Ducks in the Bathtub
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Other farm animals are fairly easy to feed, even if they don't want to make the effort themselves. Sensibly, they have mouths into which a teaspoon may be slipped. With lambs and calves, you don't even need to use a teaspoon, you can slip a nice slim plastic tube over their tongue. Then you can pour in whatever they need, knowing it is heading for its correct destination. They generally respond as cars do to petrol.Skip to next paragraph
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Duck beaks were not designed with teaspoons in mind, and the "S" bend of their necks makes putting a plastic tube down as difficult as rodding the kitchen sink. Feeding Richard and Blackie was a two-person job, one holding the beak open, the other throwing the contents of the spoon in the general direction of the throat.
Their initial diet was warm milk and honey. Maureen gave them bibs, because the honey made their feathers sticky, and she cleaned their beaks by wiggling them around in a finger bowl of water, warm of course. The treatment went on round-the-clock at two-hour intervals.
But after a week, we had to admit that although Richard and Blackie were still with us, they were no more than passive receptacles for food, which they took from a permanently couchant position. They seemed to lack any enthusiasm for life. It was clear that we would have to look beyond their purely nutritional needs.
I don't know whether you have ever lain down on the floor of your laundry to get a duck's eye view of it, but that's what we did. It was very depressing. Down there at the 9-inch level, you are met with a totally negative prospect; a flat monochromatic blank on all sides. There is the dishwasher, the dryer, the washing machine, and the freezer. There is no movement, no life, no roundness or relief. The same thing must apply to pig sties. Something ought to be done about it - windows perhaps, at animal he ight.
We thought of painting murals on the washing machine and freezer, but neither of us is very good at painting. Then Maureen came up with the idea that some sort of recreational activity might provide an alternative way of improving their quality of life. Going for a walk was a nonstarter because neither Richard nor Blackie was capable of standing upright. They needed support.
The obvious solution was ... water. Ducks will float even if they don't have the strength to swim.
Richard and Blackie really took to our savanna green bath. They liked it filled to about three inches with the temperature around 68 degrees F. ... and we had always to remember to leave the shower turned on.
The bath became their raison d'etre. They began to show marked improvement, and their appetites increased beyond recognition. It soon became clear that they needed more sustenance than milk and honey. They needed, to put it delicately, animal protein.
This posed an unexpected problem. We were thinking about going vegetarian, talking about the value of life, and at the same time contemplating destroying it in order to keep Richard and Blackie in animal protein - in slugs and worms. Double standards surely.
"If you domesticate an animal and take it into your care," our friend Helen suggested kindly from the black-currant patch, "then you must accept the responsibility for its well being - whatever that involves."
It begged the issue of the inherent value of the life of a worm, but it had an undeniable logic. Without pleasure, we reached for the garden fork, and for the next week we dug worms and collected slugs for Richard and Blackie.
Their return to robust good health was swift and uninterrupted. Occasionally, they revisit the laundry, and once they made their way into the kitchen, where for a few moments they paraded in front of the duck-sized oven, as if testing the extent of our vegetarianism. They needn't have worried. How could we contemplate making "you-know-what a l'orange" out of someone who had shared our bath?