Many loyal readers of Farm News have been asking for a report on the activities of the Astrophysical Ducks, the flock of inquisitive quackers who have found a use for grasshoppers. Well, they have been eating grasshoppers with gusto, resulting in an amazingly low overall grasshopper population on the place. The high protein diet (supplemented with baby mice, one of their favorite snacks) has resulted in lots of duck eggs.
Left undisturbed, a Khaki Campbell duck will lay 40 to 75 eggs in a nest. As the pile of eggs builds up the duck adds to her nest until it resembles a volcano with a core of duck eggs instead of lava. Finally, after she has laid many, many more eggs than she can successfully hatch, it will occur to her to 'go broody', to start incubating her eggs. This decision to incubate her eggs will last for about four hours, after which she will change her mind and go wandering off to chase grasshoppers. That evening, when she goes into the barn for the night, she might remember her eggs and go set on them for the night. The next morning she might stay on the nest, or she might again wander off. This on and off incubation is not good for the eggs and many of the embryos die leading to rotting eggs in the nest. After a few weeks of this treatment the nest's resemblance to a volcano becomes even more pronounced, with rotten eggs occasionally exploding.
When the eggs start exploding, the duck generally decides that it is time to move her nest. She will carefully roll some of her eggs, selected at random, to a new location adjacent to her original nest, and start construction there. Sally Duck, who is setting on eggs in the barn, should have eggs hatching any day now, but she has moved her nest three times and it is quite possible that none of her eggs are still alive.
Once the ducklings hatch, the real adventures in motherhood begin. If, for instance, someone nearby is building a fence, the mother duck will lead her babies down the row of postholes, with one or two baby ducks falling into each hole. In fact, almost any kind of hole will do. I've seen baby ducks stranded in the bottom of a deep footprint left by a cow. I've also seen them trapped in clumps of tall grass, caught by tangling a foot in some twigs, and left behind when their mother jumped over an obstacle too high for the ducklings to scramble over. When stranded alone a baby duck will start making a loud peeping call that will attract every predator within a quarter mile.
If they are caught outside in a hard rain during the first two weeks or so of their lives they will drown, but their mothers never take them to shelter when it starts raining. When they first come off the nest the mothers are hungry for bugs, so they chase bugs all over the yard. The babies, who have short legs and flat feet, exhaust themselves trying to keep up and don't have time to eat. It is hard to believe that an animal can be this poor a mother. Without human help the Khaki Campbell breed of ducks would probably disappear in one generation.
Somehow, despite the best efforts of their mothers and various predators, a few baby ducks will survive and grow up to be big ducks. Sally Duck, who now has her nest in its fourth location, was a duckling at this time last year. Sassy Duck, Sally's mother, has a nest hidden somewhere but I haven't been able to find it. Silly Duck, Sassy's sister and Sally's aunt, is currently in the barn setting on her nest most of the time, after about two weeks of half-days or less. Slut Duck, Sally's sister, is laying eggs in the barn but showing no other inclinations towards motherhood.
There is only one drake, now, Captain Duck. All of his brothers and uncles went to live with Bob Linder to learn the joys of bachelorhood. Bob also provides them with a German Shepherd to conduct exercise classes. They all seem to be enjoying themselves.
I will try to get a picture of Sally's babies if any ever hatch.
Doc Brizzley, Family Farm Manager.