Saturday, March 15, 2008

4-H: Raising Ducks in a Great American Suburb

Spring is here, and my children are, once again, thrilled for a new year of 4H. I like 4H because all my kids can go to one place for an activity. They like 4H because the meetings usually have cookies, and 4H projects mean getting new animals.

This year my oldest is raising Pekin ducks, studying archery, photography and learning how to bake quick breads. My oldest daughter is studying dog obedience, dog care, dog showmanship, raising pekin ducks, and also doing a project aptly entitled "the Horseless Horse". My middle son, the one of the green bottle, well... 4H is like a little bit of heaven for him.

Last year, we did the great Pekin duck experiment and it went so well, that we're doing it again this year. His second project, muskrat trapping, didn't go off too well. In fact, when I looked at the pictures on how to skin a muskrat, I decided he might need to "lose" the project book. As you might guess from my other writings, it's not difficult to get him to "lose" something, since most days he doesn't know where anything is.

So, this year he is doing: Market Ducks, Market Chickens, Dog care, showmanship and obedience, Exploring the Insect World, woodworking and some project on making nutritious breakfasts.

Now, I'm sure you're wondering how in the world did such a nice respectable suburban family end up allowing their 10-year-old son to raise a chicken and then go on to allow all three of our older children to raise ducks? This summer we'll have a total of 6 pekin ducks and 1 roasting chicken (doesn't that just sound yummy?) staying in our nice rectangular back yard.

Let me start this by saying that most of our neighbors really like us. At least we think they do. Our neighbor on the left likes the ducks and thinks they're funny. The neighbors on the right spend the summer in Florida, and I really don't think our ducks were the reason they bought a condo and put their house on the market.

We gave in to our youngest son last year for several reasons.

1) Raising duckies sounded better than skinning muskrats
2) I'm a sucker for cute animals
3) He loves hands-on science and agriculture, and he just thrives when we let him do stuff like this.
4) Our kids always love small animals for about 3 months and then tire of them -- perfect for a meat project because they get auctioned at the fair at about 2 1/2 months old.

Last year was a blast! Ducklings are cute! And, we watched them grow up. We watched the down change to feathers, got to see their ear holes when the down was gone and the feathers not full. We were able to watch the first time they figured out how to dive under water, and the kids loved to sit at the edge of the wading pool and let the ducks swim around their feet. I had no idea, until last year, that ducks go through "puberty" and their voices change! Over the course of one week they went from "peep peep" to "peep-quack peep-quack" to "quack!"

After they were gone, I did miss their quacking. It provided a unique soundtrack to my day, especially since it sounds kind of like maniacal laughter.

"Children, today," from outside you hear "wahh...qauck....whaa...wahhh", "you will do all your chores and do them well." (more maniacal laughter).

Also, suburban duck farming leads to other interesting situations. Like, for instance, driving with ducks. In our back yard, they don't really stink. We quickly learned that, when enclosed in a minivan with us, they stink. The easy solution, of course, is to open the van windows.

So, there we were, driving down busy old Galbraith road, windows open and 4 ducks quacking on the top of their lungs. The best times were when we stopped at stop lights. We all faced forward, not cracking a smile, as the people in the cars around us pointed and looked for the source of all the quacking.

I also learned that ducks get car sick in the heat. (That's what "don't travel well in heat" means). My son learned a few things about duck digestion, namely that a cricket eaten at home won't be digested by the time it's puked out at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds.

"Look!" He said, pointing at the cricket, "That must be Sunshine's puke. She's loves it when I feed her crickets."

Everyone assumed that it would be hard the day the ducks left. After a long discussion about what "processed" meant, it was difficult. I found my son in the back yard, hugging a duck and crying.

"I hate that everything has to die! It's just not fair!" He said.

However, several months later, he had a different perspective.

"Roasted duck is delicious."

I guess how fair life is might just depend upon what species you are.


Meg Stutts said...

Hi, My name is Meg and I live in north Mississippi with my two boys who are both first year 4-H ers,my husband,and various critters-which now just consist of our two dogs,our little flock of ducklings;some pekins my sons wanted for Easter and my youngest,Jesse,whos 8 is doing as his project for this year.We're having a lot of fun with it,we just got them a wading pool a couple of days ago and they love it-of course they do,they're ducks lol.I don't think we will ever make it to the meat processing part tho- because the kids have made pets out of them.When they get just too big too live in the suburbs we'll have to relocate them to their aunt and uncles who live more out in the country with a large pond.We enjoyed looking at your duckling pictures and any advice you can give us on our 4-H project will be well appreciated.

Deb said...

Glad you enjoyed the post! My best piece of advice is to get a filtered pool of some sort, or be prepared to empty and clean the wading pool often. Our ducks got bigger and so did there poop. Thus, the wading pool gets dirty very fast. Also, keep records as you go -- that makes it much easier to fill in the project book. And, duck anatomy is a great theme for a poster if you do one for your project. Another theme is "duck housing". We had a lot of fun with the ducks!