There’s an adage that says, “It’s never too late to try something new.” Living by that motto, I decided a few years ago I’d like to raise a few chickens.
That summer David and I made a trip to a local hatchery where I chose eight chicks—one rooster and seven hens—naming each one; the rooster, being very regal, King Ferdinand; the hens after queens. As the chicks matured, David informed me I had two more roosters than I’d planned. Confidently, I said, “not till I hear them crow.” I soon ate those words.
Spring arrived and with the ratio three to five, I sadly admitted two roosters would have to go. When a friend took James, it was down to beautiful Ferdinand, or personable George.
Walking back from the coop one May afternoon, the choice was instantly made. One of the roosters had run up and jumped on the back of my legs. Startled, I turned to the menacing bird and said in a shaky voice, “Ferdie, that was a mistake!”
Now it’s not easy finding a home for a rooster, especially if you’d prefer he not become someone’s chicken soup. A mutual chicken-loving friend suggested the chicken swap held the first Saturday each month at the feed store in Moose Lake, saying with certainty, “I’m sure you can swap or sell him.”
On a cold, rainy June morning, David and I set off with Ferdie unhappily ensconced in a wire cage in the back of our Trailblazer. To my amazement, the parking lot of the feed store was full of vans, trucks and cars with cages holding ducks, geese, chickens, peacocks, turkeys, pigeons, rabbits, goats and even a few hedgehogs.
I lifted the tailgate, placed my hand-lettered sign “Swap or B/O” on Ferdie’s cage and set off to see the menagerie. I’d only gone a few steps when a middle-aged woman sidled up to me and said, “Do you want to trade that rooster for a duck?” I thought to myself, now what would I want with a duck? But, graciously, I replied we planned to look around a little.
An hour later, the woman approached me again. “What do you think about swapping your rooster for my duck? My two male Peking ducks have been fighting a lot lately. I really need to find a new home for him. He’s really a nice duck!”
Decision time. No one else had even asked about Ferdie, and she seemed to sincerely want him and not for chicken soup. I paused. “Let’s go see your duck,” I said half-heartedly.
As we neared her black van, I saw a large white duck trussed up in a grain sack with only his long neck and head sticking out. I put out my hand and stroked his head gently. Looking into the duck’s gentle eyes, I hesitated only a moment. “I’ll take the duck,” I said as I carefully lifted the bound bundle from her van and walked to our car. As I stroked his long white neck, he nestled his head along my neck.
As David drove, I mused, “I think I’ll call him Sir Francis Drake.” Arriving home, I cradled the duck in my arms and walked slowly to the south end of our barn. Carefully untying the twine around the bottom of the bag, much to my utter surprise, out rolled a large white egg. “An egg!” I laughed and said to the duck, now shaking HER feathers vigorously, “Since you’re a girl, I’m changing your name to Sasha.”
After several weeks I decided Sasha needed some company. One duck in a pen can be lonely. Back to the hatchery in early July, we returned with two small ducklings, which I named Nicholas and Alexandria in keeping with Sasha’s Russian name. The three bonded immediately, and motherly Sasha seemed content.
The years have passed. Sasha, Nick and Alex were followed by Anastasia, Tatiana, Peter, Olga, Marie, Sergei, and now Delilah. Opening our home and hearts to these delightful birds along with discovering their unique personalities has been an amazing experience. It is one I certainly would have missed had I not said that June morning—“I’ll take the duck.”
Linda Hommes lives on a small farm on Camp Lake in Kimberly Township. An outdoor enthusiast, she writes nature essays, memoir and poetry.