This has been a historic week at Cortijo Limonero: I have had the Worst Cold Ever and had to take to my bed for a couple of days. This is unheard of for me, and the total lack of stamina, the inertia and the inability to even think straight has been rather shocking. I say this, not to gain sympathy, but by way of explanation as to why I have not been shouting from the rooftops about the arrival of the ducks a few days ago.
Ever since I first came across Indian Runner ducks at Bramshill Police College many years ago, I have hankered after some of my own. The time we spent with Dick van Duck as part of our little family was a joy, but all too brief. It is hardly surprising then, that I have had plans to acquire ducks as soon as we were able.
Once the worst of the wet weather had passed, Geoff and Dave set to work on fencing in a safe area for ducks. The new duck pen was sited next to the chicken run, so we could use their back wall and just add another three sides. We decided that a slightly larger area than the chicken run would be a good idea, as we may end up with larger ducks.
In order to protect the ducks from local predators, the chainlink fencing was buried about a foot deep into the ground and piles of rocks and stones were cemented in with it. We also covered all the chain link with half-inch weld mesh, to stop the sparrows stealing all the food.
I dug a nice big hole to bury the old water tank and made it a posh surround from Dave and Lesley’s swimming pool restoration leftovers. Having seen the mess Dick van Duck made, I reckoned something to keep as much mud out of the pond as possible would be a good idea.
The chicken tractor, which has not been needed since we moved here, had a make-over. Turned on its side and clad with Dave and Lesley’s discarded brush fencing, it makes a lovely shelter. Not that ducks seem too bothered about having fabulous housing, but we want them to have an option if the weather is too hot or windy for them.
One of the piensos (animal feed) places in a nearby small town has been known to order in ducks for people, so we made the trip up there, only to be told that the weather was not warm enough yet, so we would have to wait.
We waited. Some weeks later, after another cold snap, we made the trip again.
“I’d like to order one Indian Runner male, three Khaki Campbell females and two white females, please.”
The lady looked at me, turned away and rattled off something at the lad behind the counter with her. She rummaged for a pad and pen and then asked me what I wanted. Odd, but we are getting used to odd. I repeated my list.
“When they are babies you can’t tell the sex,” she informed me. I did not like to contradict her, although I knew that someone who knows what they are doing can sex ducklings.
“I want them adult, for eggs and for breeding,” I explained.
She asked me again what I wanted and laboriously wrote it down:
1 corredor indio, macho
3 khaki, hembra
2 blanco, hembra
It was all there in blue biro and white. She told me to ring at the end of the week.
I was slightly surprised that she was talking a few days, rather than the fortnight we anticipated, but set off for home feeling very optimistic.
At the end of the week, she said there was no news, but to ring on Monday. On Monday, she said to ring on Tuesday. This carried on until Friday with telephone calls every day.
On Friday morning, she said the ducks were definitely due in that day, although she could not say when. I was very surprised to receive a call from her halfway through our siesta, saying that the ducks had arrived.
We could not collect them on Friday afternoon, so we set of on Saturday morning, chatting merrily about how lovely it would be to drive home with little ducky voices in the back of the car. It was a very pleasant morning, so we anticipated being able to settle them into their new accommodation and then putter about the garden keeping half an eye on them while we worked.
“I ordered some ducks?” I felt the lady would know full well why I was there, as she probably does not have many English ladies pestering her for ducks.
“Ah, yes, through here.” She led the way into a small side room and proudly lifted the cover from a small tank, warmed by a heat lamp.
About thirty tiny, fluffy, adorably cute ducklings were peeping and jostling about. They were certainly not more than a week or so old.
There followed a conversation, during which I maintained an astonishingly equable demeanour and ascertained that she did not know which were which sex. Neither did she seem sure what breed they were.
“Ring again next week, Thursday or Friday.”
The long and short of it is that we decided that it must be easier to order the ducks we wanted online.
It was not as easy as I had anticipated, with several of the suppliers being out of stock of most breeds. Eventually, though, I came across a lovely website, with the most tempting catalogue of all manner of beautiful waterfowl, just begging to be ordered.
Geoff had made appreciative noises about mallards, so I decided the fiasco with the original order could have been my chance to rethink. I placed an order for a pair of Indian Runners and a pair of mallards. They were not cheap, so I held off ordering white ducks, knowing that another site was advertising they would be available in a couple of months.
I pressed the button on the order at about midnight. The following day, we received a call saying they would be with us the next morning. What a contrast to the endless calling and being put off we had experienced locally!
At 11:58am, Pedro arrived with a smart wooden crate in the back of his van. I signed his paperwork, asked him to pose for a photograph and took possession of our new family members.
Through the slats, gorgeous shot green feathers glinted. The ducks were being very quiet, but I could detect slight movement.
I took the crate into the house so that I could find the scissors to cut through the packing tape. Poppy was very interested. She sniffed gently at the crate. I wondered if this was general interest in the scent of live things, or whether she was recognizing the smell of duck from living so closely with Dick van Duck. Fortunately, Min and Teddy were out doing dog stuff in the dog pound. They would certainly not have been so gentle and restrained!
It took me a shameful twenty minutes to work out that the little metal clips on the crate were not holding the lid in place. The poor ducks had to sit in their crate in the duck pen (provisionally dubbed the Pato Patio) while I faffed about. They started to rustle and mutter and, frankly, who could blame them?
Eventually, I spotted the screw, found a screwdriver and released the lid. As I stood back, they wriggled a little, craned their necks to see what was what and scrambled out of the crate.
They were off! The Runners have a very upright gait, so they looked as if they were the bossy ones leading the investigation of their surroundings. The four ducks waddled about, following each other, checking out the weeds and dirt.
Within a minute or two, the lady mallard had spotted the pond. She delicately slurped up a much-needed drink. The others were over like a shot. I expected them to take a while to decide whether or not to take to the water, but they did not hesitate. In the blink of an eye, all four were bobbing about happily, filtering for food and doing the ‘up tails all.’
You would never have guessed that this was new terrain for them. They bobbed and preened and played in the water as if they had been here all their lives.
As you know, the Indian Runner male was always likely to be called Ducky McDuckface. As Mrs McDuckface is gorgeous, and as a nod to their breed, she has been named Priti. The mallards are Pablo and Louisa, named for some good friends who are also quackers.
I was a little concerned that Priti had difficulty getting out of the pond. Because her legs are set quite far back on her body, it took her a while to figure out how to do it. Fortunately, she got the hang of it before I had to contrive a ramp or block some of the pond off with bricks for her.
The four of them spent the rest of the day playing in the water, eating, exploring the pen and sitting contentedly in the shade. Their ducky voices could be heard from time to time, chatting to the hens next door. Lovely!
The next morning, I went down to check on the chicken ladies (two of whom have a slight case of athlete’s bottom, but more of that another time) and to see how the ducks were doing. Much to my surprise and delight, there was a beautiful, pale blue egg sitting on the floor of the pato patio.
We do not know which of the ladies was responsible, or how often this is likely to happen, but Geoff had the egg, lightly poached, on toast and reported that it was delicious.
- Pato is Spanish for duck. Patio is the word the Spanish use to describe their delightful courtyard gardens.