Our new journey of moving to New York and living on acreage was intended to bring on change. We continue to find what that change entails as it brings about joy and struggles. Both Andrew and I have always enjoyed animals, but I do not think we truly realized how that joy would turn into a passion that would guide us towards this adventure. When we first started out, we often asked ourselves, “What kind of farmers do we want to be? Are we going to be meat farmers who end up having to kill them? Or egg/dairy farmers? OR, to just have a petting zoo full of weird animals..."(ok, maybe that last one wasn't a legit thought, but I could get on board with it). Well… I think you know the answer to that question.
Knowing myself, I had a feeling starting with 9 ducks would not end there. I am far too obsessed with loving animals and would adopt every creature I see if I could.
When I was a little kid, I picked up a leaf (yes, like a tree leaf) and decided it was going to be my pet leaf and even though a billion other leaves looked exactly like it, I would never let anything happen to this one leaf. This leaf was known as Mr. leafy. yes, very imaginative, I know. One day I was jumping on the trampoline with Mr. Leafy (it needed to have fun too… don’t judge…) and it was so dried out that it crumbled into pieces! I cried for a bit, and then I became resourceful. That little leaf wasn’t going to die on my watch! So, I got out the tape (tape fixes all wounds, duh!) and I taped that bad boy back together again! Let’s just say, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men that couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again should have called me… Mr. Leafy lived another day! Does that make me certifiably nuts… maybe, but a mother-loving nature nut!!
We decided to be the bountiful farmers/homesteaders that enjoy the resources and happiness our animals can bring us without having to detach ourselves constantly from them. Let’s just say, being a duck parent throws you into being a DIY Veterinarian at times… Duck forums, YouTube videos, or asking Andrew’s sister and brother-in-law have become our go-to. We have had to cut into a duck’s foot to help treat a bad case of bumblefoot (you really don’t want to know…), we’ve had to bring a frail duckling back to life with different concoctions to make it healthy and strong. We’ve had to fix a splayed leg on a duckling who wanted to do the splits instead of walk. We’ve done quite a bit more, and while it may be a bit more complex than taping together a leaf, I find myself reminded of the joy that I experienced as a child repairing that leaf and bringing it back to full(ish) health. I feel like a gleeful young girl once more as nine ducks quickly became seventeen, seventeen ducks have now become nineteen and we have eleven more ducks on the way (more to come on the reason for this), bringing us to thirty ducks soon. Hearing their quacks melts my heart and I love picking out a name for each one. They certainly all have their own distinctive personalities.
While ducks may be joyful, funny, playful, and smart little things, they are also tiny devils who enjoy the thrill of seeing how far they can push a human. I’m not even joking when I say they enjoy watching me get angry. They literally laugh at me in unison. Some might say they are just quacking, but I know the truth… Even when they push me to the brink of a mental breakdown, I still find myself smiling and laughing at them at the same moment I am yelling at them for some sort of mischief. How do they do it??? What is this duck sorcery they have over me??
Our daring/reckless ducks recently started venturing out across the road by our house to dine on the greens and bugs in our neighbor’s yard because apparently, 8 acres isn’t enough for these greedy quacks! I am pretty sure every neighbor that lives within a mile or so (or just anyone driving by that day) thinks I am insane as they watched me freaking out and yelling for the ducks while shaking the ducks’ treat bag (non-paid plug for Flock Party Mealworms… we keep you in business I am sure…). I have trained our ducks to come to the sound of the treat bag, so when they don’t come running, then I really freak out.
One day, they didn’t come... It was a super rainy and foggy day, so I was walking up and down the road for an hour looking for them in a trench coat length matrix-style raincoat, hood up, rain boots on with shorts that made it appear as though I had no clothes on under the coat. I was shaking the treat bag and yelling, “here ducky duckies, come here ducky babies” I am pretty sure if I saw someone looking like that while walking down a road and yelling for ducks, I would probably call the psych ward on them… Why Andrew decided he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me also makes me question his sanity!!
Just as life has ups and downs, so does life at Halo Hills. I will say this though, the good stories outweigh the bad. One of the best highlights of recent was watching two of our oldest ducks that are not in the ‘motherly’ category of ducks, start brooding their own eggs to hatch. Those two ducks (Pinky and Betty White) will not let you ANYWHERE near their nest or babies without a fight, or a very intense side-eye glare while sizing you up. The only time I can get close to them right now is at bedtime when I give them some treats out of the palm of my hand. The second they are finished eating those mealworms, my hand is next if I don’t pull it away! Even if they do end up catching me with a peck, it doesn't hurt (sometimes I make them think it does so they feel victorious in the protection of their babies. Fake it till you make it). I swear they are loving ducks when they aren’t broody. They currently have 2 successful hatches from their first batch of eggs, and I’m impressed as it was their first time and ours to have a 100% natural hatching process.
We’ve now accomplished 3 different routes of hatching ducks. Our first time was through mail order from Metzer Farms. They are a California-based company, so that was a long stressful coast-to-coast journey for the ducks. We ordered our 9 OG (original gangsters for those unfamiliar with that acronym... mom and dad maybe?...) ducks from them. After that, we decided we wanted to try and hatch our own from the eggs our ducks provided. We successfully got 8 ducks from incubator hatching. Which by the way, was so stressful for us to watch as some struggled their way into this world. They are our little surprise ducks because we have no clue which ducks created them… We have 3 different types of Runner ducks, a few White Crested ones (the ducks with afros) and a Black Swedish duck. Sebastian, one of our drakes claims he is not the father, but most of the ducklings resemble him the most (Maury, we may need your assistance on this one... is he the father, or is he NOT the father??).
Incubator hatching is not the route I would take if you are a frantic stressor type of person. You watch as nothing happens for at least 28 days (if not longer) and then stress even more as you watch them hatch and you can’t help them. Obviously, there are some instances where you might be able to or have to help them hatch, which we had to do twice.
After mail-order ducks and incubator hatching, we decided to put our current ducks to work and let them stress about the hatching process as we had one of our ducks begin to try and naturally brood. If it was meant to be then it would be is what we told ourselves. Pinky was the first one to start building her nest of eggs and brooding. Surprisingly though as the days dragged on, Betty White came in for assistance. Kind of reminded us of two moms at a table drinking their coffee chit-chatting all day. The two shared the same nest and had 24/7 watch on the nest. If one left, the other stayed behind. It was seldom one would leave though.
Out of the 3 processes, natural hatching was the least worrisome one for us. We also decided to let the mama ducks do the raising of the ones they hatched. The way the little ducklings follow their mama ducks around is the sweetest thing you can witness. One day I found 1 of the ducklings in the pond only 2 days after it was born, following its mom around. This tiny nugget was also instilling fear into the bigger ducks as it skidded across the pond faster than a hockey puck on ice. They did not want to mess with this little dude (or dudette… not really sure yet) and would quickly shuffle to the other end of the pond as far away as they could get. Anytime little ‘Merica would swim over to them, they would shuffle again to the other side, or they parted their group like Moses parted the sea and let ‘Merica swiftly swim through. Now both Frodo and 'Merica love swimming in the pond with Pink or Betty.
Many times, we find ourselves wanting to rest, but we both know there is so much to do. I have been working on wedding preparation and Andrew has been dealing with working on the house as there is always work to be done in the upkeep and rehab of a house that was not received in the best of shape. At the same time, we are both taking care of the animals and planning the future of Halo Hills and what we need to work on to get there. While at times it is hard, we would not trade it in for a different life. The more struggles we face that we can overcome, the prouder we are of what we are building. So, stick with us and hear more about our crazy life!