Creative Sustenance

Culinary and other adventures in foraging, gardening, urban farming and more, in Wisconsin and the Midwest.

The death of a duck

This morning when I went out to feed and release the ducks from the coop I found that our brown hen had died overnight. I pretty much expected to find her as such. She'd been declining steadily over the past couple weeks, until yesterday when she could not muster the energy to even waddle away from me when I reached down to pick her up. She felt fragile, weighing, it seemed, half as much as she did just two or three weeks earlier. 

The girls had named her Chloe, but I mostly just referred to her and the others according to their coloring. The black duck, the brown duck, the male or drake. Chloe was the brown duck. I tried to find the reason for her illness online, but none of them really nailed all of her symptoms. Until one person in a poultry chat forum mentioned that ducks can suffer from depression and even die from it. So I looked that up as well, and while there wasn't a whole lot of information on duck depression what I did find made sense, especially considering the sequence of events that initiated and lead to her decline.

Chloe, the brown duck on the right. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

She had always been something of a third wheel in the trio of ducks we had, obsequious in her manner to the drake and the black female. When the black hen became broody and spent more than a month glued to her clutch of eggs, the brown hen suddenly had full and unhindered access to the drake, and the two of them made an inseparable pair, although, truth be told, the drake seemed to simply accept her constant presence rather than embrace it. She followed him everywhere, often chattering behind him with that constant head and neck bobbing motion that ducks often use when communicating whatever it is they're communicating.

A good egg layer...the one on the left, that is.

The black hen hatched three ducklings at the end of her brood period. We kept and raised them separately from the adult ducks while the broody black hen continued to sit on another clutch of eggs for another month.  When we finally released the three ducklings, now much larger and able to fend for themselves, into the run with the adults, the dynamic between all of the ducks changed instantly and dramatically.

The drake immediately became aggressive and somewhat obsessed with the new kids on the block, so much so that we had to separate him for fear that he'd harm them. We kept him in the coop while the rest were outside, and vice versa. We noticed that when he became aggressive to the ducklings Chloe would mimic his aggressiveness toward them as well. When he was in the coop Chloe would lay outside the coop near him while the ducklings and the black hen, who had nicely rebonded with her three offspring, tooled happily around the yard, picking at bugs and leaves or just sleeping contentedly in a small group.

Clearly the brown duck, Chloe, was not happy with the new situation. The drake was not interested in her at all, the black hen and the ducklings had their own little family group, and during the times when the whole flock was together she seemed even more ignored by everyone. So, I really think she became depressed. She ate less, was less chatty, and seemed to sulk, inasmuch as a duck can be said to sulk. She became weaker and weaker, would lie down off to the side of the others and finally would not even come out from the coop when the rest were released into the yard. I'm convinced she expired from depression, which makes sense to me as ducks are a very social animal. Never get only a single duck, they say; it's cruel.

Jesse with Chloe, her duck.

So, after I found her this morning I dug a grave next to a lilac tree in the yard, tucked her bill under her wing and laid her into the hole. Animals dying is of course a part of the experience of having animals. I'm no stranger to dead animals, be they farm animals or animals I harvest from the wild. Sometimes they die quietly (like a duck expiring alone overnight), sometimes violently (ducklings get torn apart by raccoons and chickens get mass murdered by weasels all the time). It's not anything to get real worked up over. You just accept it and do your best to prevent it where and when you can. Mostly you just try to give the animals in your charge a good life, and a good death when that time comes too. What always bothers me most is if there's any suffering attached to the death. The brown duck was suffering at the end, and that bothered me, particularly as I didn't know what to do about it. Hopefully I'm smarter about it now. But she did have a very good life up until then, and I'm content about that.


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