Early Days at Duckingham Palace

With a re-purposed plastic bin as a pond and a dog kennel makeover worthy of its own television programme, Duckingham Palace was finally ready.  All talk on the Homestead for the last month or so has been duck related.  New Brighton library has been stripped of duck rearing books (admittedly not an arduous task), anyone foolish enough to admitting to the merest shred of ducky knowledge has been thoroughly interrogated, and, in that wonderful way the universe has (or by lucky chance, take your pick) the three latest editions of that salubrious publication, New Zealand Lifestyle Block, have been packed full of duck details.  Union Homestead is primed and ready.

Bring in the ducks!

Duckingham Palace
Duckingham Palace

But before we get into that, just a little back story; this was not to be the Homestead’s first duck interaction.  In the interval between selling the last homestead and purchasing our current abode, we Homesteaders were (to all intents and purposes) homeless.  Three glorious summer months were spent hanging out at the wonderful South Brighton Motor Camp where we reveled in limited housework after months of Open Homes, glorious cross-cultural conversations with people from all over the globe, and getting to know two of the camps non paying patrons: Shelducks Mr Hee and Mrs Haw.  Initially cautious, Mr Hee was lured to our log cabin veranda by Farm Girl’s discarded peanut butter sandwich crusts, but it wasn’t long before his more reserved spouse was accompanying him. By the time we left, both ducks had happily added us to their extensive list of easy touches for a quick feed and, in exchange, they had convinced us of the definite coolness of ducks of all species, shapes, and sizes.

Mr Hee with Baby Farm Girl and Farmer
Mr Hee with Baby Farm Girl and The Farmer

However, when developing the Homestead egg providing facility, we never considered ducks as a laying option. In our ignorance, we thought that the ducks would simply fly away, or they would be too labour intensive (the number one comment regarding sharing your space with ducks has centred around their toileting – namely the smell, the look, and the amount),  or that the eggs would be too “different”.  It was the bartering value of duck eggs that finally convinced us to give it a go; niche marketing and all that.

So it was, with the trusty catcage rattling on the backseat and steadfastly ignoring the gurgling mix of excitement and dread that accompanies any new addition to the Homestead menagerie, The Farmer and The Milk Maid set off on Operation Duck.  Much HD* as to preferred breeds had pinpointed Khaki Campbells and Indian Runners to be top of our wish list; both breeds are known as good layers and easy care.

How do you choose just three ducks out of seemingly hundreds of squawking contenders?  And which were the boys and which were the girls?  Firm believers in fate, we opted for the first three snaffled on the understanding that any that revealed themselves at a later date to be drakes (and thus not egg-bearing) could be swapped.  With a Khaki Campbell, an Indian Runner, and a mixture of both ensconced in the cage on the backseat we set off Homestead bound with Suzie’s, The Farmer’s mentor, words foremost in our minds: ducks quack, drakes peep.   Before we’d travelled the length of the farm driveway, the Khaki Campbell had disclosed herself as a duck; an opinionated duck. A very loud, very opinionated, very annoyed duck.  As for the other two, there was a lot of peeping going on but, as The Farmer kept insisting (when he could make himself heard), it was early days yet.  Once chosen, no one wants to have to break up a family – even a hodge podge, mix and match duck family.

Later, with the ducks hiding in the chicken coop, the Delia’s (under Clank’s beady eye) enjoying the novelty of Duckingham Palace, and the Tinks jealously watching from their quarantine enclosure, names were debated. Following our unintentional, loosely observed alphabetical theme it was decided the Crossbreed become Edna, the Indian Runner Felicity, and the Khaki Campbell Gwen.  As all the coopmates reshuffled their hierarchy and night arrived, the chickens toddled off to their roosts and, more importantly with the neighbours in mind, Gwen toned it down a bit allowing the occasional peep to be heard issuing from Felicity and Edna.

From Left to Right: Felicity, Edna and Gwen
From Left to Right: Felicity, Edna and Gwen

“I reckon Felicity might be a bloke,” The Bean Counter commented over the hot chocolates/green teas that night. “It’s early days yet,” The Farmer firmly restated.

Morning broke after an uneventful night if you overlook a Gwen soliloquy or two.

“Those ducks look like they’ve grown a couple of centimeters overnight,” said The Bean Counter on returning from his pre-breakfast amble to open the chicken coop, “and, if you ask me, Felicity’s a Felix.”                                                           “Early days,” those of us who were awake muttered.

Another day passed.  The ducks stopped sprinting in mindless circles whenever anything moved within a five metre radius of them, they sussed out where their food was situated, in short they made themselves at home.  A lot of our time was spent peering fixedly at the beaks of Edna and Felicity trying to determine what noise came from which bird. Ducks would make great ventriloquists.

“Any quacks?” were the first words uttered by The Bean Counter on his return from his off-Homestead work.  Suddenly everyone was very engrossed in their tasks at hand.  “Ah.”  He continued,  suggesting he’d drawn the right conclusion.

That night there occurred a couple of incidents.  The rattle of the back door opening and the slap of rather large bare feet on concrete alerted those of us lighter sleepers to a problem in the backyard.  The Farmer had awoken to Gwen’s panicked call.  Rushing to investigate, he found Gwen and Edna had managed to squeeze out of an undetected gap in the fence leaving the much larger Felicity behind.  The hole was plugged, the ducks herded, more feed was decantered, and we humans shuffled off to our beds.  Sleep.  Until…

Another thump, this time of bare feet on floorboards.  The Goat Herd had woken to all three ducks waddling down the drive past her bedroom window with Sergeant Major Gwen keeping them all in step.  They’d, unsurprisingly, taken advantage of one of us,  in our bleary state,  leaving the gate to the meadow wide open and set off on a bit of a reccy march.  A surprise human charge from the front door stalled them in their advance roadwards and sent them scarpering down the garden path and under the lemon verbena.  

“Quack! Quack! Quack!” Gwen is not happy to be caught up and returned to the meadow.

“Peep!  Pee-QUACK!”  In the pre-dawn light our white teeth signal our smiles as Edna struggles to join Gwen.

“Peep!  Peep!  Peep!”  Twice the size, a couple of weeks older than the other two, Felix seals his fate.

“I’ll take him back tomorrow,” The Farmer sighs as we stagger back up the path.

The Renovator and The Farmer set off farmwards the following morning with the frantically peeping catcage resident.  Apparently his mother was setting up the alarm before they reached the duck enclosure, and Felix was swept up and stashed under her wing immediately on his release.

And here on the Homestead we have two new residents (don’t ask why they got two – it’s just one of those things): Felicity, sister of Felix, whose quacks rival Gwen’s in volume, and Edna’s laid back sister, Hilda.  There’s been no more late night marches and Gwen is happy to share the parenting responsibilities with Felicity making for a more peaceful paddock.  All is looking good in the Homestead meadow…but it’s early days, yet.

From L-R: Gwen, Hilda, Edna and Felicity
From L-R: Gwen, Hilda, Edna and Felicity


© Copyright Union Homestead, 2014. All Rights Reserved. 

 2014-01-17 16.41.57

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