to chase after the other 2 males to assert his dominance…but overall, they seemed to have formed a flock. Which is fortunate, as we have 6 more of their eggs in the incubator….due to hatch out about the first week of January, along with about 12 runner ducks. We’ve had trouble maintaining a constant humidity/temperature in the incubator through the last two hatches and have had a high loss of ducklings as a result. We’re keeping our fingers crossed with this new batch and keeping a close eye on the settings.