So this isn’t going to be the prettiest topic, but bear with me.
One of the biggest questions about whether or not we would try ducks again, after last fall’s tragedies, was how to keep them safe. In reading backyard poultry or even farming literature and blogs, it seems like keeping predators away is fairly similar to airport security: One guy tries to light his shoe bomb on a plane, and a new rule specifically aimed at stopping that threat is implemented, but another issue springs up. It’s like an almost literal game of whack-a-mole. Unless we keep our ducks in a hardware cloth enclosure night and day, there’s risk. That said, we tightened security this year to keep the new girls safer.
We’re debating not letting them forage in the yard, but stay in their fenced enclosure, after the trees shed coverage, which leaves the ducks vulnerable. But that’s a post for another day.
In reality, last year I found the biggest threat to their safety was simply not always being able to get them put away before dusk, when the threat is its biggest. Last year we herded the ducks into their enclosure; sometimes it was a piece of cake, and sometimes I was fairly sure I heard the Benny Hill theme strike up. The night a predator killed two of our ducks last year, I discovered them on my post-nightfall fifth attempt to get them in their enclosure. Prior to that, Max called me one night, while I was traveling, saying the ducks wouldn’t go in their enclosure, and I spent the entire flight home envisioning the carnage I’d find when I got home. (In fact, the ducks were fine that night, and Phil and I worked together to wrangle them into their enclosure and coop around 1 a.m. when I got home.)
Now, I’d tried mealworms on last year’s gals, but they didn’t like them the first time and I didn’t try again, giving our package to a friend with chickens. But going to my friend Sharon’s house was an eye-opener. Her baker’s dozen of backyard ducks and chickens can be scattered around the yard, and she just shakes a mealworm bag and they all magically appear. Around 5:00, when she puts them in their fenced enclosure, she just walks out the door and they follow her in a line, Pied Piper-style. It’s something. Shortly after we got the new ducklings, we got a bag of mealworms. The girls loved them when they were only a few weeks old. When they moved to the yard, we started training them by shaking the bag and then feeding them. After a few tries, they learned that a shaken bag meant treats were coming.
These days, we often clean out our local pet shop when we’re running low; if you’ve, for any reason, been in the Broadripple Pets Supplies Plus and can’t find mealworms, my apologies. After the frustration and dread of trying to herd the girls last year, here’s how our easy-peasy evenings now go.
Mmmm. I like eating weeds.
What the hey? Did I hear… a mealworm bag shaking?
Must. Follow. Tommy.
Benevolent Tommy, bestower of duck deliciousness.
Safely inside their enclosure, before nighttime threats start prowling.
We love you, mealworms.