Seriously, don’t brood ducklings in the house

A few years ago, I wrote a post advising people, should they get ducklings, not to brood them in the house. Later (after the second time we had ducklings and brooded them in the house again), I switched my general advise to people to never get ducks. Because they are awful. The mess is horrible. You always think it won’t be as bad as it was last time, but it always is.

Then, a year or two after our last two ducks were killed by a weasel that snuck into their coop and sucked their blood out (I found their bodies in the morning. It was not a fun morning), we got more ducklings. The things you decide in the winter when you just want to get outside. My husband and I picked out blue Swedish ducks because we didn’t want prolific layers (we’ve spent enough time swimming in unsaleable duck eggs) and we also wanted the ability to slaughter some for meat. So I figured a straight run of 12 ducklings would do nicely.

The box arrived, we dumped them into our nicely prepared brooding area. The floor was covered in newspaper, then towels. They had a nice waterer and smaller container of water for them to splash in, but in which the young ducklings couldn’t drown. And food, of course.

The first few days were fine. They were little and still figuring things out, but once they did…well. Ducks like to grab a beak full of feed, go to the water, get some water to wash it down, then go back to the feeder and repeat. They like to poop in their water. They really like to splash in their water. They drop a lot of the feed on the way to the waterer and it mixes with the poop and the water that’s getting splashed everywhere until you have a lovely mixture of wet poop and feed. And these ducks had the ability to projectile poop, so we actually ended up getting poop on things outside the run. WTF, ducklings?

We started cleaning their area out every day, to no avail. We would wake up in the morning and the smell of the ducklings in the basement would hit us before we reached the ground floor. Cleaning out their brooding area was gag inducing. And that is not hyperbole. We were literally gagging as we emptied the area.

Unfortunately, our spring was cold this year so even though we got them at the beginning of April, we couldn’t set them outside in the day until nearly the end of April. So for almost an entire month, we dealt with poopy, horrible duck smell.

Towards the end of the month, I hit on the idea of using chux pads, so we could just roll up the mess and throw it out. It made things slightly better, but the damn things were overfilled with water and terribly heavy. And full of poop aside from that.

So, why do people get ducks? Why do we keep on getting ducks even though we know they’re smelly, awful and horrible to brood?

Because they’re really darn stinking cute.

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Watching them splash about in the pond is one of the joys of summer. We guided them to the pond the other day (otherwise they’re enclosed in a run) and they had the best time ever, splashing and diving under the water with loud, happy quacks. Ducks are adorable, the question is whether that adorableness outweighs their smell.

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New England spring

Spring has finally come to New England. This year, we essentially went from cold as hell with snow to warm, no period of slowly increasing warmth, unless you count that weird week in February.

The outdoors has sprung to life. The grass already needs mowing and I’m on patrol for poison ivy. I’ve spent a lot of time clearing various areas of our yard where it likes to grow and I’m determined not to let it take back over. The most accurate part of IT for me? The part where Eddie looks around and declares, “That’s poison ivy, that’s poison ivy, that’s poison ivy.” Seriously. If you live in New England and go near the edge of the woods…it’s all poison ivy.

We go on walks through our town and I keep my eyes peeled on the side of the road. “Don’t walk there!” I yell to the kids. “That’s poison ivy! No! Don’t go off the road! That’s all poison ivy right there!” Fucking poison ivy.

I found a few small strands with their reddish glossy leaves starting to unfurl yesterday and promptly pulled them out. I’ll have to continue checking regularly.

But my patrols carry a risk aside from getting a poison ivy rash: the ticks are out. Ticks are worse than poison ivy. Right now, they’re nymphs and are extremely small and hard to spot. Getting bit by one can mean getting Lyme disease, babesiosis, another one I’m forgetting and the newly discovered Powassan virus, which can apparently kill you in a few days.

We do a lot of tick checks, but it’s damned hard to find those nymphs. They’re tiny! So I set a bottle of tick repellant by the door and told the kids if they’re going to go out into the woods, they need to spray themselves with tick repellant first. Of course, it’s not as easy as “Just spray yourself with tick repellant and worry no more!” Ticks may still attach themselves. So it’s more like “Spray yourself with tick repellant and we’ll do a tick check every night anyway.” The ticks get into the house. We’ve found two just crawling around on bedroom floors. My husband caught Lyme disease working in the woods in May a few years back, so I know it’s on our property and my tick-related paranoia will not abate.

We made tick tubes this year. Last year, we bought them, but they’re actually quite pricey for what you get. So we saved all our toilet paper and paper towel rolls, bought a bottle of permethrin and sat down one day to soak cotton balls in and stuff the balls into the tubes. We then placed them all over the property for the mice to find and use as nesting material, hopefully killing off all the ticks that feed on the mice, thus destroying a link in the Lyme disease chain.

It’s not a guaranteed thing, but it’s the best option we have to prevent Lyme disease. There’s no vaccine, though apparently they’re trying to develop one that would be a vaccine against tick saliva. Terribly clever, since there is more than one disease you can get from ticks. I know people who have their yards sprayed every year – even ones who are otherwise all anti-chemical and natural this, natural that. But with the chickens, I’m not willing to do that. Plus we have a pond and permethrin is very dangerous for aquatic life.

All of this makes me not want to leave the house. Add in the black flies and I’m covered in slap marks from hitting them, rashes from bumping up against poison ivy, tick repellant and quite possibly actual ticks.

I remain astounded the original settlers of New England didn’t all die.