But responding to a chance advert for eight free bags of sugar beet pellets (an extra treat, especially for the four ewes who are all beginning to look decidedly pregnant) led to more than I bargained for.
The advert continued... also home required for three pairs of Muscovy Ducks. The last time I came across Muscovy Ducks was when I stayed on a forest smallholding in Latvia. They had a sizeable flock free-ranging and their owner was full of praise for their merits as smallholding stock.
Muscovy Ducks are not related to all the other farmyard ducks which come from the humble Mallard. Instead they are tree-ducks, somewhere in fact between a duck and a small goose.
I quickly typed in 'rearing Muscovy Ducks' and found out that they are supposedly delightfully quiet and amiable birds to keep. They are polygamous, usually with one male looking after about five or six females (so not really pairing up as the advert said) and they are very prolific. They also reportedly taste very nice indeed.
The ducks that we already have, five black Cayugas and one white duck, are not tremendously productive. We get eggs from them, but not a huge number. We have bred them, but if we let the ducks do the rearing we do well to get a couple of new birds in a year - not a great contribution to the table. In fact, two of the Cayugas need to 'go' soon as they are last year's offspring.
I made a phone call and it was agreed that we would take two 'pairs' of Muscovy Ducks, the older pair staying put to keep a peacock company!
We loaded the cat carriers into the car and made the journey across the fens to meet a delightful couple who have been smallholders for many, many years. We had arranged to arrive just as the ducks would be getting put to bed, as catching birds is far easier when they are penned and at roost.
I had read to beware of their claws, for being tree ducks they actually have clawed feet for clinging to branches. I had also read to beware of their other defence mechanism - a quick squirt from the back end!!!
As it was, these were not too much of a problem. The claws were certainly nothing compared to a cockerel's spurs.
When we got the four birds home we put them straight into a couple of ducks houses. We didn't want them flying straight off.
I had spent the day extending the heras fencing compound in which we keep the trio of meat chickens. This would give the Muscovies a safe area in which to forage and get used to their new surroundings, but if they wanted they would easily be able to fence hop and go wandering (or flying) around the farm.
|The two drakes|
|The two ducks - stronger fliers than the drakes|
This morning, for the first time, I found three of them exploring a little further than the chicken pen - they were waddling around in with the sheep. They seem to have made friends with the female turkey too.
With a bit of luck, one or both of the females will start laying - there's a chance they'll disappear for a while and hopefully return with a gaggle of ducklings in tow. Although we took the four Muscovies on the understanding that they would not be for the pot, their offspring most certainly will be. I look forward to giving you my first cook's review.