In August my sister, Devin, and I drove two hours to collect a family of Muscovy ducks from a former colleague of mine. Her neighbor had raised them as a small home business and couldn’t take them with him when he moved. The ducks wandered over onto her property and hatched a clutch of ducklings; she didn’t want to keep them but she did grow rather found of the two adult males of the group. We took two adult females and 11 six-week old ducklings.
Originally we housed them in a pen constructed of T-posts and welded wire with a dog igloo habitat. This worked well until they were fully grown when there space was limited. Devin helped me convert our outbuilding (“barn”) into a shelter for them with a large run. During the three months we raised them we lost two. The first to our dog, Dashel, who pushed his way out the side door and did what dogs of his kind were bred to do. The second to a great horned owl one night before we had a cover on the pen. The owl removed the adult duck’s head and neck, leaving his body in the pen until morning. We burned the duck’s body.
With ten ducks left, 3 males and seven females including the original adult pair (named “Mama Duck” and “Masi Duck”) we decided we needed to reduce the herd. Neither Sammit nor I are comfortable slaughtering an animal ourselves at this point, though I hope to build up to that one day. I found a place about an hour drive north of our house that would process our ducks for $8.00 each. We made the decision to keep Mama & Masi ducks in part because we had given them names and in part because they are the matriarchs of the group and again in part because they would be tough meat. We decided to keep one male to either line breed with or trade for another male to improve genetics. We also decided to keep two younger females because we aren’t sure how old the matriarchs are and want to make sure we have eggs and can hatch more clutches in the future.
Last night around dark I penned the five most generic looking of our 10 ducks. We’re keeping a male that is in recovery from a leg injury (“Limpy”) and two additional females who are easily identifiable (“Wingding” a duck with a wing that doesn’t lie flat, and “Rascoon” the only one who still sports an all black face). It was easier than I thought to pen them. I did it alone and there wasn’t an hour of chasing like I had imagined in my mind. I just had to be smarter than the ducks. They spent the night in dog crates in our garage and Devin and I loaded them into the back of the Lexus at 6:30 this morning.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts about this process. I had a dream last night that I snuck into the garage and set them free from myself. I’ve felt like I’m betraying them and their trust which I think is a lot of projection; I actually don’t think they’ve ever liked or trusted me but rather see me as a food dispensing device but I can’t help up interpret their wagging tails at dinner time as affection. I’m not ready to become a vegetarian so I could not very well let myself “save” these ducks (that were never meant to be pets) while eating my chicken shwarma for dinner. We thanked them for their lives and for dying to nourish our bodies. For the short time they were alive they were allowed to be very “ducky” – given free roam of not only our property but that of our neighbors as well. They were supplemented with a little grain at night when they were penned in a[n eventually predator proof] shelter. They ate all the bugs and weeds they wanted and always had a pool to splash in. They could fly where ever they wanted and waddle in puddles – in short, we gave them the best lives we could.
I cried this morning when I got back to the car, just for a second, but long enough to have my relationship with our food system changed forever.