Winter woe, springtime promise

The ducks are out again today, and we’re all glad about it. For the past two days they’ve had to stay in their houses, protected from the bitter cold. That means that two of us haul five-gallon buckets of water down to the duck houses, along with two dishes of duck feed and the empty water pans. While one of us sets up the food and water in each house and collects the eggs, the other keeps the ducks from escaping.

That is not quite as easy as it may sound. A twelve-pound duck with talons who wants to fly out of the house can pretty well do it. Imagine an un-neutered feral tom cat with wings and you’ll get the idea. The whole procedure is reversed at night. We have to re-hay the houses then, too; if we don’t, the ducks’ fragile feet could suffer from spending the night on wet (and probably frozen) hay—the inevitable result of their feather and nose hygiene, and the very disaster we’re trying to prevent by keeping them locked up.

Duck house-arrest happened quite a bit last winter, but this is the first time this season. Strange. I guess that’s good for the ducks, because they certainly prefer to be roaming free, noshing on whatever tasty greens they find and soil-dwellers they can dig up. For the ducks, being cooped up, literally, is miserable—to say nothing of stinky. The sisters aren’t too happy with added labor the confinement requires either.

On the other hand, those cold, cold days are necessary to maintain the health of the whole environment around here. Maple tree sap needs to “rest” in the roots for long periods of time to be fortified with nutrients from the soil. Good for the tree, good for making maple syrup. The cold maintains a balance among the tiny critters, like virii, bacteria, deer ticks, slugs, beetles and ground bees. Cold triggers hibernation in some of the local animal community. Cold sends the geese south each year. Cold keeps some of the more “challenging” plants, like poison ivy, from growing dangerously large and powerful. Cold is our friend.

So, I’m sorry Basil, Henrietta, Clementine, Petra and Macrina, that you have to suffer days of confinement. But the payback comes this spring, when you’ll each have two strong, healthy feet and those amazingly strange facial decorations (caruncles). That’s when you’ll really have a great time, rooting around in the mud and finding the most delicious tender greens. Hang in there. It’s coming …

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