Duck Dynasty — the outer pool yard and inner dormer yard.
Who said farm life is boring?
Warning: Some of what I describe may be disturbing for animal-loving readers. It’s also, at times, just straight-up gross for those not exposed to day-to-day farm life. You’re aware now. Keep reading, please.
This post was supposed to be about how wonderful keeping ducks is. Although it is; we’ve learned early in our first six months that there is some aspects of keeping poultry that is unexpected and not very enjoyable. Lesson learned: you may lose a hen, and you may have to play water fowl doctor. Here’s the story…
We’ve been having a heatwave out here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s been brutal. High humidity and temps into the 90s. We’ve had to get creative to keep the house cool — not many homes have air conditioning around here. We don’t need it; but, this is the third summer in a row where the seemingly new normal is HOT. So, we may have to invest in central air sooner than later. Had we had it — perhaps none of this might have happened. Then, again, it still may have.
Welcome to Poultryville. The extended chicken run, Coupe De Ville, and Duck Dynasty.
So, my duck pen, as you can see by the photo above, has a secure enclosure and then a more open enclosure. The open enclosure we call their “pool yard.” The more secure one the “dormer yard.” On the morning in question (July 9), I had vented our garage to our home. This means I cracked open the garage door, and kept the pedestrian door from our home to the garage open to circulate air. We block access so our Husky dog, Yuki, doesn’t get out. We vent the garage because it’s attached to the house and holds a lot of heat and we have appliances out in the garage (chest freezer, refrigerator, washer and dryer), as well as a server rack that works the hosts the web sites I manage and our home network.
Somehow Yuki got out. My 16-year-old daughter and I searched for her in her usual haunts. We call her “Miss Adventure” because she goes off on these little walkabout adventures, but always has either come home or someone brings her home. The problem was that my daughter had a doctor’s appointment that morning 22 miles away. This is one of those doctor’s appointments set up three months in advance — so cancelling wasn’t an option. Therefore, we had to stop looking. I locked up the ducks from their pool yard to their dormer yard, to keep them safe in case my dog returned when I wasn’t home. I instructed my 13-year-old son, who was just waking up, to listen for the dog or the door, in case Yuki came home or someone brought her home. That everything was locked up (I meant the ducks and the house; but….) and I’d get home as quickly as possible. Then we’d try again and all go look for the dog.
QimYuki Denali Harper aka Yuki aka Miss Adventure
While I was at the doctor’s office awaiting my daughter’s appointment to finish, my special-needs 18-year-old son, Bean, called. He has an apartment trailer on our property (see story on that here); he had come up to the main house because his 13-year-old brother was upset. There was a dead chicken in the yard. I had him snap a cell phone photo, because I’m not the only person in our ‘hood with hens. But, it was a Buff Orpington; so, it looked like it could be mine. At that moment I thought, “Well, Buffs are common breeds, it still could be a neighbor’s pullet.” I asked the boys to get a shovel and put the bird in a paper grocery bag until I got home. I didn’t want my loose dog having a free chicken dinner. You don’t want your dogs to get a taste for fresh, raw chicken when you’re a backyard chicken keeper.
It was another hour before we got home. We ran into a really bad traffic jam caused by summer road construction (there was no way around it). When I surveyed the carnage, my yard looked like someone had taken a hose and sprayed feathers from one end of my yard to the other. Bean, expectantly, had fled the scene. My youngest son hadn’t gotten the message to put the chicken in a paper bag. So, I got to inspect an untouched crime scene. The deceased Buff was Angel — my most aggressive chicken, which is not saying much because compared to other broods, mine all seem pretty mellow. She had a small chunk torn out of her tail and out of her neck. The wounds were obviously severe enough to kill her.
This chunk of feathers was found mid-point between Poultryville and the other side of the house where the chicken carcass lay in ruin.
Next I went to check the rest of the chickens and if the coop or run was damaged. Nothing. It was then that I noticed that the ducks were huddled in the corner under the pallet platform. It was then I realized that the ducks had been left out of their yard. I questioned my youngest son. He thought I had forgotten them in my rush to find the dog and get my daughter to the doctor. “I was trying to be helpful, mom,” he said. Teenagers being helpful can be rare. I couldn’t be mad at him. He felt awful enough as it was.
As I entered the dormer yard, I saw blood. Once I was able to coax the drake and duck out, it was more than obvious that they had been attacked, too — not just scared. Joe, our Drake, had his feathers ripped out at his tail. Other than that, he seemed okay. Vera, our duck, was really bad. She had 8 different wounds — one on her belly that was a straight up puncture wound. It was still bleeding.
One of Vera’s very deep puncture wounds. The thick down makes finding wounds and treating them a bit difficult.
With my daughter’s help, I immediately went to work on stopping the bleeding on Vera (it turned out that two of her wounds were still bleeding), cleaning the wounds, and putting antiseptic/antibiotic spray on them. I put them in their little hut and put a towel over the door and let them rest. Later that afternoon, after talking to another backyard chicken keeper, I called hubby and he brought home first-aid glue. On the deep punctures that Vera had, we cleansed again and put on the antibiotic salve and then put on first-aid glue. It worked beautifully. By evening she seemed a bit better.
Vera sat pretty still while we stopped the bleeding and tended her injuries.
Following putting the ducks back in their nesting house, my dog came home. I checked her for bites, peck marks, fur in her nails. Nothing. She was clean as could be. I put her in her room in the house and went back to double check there were no holes or predator entry in the pens and dormers of Poultryville. Nothing. I started to wonder if my predator was the bald eagle I had seen fly over our property very early that morning as I watered the vegetables. That would explain the smallish holes in the chicken. The small width between puncture marks on my duck. But wouldn’t an eagle carry off the bird? No answers. Just more questions.
I went to go back to figure out what to do with the chicken (compost? yard waste? bury it?), when I saw the two little yapper dogs from down the street come trucking through by our front drive. Here comes the lady down the street. “There you are! There you are!” I stood with my arms crossed, as if to say, “Thou shalt not pass little yapper dogs.” The neighbor lady looked at me, “Grandma left them out the wrong door; we’ve been looking for them for hours.” She gathered her dogs and left. I didn’t see the dogs attack, so it was just sheer speculation. In my head I understood it could have been my dog. But I still was scowling when she walked off, I know. Sorry, neighbor.
I surveyed the scene. How had the chicken gotten out? Why was the body mostly intact? I surmised that the yapper dogs had chased the ducks, and that spooked the chickens and it got enough adrenaline pumping through Angel’s body that she flew higher than normal and just happened to fly out of the chicken run. I suspect the yapper dogs more because had it been my dog, Yuki, I don’t think there would be any chicken carcass left to inspect. I also don’t think that the ducks would have survived bites from her.
The rest of the chicken brood seemed nonplussed by the events and I actually got three eggs that day. The ducks however, were skittish and moving slow. I could relax later that day when I finally saw both of them eat and drink. I called the local vet and talked out what happened and such. She talked me through what to look for on the ducks as far as broken bones. Both ducks were fine. Vera was limping a bit, but that’s because one of the deeper puncture wounds was in the muscle that helps her walk.
Throughout the next days we kept the ducks confined to their dormer yard. I made sure there was fresh straw down, and fresh water. They weren’t eating very much. But they were drinking. I worried if the strain of laying eggs might hurt our duck more. She didn’t lay.
Saturday morning we went to tend their wounds as we had been doing multiple times a day — and we found the Joe, our drake, had lost a good portion of his feathers on his hind quarters next to the initial “scratch” he had gotten on the attack day. Now this is where it gets gross. He also smelled bad. Poor Joe had been used to as an egg-laying spot for flies. Yes, friends, there were maggots on him. After the momentary gross-out by both my husband and I, we went to work to flush out the worms. We discovered he had a wound under where his wing points cross over and his down is thick that we had missed initially. That’s where the flies had attacked him.
Following the thorough flushing of his wounds, we then laid a thick, thick layer of triple-antibiotic cream, which works as a fly deterrent, as well. The routine at that point was to irrigate-flush Joe before each medicine session. Last night and this morning (two days after the first sight of maggots) there were no more worms and the wounds were well scabbed up — no seepage.
After the maggot discovery, I started checking online. Seems like many poultry keepers have encountered such situations — a bird gets injured, hurt, and you miss a wound and the flies hit next. It’s nice to know we weren’t alone in our experience. I already felt so upset. It’s a cycle-of-life thing. As someone who lives close to the land, I get it. I just wish it hadn’t hit our poor traumatized ducks.
We’ll have to continue the irrigation and flushing for another day or two, however. That will ensure that we got all of it. Joe’s got a big scab where the wound we missed was, and the original wound site looks like it’s ready to sprout feathers again. We tease often and call him One-Eyed Joe (remember, these two Pekins already survived a bobcat attack before we ‘rescued’ them). Well now he’s Butt-Naked One-Eyed Joe. He’s a good Drake, regardless and quite the survivor.
Vera, on the other hand, is starting to grow back feathers in two of her wound sites. She moves slow, favoring one leg, where that deep puncture wound is, but it’s less than it was a few days ago. Also, yesterday she laid an egg, which I took as a thank you for nursing her and Joe. Joe, meanwhile, has for two days in a row done his crazy happy dance when I fill the pool up. They are more subdued, but clearly on the mend. Thank goodness.
The one good thing over this whole situation is that the birds have bonded with me more — a good thing given I didn’t get them until they were a year old. I cried over Vera at the third medicine round — the evening of the initial attack. I felt so so bad, as she nuzzled into my arm as I nursed her wounds. This morning, she was more of her bossy self, and poked me with her bill (not a bite, but a poke) as if to say, “That’s for not making sure the boy knew to keep us penned up!” She ate a slug I caught for her this morning right from my hand, however. She loves her slugs and the extra protein will be good for her wound healing.
Joe and Vera: On the mend and closer to each other and me for the experience.
Again, who said farm-life was boring? For sure, we’ve learned a few lessons, and I think the ducks know, I’m definitely a friend now.
Comment below and tell me your stories of nursing animals back to health. How did you do it? How did it make you feel? Share, please!