Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Teddy, the Great White Hunter?

The feline and canine members of our family are not renowned for their hunting skills, so I was surprised to discover what looked horribly like dunnock feathers in Cleo's room a couple of days ago. For a few minutes I was gripped with the horror that it might be Poppet, but then I saw her hopping about by the feeders. I wondered whether it could have been a wren. I haven't seen our garden wren for a few days but this is not unusual; she's a solitary bird and I often go for weeks without spying her. Whoever this poor bird was I suspect it was already dead when Cleo found it (probably in the recent cold snap), because she just doesn't do birds. When she was a young cat she could just about manage a butterfly if it flew very slowly towards her in an undeviating straight line and she had plenty of notice it was coming. That was assuming she jumped up at the right moment and clapped her paws around it and remembered not to let go in astonishment. She did progress to shrews when we moved here and has been known to bring in the occasional rat, which always impresses me because she's not a big cat and the rats she gets are sometimes not far off her own size, but, I just don't see it.

Teddy is likewise not exactly ruthless when it comes to having a hunter's instinct. This is proved by two episodes, both of which happened last year. First there was the baby bunny, which makes him sound hunter-ish in some ways but not in others.

I was feeding the horses when this terrible high-pitched screaming started. It's the sound only a rabbit in distress makes so I knew immediately what it was. Also, with a sinking heart, I had a feeling I knew who was responsible for it. 

Ted had been very interested in the hedgerows since bunny-breeding time started and now he'd managed to find a very tiny baby bunny and somehow (more by luck that intention I'm sure) got it wedged between him and a thicket of brambles, then he'd simply picked it up and, with great excitement, much whining and frantic waggings of his tail, proudly brought it out to show me. The fact that he happily gave me his prize probably underlines the point that a vicious hunter he aint. 

Anyhoo, the baby was so small it fitted into one of my hands. I guess the warmth and security made it feel reassured, because it nestled into my hand and wouldn't get off. So there I was, trying to do the horses with a baby rabbit in one hand and a wheelbarrow in the other. It was never going to work, so out came the ubiquitous feed bucket, in went some haylage and on top of that impromptu nest went said bunny. I put it in the trailer (locking teddy out) and went off to finish my chores, thinking it would either be alive when I was done or it wouldn't. 

Sadly it wasn't. There were no obvious wounds and I have a theory that animals die from shock rather than injury in circumstances like this. Either way the bunny was no more, and it was Ted's first kill (if indirectly). Strike one for Teddy's status as a fierce hunter.

The second story is less persuasive on this front and it involves crows. Now I am not a fan of crows. I consider them unnecessarily vicious creatures who seek to take pleasure in being cruel to others. I know this because a few years back I was trying a horse and while the owner rode in the paddock I noticed something plummeting out of the sky towards me. It landed close to my feet with a sickening thud and it took me a few seconds to realise it was a pigeon. The poor thing got unsteadily to it's feet looking dazed and shaken. It was bleeding and some of it's feathers had come out- they drifted down around us like ragged grey snow flakes.

I'd never seen a bird drop out of the sky before. I've seen plenty of pheasants shot down but never a living bird fall like that pigeon did. As he got to his feet and wandered off, still looked shocked, I wondered what on earth could have made him fall like that. 

And then I heard them.


A mean-looking gang of them, four or five strong, wheeled down out of the sky and began harrying the poor pigeon, who was doing his best to look as small as possible and get away from them. They dive-bombed him without mercy, taking it in turns to rake his poor back and head with their horrible claws and beaks. As if it hadn't been enough to target him when he was flying and harry him out of the sky, they now followed him while we was wobbling along on the ground, taking turns to attack him as he tried desperately to get away.  He looked utterly terrified. 

I was absolutely incensed. Not only was it five against one, the pigeon couldn't have been a less threatening object if he'd tried. I ran at the crows waving my arms and yelling at them. And d'you know what they did? They laughed. They wheeled back leisurely-like into the sky and the whole lot of them laughed. It was a horrible sound; I can still remember it, and I've never liked crows since.

Teddy comes into this story because a few weeks ago a whole flock of crows decided to make our paddocks their temporary home. I wasn't best pleased as you can imagine. Ted, however, was in heaven. Cleo may not be especially interested in birds (the most she'll do is chatter at them through her teeth), but Ted is driven absolutely crazy by them. He is bonafide Bird Mad and will take any opportunity that offers to chase them. I have a theory it's because he knows full well they'll fly off long before he reaches them so he's never forced to contemplate what he'd actually do were he ever to get near enough to catch one. The fun for Ted is in the chase.

On this particular morning I was busy feeding the horses, the crows were in the bottom half of the paddock and Ted, having clocked their presence, set off joyfully towards them yelling : "CHARGE!" 
He accelerated (from a safe distance), making that peculiarly high yipping noise of a terrier with prey in sight, but the crows didn't move. He was surprised; he was not used to this. Birds flapped speedily away when he began his charge and uttered his war cry. A tiny weeny bit of  commitment went off the edge of his charge. Still, he'd started, and drawn attention to his intention by yelling about it; he couldn't give up now without losing face, so he continued on down the field, probably praying that the big black birds would fly away any minute. But they didn't. He got closer and closer and as he got closer they looked bigger and bigger with their sharp beaks and narrowed black eyes. The shrill yip faltered and died in his throat to be replaced by an uncertain whimper as the full-on charge faded away and became instead a rather uncertain trot. He looked from side to side, clearly hoping something would miraculously appear so he could save face by chasing that instead.

Nothing appeared and so after trotting on a bit more he at last sat down a few feet away from the crows who ignored him completely. Adding insult to injury they remained on the ground a few feet away from him for about five minutes more, before giving him a particularly condescending look that clearly said "we're going now because we're ready to move, not because you're here" and they flew off into the sky utterly unperturbed by his presence.

Poor Teddy. 

He turned round and trotted back to me looking very puzzled and a bit woebegone. I promised not to tell anyone what had happened in case it dented his reputation and we both agreed that crows were nasty birds in anycase and he was better off not getting mixed up with them.

Actually, the most unlikely huntress I have ever seen was one of our chickens who, when I was a girl, found a frog that had got into their pen. It's rear end, complete with two (thankfully immobile) long dangly back legs were hanging out of her beak. She tipped her head back and gobbled it down rather in the way people swallow oysters. I also once saw a hen eat a mouse. And you thought they were vegetarians. Enjoy your eggs! 
Our hens also used to have us in hysterics at apple-time. They would jump up and down beneath the low branches of our apple trees like fat ballerinas squashed into too-tight tutus. At the apex of each upward leap they'd peck at the apples hanging on the lowest branches before gravity intervened and pulled them back down to earth. They would spend ages doing this. I imagine the calories they received from the apples didn't outweigh the outlay required to gain them in the first place!

I've another apple-eating story that also makes us laugh, it involves my mother's dog Dougal getting drunk on the fermented fruits lying beneath the trees in his garden. Several vets scratched their heads in bemusement for a while before someone realised what his being sick and lying about lethargically reminded them of, but perhaps that's best saved for another day. 

As perhaps is the time Teddy licked a toad in the garden and spent several hours afterwards frothing at the mouth and being sick. We supposed he'd learnt his lesson, but the following week the toad reappeared and Teddy just couldn't resist licking him again. 

Talking of eating revolting things, M once ate a slug in a salad thinking it was an olive. He said it was the most disgusting texture he's ever experienced- the slime had some kind of adhesive in it which stuck to the inside of his mouth. It took several hours of scrubbing with various cloths and gargling with copious quantities of alcohol (well that was his excuse anyway) to get rid of it. As if that wasn't funny enough in itself though, the really hilarious part was that M had made the salad himself and hadn't put any olives in it in the first place.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Summer of the Swallows

Two summer's ago my horses were at a yard where swallows nested in the stables. I've written before about these amazing acrobats of the air and I will always have a soft spot for them- my husband says he knows I'll be properly home when the place we live in has swallows, owls, deer and hares all in one place, and of course the ponies in a field behind the house.

I had noticed the old nests when we joined the yard the previous November and hoped the swallows would return to them when the weather warmed. Sure enough, as summer got underway, one afternoon I saw a handful of swallows skimming low across the fields hunting bugs, and not long after that they began zooming in and out of the stables inspecting the old nests and building new ones, just as they had at our farm when I was a child. It brought back some very strong memories which had lain more or less still in the intervening twenty-odd years.

We watched with bated breath for signs of babies in the four nests they were using. The first three produced offspring with smooth competence and got them fledged with no problems. The last nest did not fare so well. It was very upsetting to arrive at the yard one morning and find two babies dead on the concrete floor beneath the nest. We put some hay down just in case and the next day there was another baby on the floor, alive, but calling frantically for his parents. Reluctant to interfere I went out for a ride, resolving I would act if nothing had changed when I got back.

Two hours later and the baby was still there. I watched from a quiet distance as the parents went in and out, feeding the others in the nest but never going near the one on the floor. The similarities with Twin, the baby swallow I raised when I was a child. stirred all kinds of feelings. I knew the baby wouldn't last much longer without food and as I've never been one to walk past, after making absolutely sure his parents weren't feeding him, I picked him up, put him in a feed bucket and took him home with me. 

I got him feeding from a dropper (rehydration liquid, the tip I learned with Apple, our baby blackbird, earlier that spring). Later that day I went to collect L from school and then on to evening stables satisfied that he was at least feeding and so out of immediate danger.

While at the yard I thought I'd just check the stable floor again and what did I find but a second infant on the floor, calling for his parents who again were only feeding the others in the nest. Again reluctant to jump in too soon, I brought my horses in from the fields, fed them, groomed them, cuddled them. then walked them slowly back to the field, checked the water tank, the fence line, generally prolonging home time as long as I could to give the parents a chance but it wasn't happening, so we picked the baby up and L held him in his hands while we drove home.

So now we had two baby swallows sitting on a blanket inside in a horse's feed bucket in our bedroom. I thought I'd better phone M to let him know our bedroom had once again been taken over by baby birds before he came back from work and discovered them. He laughed and said he'd been expecting it ever since Apple left earlier in the year.

Raising a baby bird is not something to be done lightly. During daylight you have to feed every 30mins for a brand new hatchling, stretching to two hours for older chicks. Different birds have different feeding requirements. Apple was raised on soaked mealworms then live maggots, the swallows needed a mixture of insects and fruit, all cut up small enough to stop them choking. Water was given in a tiny dropper, but you have to be extremely careful not to squeeze it into their lungs (the holes are very close together in a bird's mouth). New hatchlings need a heat pad under them while feathered babies generally don't. Blackbirds learn to feed by pecking at the floor, swallows do it on the wing and that's much harder to teach. Pigeon babies have to be syringe-fed. You need to know what you're getting into before you intervene, and be certain you can cope when you do.

I was given a top tip by Jill, who runs our local animal rescue centre, when we rescued a baby sparrow the summer before- only feed them till dusk, then put them somewhere darkish and don't feed again until morning. It's what their mums and dads do and it give's you a night's sleep too, because raising hatchlings and fledglings is demanding and non-stop for several weeks. 
On their first night with us I therefore put the babies in our spare room (now free from ducklings) and stood in the door to watch them for a few minutes.

They had their feathers and each other to keep them warm, so I figured they would be ok in their feed bucket without a heat pad, but watching their behaviour and the way they huddled together I realised it was too big a space for them- they were used to the security of the nest and presumably felt vulnerable without it. I found a small whicker basket, lined it with tissues and put them in. They seemed happier.

You can see from the pic how young they were and to be honest I didn't hold out much hope that they would survive. I didn't know how long they'd been on the stable floor without food and whether they'd suffered any internal injuries in the fall. They were feeding but they were also very weak and listless and had had a huge shock. I didn't know whether they would be there in the morning and in fact one (the one at the front in the photo) died in the night. With one sibling gone I'm afraid it wasn't long before the other baby also passed away and I was left feeling a hopeless and that I'd failed them. M, a farmer's son, was pragmatic: "You gave them a chance: without you they would have died on the stable floor anyway."

A couple more days passed and no more babies fell from the nest. I began to feel hopeful that they were past the danger stage and would fledge safely, but then the next day I discovered three on the floor; one was dead, the other two alive. The nest was empty. 
In despair I watched for the parents but because there were no more babies in the nest they weren't even coming in to the stable anymore, let alone attempting to feed the chicks on the ground. What was worse was that, far from trying to get away from me when I went in to check them, the two remaining chicks began to call to me and try to move towards me when they saw me.


I picked them up and took them home.

These two were that little bit older than the others had been, they'd had a couple of extra days in the nest with their parent's feeding them so I was more hopeful of a success story, although as time went on it became apparent that the baby on the right hand side of the photo was not strong. 

I tried putting them in Apple's cage (vacated now she was a grown up girl out in the garden) for the night where I thought they would be safe but they hated it. Apple was fine in there until she was ready to fledge outside, but Swallows are not cage birds. They need wide open spaces and the freedom to fly wild and free - these babies taught me that that impulse is there right from the start of their lives. 
They exhausted themselves trying to find a way out between the bars of the cage and I was terrified that they would get a wing stuck, so we settled on the basket above- they perched on edge and went to sleep quite happy.

They were both feeding ok that first day and both survived the night, but on the second day the weaker baby became weaker still and in the night he died. 

Without his sibling the remaining swallow bonded very strongly with me. He would not leave me. If I put him in his basket he would crawl and flutter back to me and would only settle if he was in my hand or on my shoulder. He began to chirp when he saw me and once or twice produced that beautiful liquid song of a swallow on the wing. He would hop and fly around our bedroom so that when I came in it would take a few seconds to locate him: on the books, on the pillow, on the window sill looking out, one time sitting on my hairbrush, which must have been rather uncomfortable.

Night time was a problem- he became very distressed if I tried to put him in his basket and would fly and crawl until he was close to me. It gave me a moment's clarity on events that had happened so long ago I'd just grown up with the memory but not understood it- this impulse to be close to another living thing must have been why all my memories of Twin (the swallow I raised when I was nine) were of him riding everywhere on my shoulders. It was quite a goose-bumpy moment, the years peeled away.

The children loved having him in the house and helped feed him. He would sit on their knees when they came back from school and chirrup, opening his beak for food, and then, when he'd eaten enough, crawl up them and fall asleep beneath their chins. Once again I realised how blessed we were having such close contact with such a wonderful wild creature.

It is impossible not to fall for animals when you have the care of them. Impossible not to hope that against the odds they will survive, as Apple did, even when you know it is more likely that they won't. Impossible too not to mourn them when they go.

This little one lasted four days and seemed to be getting stronger and stronger. We were all hopeful, starting to believe that we'd got through the danger zone. I was very sad when I discovered he'd died in the night. Swallows are such sociable birds; they're born squashed together in a nest, they're raised pressed happily against their siblings, they hunt together, and in September they mass on wires and barn rooves together before flying to Africa. I think my babies all died of loneliness ultimately. The last remaining swallow didn't want to sleep alone in his basket- he wanted to curl up next to me, and if he'd been able to do that I don't think he would have died.

All of this I suppose begs the question would I do it again? And the answer of course is yes, a thousand time and resoundingly, because there is always the chance that it will work and you will save a life, and even if it doesn't, as M said, you have to try don't you?

Monday, 28 January 2013

T'is the season to be rainy (apparently)

Here in rural Hampshire the snow has all gone (hurray) but it's been replaced by rain (boo). I've never known a winter like it. It has rained and rained and rained and rained. If there is even a hint from the water companies of hosepipe bans later in the year I shall point them to this blog. The land is saturated - it can not absorb any more rain so all the water just lies on the surface.

The Redwings were back last evening and I had the camera with me. Here's a pic of one eating a worm. They were bloomin' difficult to photograph, largely because Teddy, who usually takes himself off on a nice explore by himself, unaccountably decided to stick with me which of course scared off the birds. The result looked better on the computer at home but hopefully you can see the bird?

The bird scarer-offer

I took part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch over the weekend. I've done it for the last few years. We generally have the same top ten birds coming to the garden as everyone else in the southern part of the UK, but every now and then we have a more unusual visitor (last year it was a red poll and the siskins). It's always interesting to see who's got what coming where, and of course it's fantastic for tracking fluctuations in bird populations. If you haven't done it before it only takes an hour of your time and there's still time to enter your findings on line. Just click on the blue wording above to go to the site. It's a good practical way to help our feathered friends.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Bees like hairspray. They DO NOT like slimy water in old field troughs...

When I was nineteen we moved from the farm to a five hundred year old thatched cottage. It was a beautiful place with low-slung ceiling beams that had once been ship's timbers, an ornate spiral staircase and an enormous inglenook fireplace big enough for several people to stand up in. It still had the medieval bread oven in it. I planted a herb garden in the rich dark soil at one side of the cottage and was told by one of the old farm workers who'd lived in the hamlet all his life that the reason the soil was so good there was because it had once been the deposit place for night soil. That was in the days before indoor plumbing! 
There was a huge iron door knocker on the front door and our Burmese cat Matilda used to jump up and cling on to it, knocking it when she wanted to be let in. She had a particular knock so we always knew it was her rather than a human being.
We kept the ponies at a farm opposite the house and during the summer the land was dry enough to use one of the fields as a schooling area and I used to exercise PB (my sister's horse) there.

One particular evening my parents were getting ready to go out to a formal function being held by a colleague of my father. I was riding in the field enjoying the colour and warmth of the late sun and the steady drone of bees going about their business and birds twittering in the hedgerows all around me. It was very peaceful and the horse was working well; following a steady rhythmic pace, bending into his corners nicely and listening to what I was asking him to do.

I was concentrating so hard I didn't hear my mother come into the yard and lean on the gate to watch until she called out to me. I pulled up and rode over to her. She was all dressed up ready to go with a new outfit on, her makeup perfect, hair washed, dried and carefully sprayed with hairspray to hold it all in place. 

"Don't come too close" I warned her, "you don't want to get horse's nose on your clothes." "No." She laughed, "I'll just come in and watch you do a bit of jumping for a few minutes." "Dad not ready yet?" I grinned and she pulled a face. "You know what your father's like- always leaves it till the last possible minute." She grinned and came in through the gate, looking slightly incongruous with her wellies on under her dress. "PB's working really well," I called over my shoulder to her as I turned the horse away towards the line of jumps. "Yes- he's looking good," she called back, "listening to you much better than last time".

She stopped to watch in the middle of the field. I circled PB towards the grid of fences, cantered him up the line and popped over them, four fences in total. Given that we'd jumped clear and he was, as we'd both said, improving, I was a little surprised therefore to hear my mother scream. 

She is well-known for her screams when my sister and I are riding- the slightest buck or unexpected jump from a horse and she can't help herself, but there didn't seem to be anything untoward happening now.

Glancing over at her I was astonished to see her performing what can only be described as a particularly frantic version of the kind of war dances Indians used to do in old westerns. She was leaping about in a circle like a demented woman, head bent down towards the floor, beating repeatedly at her hair with both hands, screaming all the time.

"What is it?" I called out in alarm. "What on earth's happened?" I couldn't get any closer to help because the terrified horse was quite sensibly refusing to go anywhere near her. "IT'S A BEE!" she shrieked. "I've got a bee stuck in my hair! It's stuck in the hairspray! I can't get it out! What shall I do?!" She was hopping from one foot to the other like someone who has no shoes on and discovers the sand is particularly hot beneath their toes.

And then she spied the water trough.

It was a very old water trough. We didn't use it so it hadn't been cleaned in a very long time. It was full, although to call what was inside water would have been stretching credibility too far. Slime would be a good description for it: thick, gloopy, sticky, foetid green slime. 

My mother ran towards it shrieking like a woman possessed, but not by rational thoughts, and when she reached it, grabbed both sides of the metal and without pause for further consideration, plunged her head into the disgusting stuff.

She emerged seconds later no longer screaming but with green slime all over her head. It framed her face, slid down her cheeks and dripped steadily onto her beautiful dress. Ironically, the only part of her that didn't have slime on was her wellies. 

I collapsed with immediate and helpless laughter. I laughed so hard I was crying and had to lean on the horse's neck to prevent myself falling off. Luckily my mother has a well-developed sense of humour and she stood in the middle of the field, face and hair dripping with disgusting smelly slime and also cried with laughter. It was some minutes before either of us could speak and even then all we could manage was to gasp things like: "shall I just go out like this and tell everyone I've dyed my hair green?" and "just go home and ask dad why he's taking so long because you've been ready ages."

It was and is one of the funniest moments of my entire life. It makes me laugh even now, all these years later, remembering her standing in that field in her best clothes covered with green slime. And do you know what she said when we finally regained control of ourselves? "It worked- the bee has gone." Well done mum.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Ducklings in the spare room

Two summers ago L's hen Ruby, who is a White Sussex, went broody. It wasn't as much of a surprise as it had been the previous year when it was completely unexpected. I'd bought the hens as hybrids  (cross-breeds) the year before because they were supposed to be more resistant to disease, good at laying eggs, and, more importantly, wouldn't to go broody.

Tell that to Ruby. She spent her first summer diligently sitting on a batch of unfertilised eggs patiently waiting for the babies to hatch, despite knowing full well that she doesn't have a husband because we don't have a cockerel. Such was her dedication she only got off the eggs for a quick pee, a leg stretch and a peck of layers pellets once or twice a day. Mavis, who'd been watching the whole thing with great interest, would dash into the hen house as soon as Rubes came off and "keep the eggs warm" for her. There would be a terrible screeching when Ruby discovered Mavis on her eggs and Mavis would be unceremoniously bundled off the nest.

Now, you might think this was no big deal, but two broody hens out of five meant we were down to two eggs a day (it would have been three, but Rennie, our Cuckoo Maran, whom M refers to as "nine, ten" because she is a woman of large stature, has a problem laying eggs. They're either soft shelled or get stuck, which involves a rather personal mix of a warm bath and some olive oil to remedy...). Two eggs a day to a family who do a lot of baking isn't really enough and so I tried all sorts of remedies to bring her out of the broodiness. I even tried (which was guaranteed to work) dousing the nest in water. Ruby just sat there and stared at me while a pool of water rose around her then trickled slowly out of the nest and soaked all the bedding in the house. It took ages to dry it out and the next time I went to collect the eggs she pecked me.

Well if we were going to be stuck with a couple of broody hens all summer long then I'd put them to good use. I'd long been interested in having some ducks. Ruby's summer-long broodiness could be put to productive use by getting her to brood and hatch the ducklings. My lovely husband knocked up a duck house on a spare patch of land in the back garden while I set about doing some research on what type of duck eggs we should get. 
Having had Khaki Campbells as a child (one of whom used to mate with the chickens as well as the male ducks, and even attempted the rabbit one day, but that's another story), I settled on White Campbells, which are smallish and good layers, and ordered the eggs from Ebay, much to the wry amusement of our friends and family who were becoming increasingly convinced we were a 21st C incarnation of Tom and Barbara from the Good Life.

Six eggs arrived a few days later secure inside a thick polystyrene egg box, and it was with great excitement that we moved Ruby out of the Big House and into the Dowager Duchesses' Cottage complete with it's own Mavis-proof run, and carefully placed the eggs in the straw. She settled on them immediately and remained glued to them for close to the regulation 28 days. We put a chart up in the kitchen and ran a sweep-stake on which day would be D-Day (duckling day).

After 26 days we were heading out to school in the morning and stopped to check Ruby en route. This is what we saw when we opened the door.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the kids were late for school.

During the course of that May day, another four babies hatched, leaving one duff egg, which I thought was a pretty good hit rate.

Ruby proved to be as dedicated a mother as she had been a brooder.

But then, after only a few days, disaster struck.

Hearing the high pitched call of a baby duckling in distress, I ran to the window and looked out in horror to see Ruby systematically attacking her babies. She was going for their feet, pecking at them without mercy and flipping them over onto their backs. 
M and I rushed out to the pen, shooed Ruby away, collected the bemused and frightened babies, and brought them inside.
"What on earth are we going to do?" I wailed. "we can't put them back with her, she'll kill them."
"They can go in the spare room," M said calmly. "I'll make them a partition so they can't escape into the rest of the house and we'll get a heat lamp for them so they don't get cold. At least there's enough of them to huddle together."

And so we became probably the only family in the UK to have five baby ducklings living in their spare room. The kids, of course, thought this was brilliant (I also suspect they thought it was quite normal, which for us in a sense I suppose it is). L would come down from his attic bedroom in his PJ's before school and stop off on the way to breakfast to visit the ducklings, who developed an unaccountable liking for his toes and would run over and peck at them, much to L's delight.

Water was obviously a necessity for the ducklings- they'll paddle and swim almost from day one and are complete naturals in the water even when really tiny- and it soon became apparent that the bowls we put out weren't big enough. So we brought L's hippo sandpit upstairs, put it in the spare room and filled it with buckets of water drawn from the bath. The advantage was that it had a lid so there was no danger of any of the babies drowning when we weren't there.

A couple of times a week they also had a bath.

 You wouldn't believe how fast they grew and how big. Before long they had outgrown the spare room and we were all rather relieved when it became time to move them outside to their new pen.

 The problem was they kept growing, and growing, and growing. In the picture above they are already past the size of an adult White Campbell, and as you can see, they still have their baby down, while in the ones below they now have adult plummage but are still growing!

An ironic photograph with their "mother" Ruby now so much smaller in the background!

Enjoying the garden with the girls

Eventually they grew so big I wondered briefly whether they weren't actually geese. Of course they weren't, but neither were they White Campbells. The duck people among you will have already spotted that they are in fact some kind of Aylesbury. 

But they might as well have been geese because they were just too big for us to keep. Our pen was fit for five small ducks not five enormous ones, so in the end they went to Salisbury Livestock market, which was an interesting experience in itself.

If I was going to keep ducks again I wouldn't do it in a garden. They are messier, noisier and much more scatty than hens- I'd say you need a paddock to keep ducks happily. They are wonderful creatures and I'm very glad we had the experiences with them that we did.