Every spring, as the weather warms up, there is the expectation of new life on the property especially with our birds. Even the native birds are breeding, preparing nests and awaiting the arrival of new chicks. And each year begins my endless battle to produce ducklings in our incubator so that we can maintain a healthy sized flock of ducks for our daily animal feeding.
A battle you say? What are you fighting against? You collect the duck eggs, you put them in the incubator, they hatch and the flock size increases. Simple. Unfortunately it isn’t that simple. Each year we lose a number of ducks to foxes, feral cats and wedge-tail eagles. Some years it is a constant uphill slog just to break even with the hunters.
When I first arrived at Diamond Forest Farm Stay we had 36 ducks. By the end of winter/early spring we were down to 19. I managed to increase our flock back up to 53. At the moment we have 43 ducks. No, I take that back. We have 42. We lost one to an eagle yesterday afternoon. And that’s just the start of our problems.
After the bushfire in Northcliffe in 2015 we had quite a few crows move in. Crows, it turns out, love duck eggs. Up until this point I had collected ducks eggs every morning with the kids on the daily animal feed blissfully unaware that anything could potentially come along to change things. But then came the crows.
Crows are very smart. They are opportunists and they learn. I started getting up at 5.30 in the morning to beat the crows to our duck eggs and it seemed to work. Until the following year. The crows had figured out if they wanted duck eggs for breakfast they had to get up early… before I did.
As this year was very wet quite late into the season I initially thought that the ducks hadn’t started to lay just yet. The chickens hadn’t either so I wasn’t particularly concerned. That was until I found duck and chicken eggs cracked open or with a hole pecked into them all along our dam wall. Once my eyes had been opened to the crows early morning shenanigans I started finding eggs with holes in them everywhere: on the dam wall, in the duck pen, on top of the chook pen, on top of the duck shed, everywhere.
I had not defeated the crows. Unfortunately crows are protected so trapping them or shooting them as we would foxes or feral cats was not an option. I devised a cunning plan. I would lace the duck eggs I could collect with Chilli. It wouldn’t kill the crows but they certainly wouldn’t like it. It worked; for a few days and then the crows learnt how to tell the difference between a standard duck egg and one of my doctored chilli eggs.
So I was back to getting up early. Really early. Of course, despite me now being a farmer of sorts, getting up at 4.30 am was not on my To Do List so I resigned myself to not getting any more duck eggs until I could convince Mark to put a wire net over the top of our duck pen. Somehow, I’m not even sure how this came about, the crows and I have come to an uneasy truce. They still come early in the morning and take eggs but I always seem to find two or three that they missed. And while I am not getting as many duck eggs as I should, or would like, I can only fit so many in the incubator at a time.
Maybe it’s not me that has outsmarted the crows. Maybe the ducks are the smart ones. Maybe they are choosing to wait until the crows have gone before they lay their eggs. Either way I’m glad there are duck eggs for me to collect so I can put them in our incubator and produce gorgeous little ducklings just like the one pictured above.