Today is International Love Your Pet Day! In the midst of the six nations rugby, with wonderful Johnny Sexton captaining the Irish tem, a little tale about our very own Johnny Sexton – the duck!
I used to love watching child behaviour programmes Super Nanny and Dr Tanya Byron the child psychologist on TV. I once saw Dr Tanya speak on a video conference, and I loved her honesty and realistic approach to parenting.
She told a story of how her friend pretended, Dr Tanya’s kids were her own, when they were acting out in a shopping centre and everyone was staring judgmentally, as Dr Tanya should apparently have better behaved kids. She very truthfully told of how, she felt guilty about it, but not so guilty she didn’t sneak off to Starbucks for a Latte and leave her friend to it. That’s the kind of friends you want!
These programmes often suggested time to think, and the concept of ‘Time Out’ began common practise. I’ve used it with my own children to limited effect. It did however work really well with Johnny Sexton, our duck! Yes, you did read that right.
We decided we would have a go at keeping chickens 3 years ago. After the first three got savaged by the scourge of the Irish countryside, a pine marten, we took a little break but eventually got 3 more, who I am glad to say, all bar the ill-fated, Rex, are all still alive today. We have added to our little gang of common reds, with Blanket, a beautiful bantam hen, who as chickens go, is a bit of a supermodel.
A few years ago we decided to also get a duck. He started out just like the cute little yellow fluffy ones you see in children’s books, but he quickly grew, and grew and grew some more. He grew so much we weren’t actually sure if we’d bought a goose by mistake. But no, he’s a pekin duck – just like Donald and Daisy.
We bought him with a chick, Blueberry, at the same time and they are inseparable. At first, I don’t think he realised himself, he was a duck being surrounded by chickens. He never went into the pond, until one day he fell in and realised he loved it. He still doesn’t seem to realise he’s different to the chickens and regularly splashes them with his water as if they are missing out on all the fun.
Last Year, I saw an appeal on Facebook to rescue former battery hens that were in an awful state. I hate battery farming so we decided to give 2 a home, in the end we took 4. I thought this would be a great opportunity for Saoirse to see the real side of dealing with rescuing animals. It’s not all cute puppies and kittens, but sadly more likely to be mistreated animals at death’s door that need a lot of time and effort to be nursed back to health.
She rose to the challenge and they are now healthy and thriving. We slowly integrated ‘The Lovely Ladies’ as we called them, in with the rest of the other chickens and all went well. Johnny Sexton however, was a different story. He was very territorial and would chase them around the garden pecking at them. He is big, with a strong beak so he can land a mighty blow if he gets close.
In the end we had to make the decision he needed ‘time out’. He was moved to an old dog pen, still in the garden so he could see the other chickens. Apparently, ducks are very sensitive and can get depressed if left on their own. Whilst we didn’t want him to hurt the chickens, we didn’t want this segregation to damage his mental health either! After about a month, and a few challenging encounters, he seemed to settle and now they all live happily ever after. They are fully free range and regularly go off on little adventures in the field beside ours, but they are always back by bedtime.
To complete the chaos, we also have 2 musk turtles. Saoirse wrote a 50-page project on the care of turtles, to convince us to let her get them and paid for them and their tank with her Communion money. They are a life time commitment and will probably outlive us. We have a ten-year plan of where they will move to the shed in our garden, when they outgrow the tank. Finally, there is Arthur the rabbit, who we adopted last year. We were told he was blind, and no one would take him. Being a Disabilities Advocate, I couldn’t leave him behind. Turns out he’s not blind after all, but he’s not going back.
The animals are a big part of our lives, Saoirse’s in particular. They add A LOT of extra stress to my life, but I’m obviously a glutton for punishment and a sucker for a sob story. We really have reached the limit now, although Saoirse has asked for a pig . I wonder if I could convince Mick?!?!?!?
**sadly since writing this piece the amazing JOhnny Sewxton (the duck) is deceased. RIP Johnny, thanks for the memories