The Dotage of Elizabeth

Friday, February 15th, 2013

There is romance on the farm. It’s reached quite a fevered pitch, in fact, ever since I moved Elizabeth the duck to the back porch.

Elizabeth has been living here for many years. It’s hard to say just how old she is, but she is decidedly arthritic and has had quite a number of unattractive physical ailments. She inspires, however, great passion amongst certain young males, and many duels continue to be fought on her behalf. The reason for her move of quarters was, indeed, largely the raging testosterone of John the Duckist and Lil’Abner who, day or night, simply could not leave her alone. Ducks can mate well over 15-20 times a day with unflagging enthusiasm; not to be indelicate, but this process involves climbing on the back of the female, and as we all know, men always seem to have overgrown toenails, so this inevitably results in considerable feather loss for the hen. As one duck owner put it, “there is no ‘off switch’ for drakes.”

The problem has been compounded, however, in that Elizabeth seems to inspire an impossible attraction in some of the roosters. Last summer I had to chase off Dennis the Menace, an extremely large and proud red gamecock with a comb that flops foppishly to one side, many times a day. More recently Ricky Ricardo, who was temporarily housed also on the back porch with a lame foot, fell madly in love with this white canard and sang to her all day long. Fortunately he was too fat to do much about his ardor. However, I had to remove Ricky from the back porch gang when I found him trying to extract Lil Abner’s head from his body by pulling it through the chain link fence. You see, John and Abner moon about outside Elizabeth’s pen all day long trying, quite without success, to figure out how to reach their beloved… and I would suppose they think they have first dibs on her, being ducks and all.

But just to add salt to their wounds, Boots the Bachelor arrived. Boots is a pure white rooster with decorative feathers on his feet, and he took one look at Elizabeth and jumped into her crate and snuggled right up next to her. Occasionally he tries some funny business but it appears she has been successful in setting some ground rules for their relationship; and now his primary job is to keep her warm at night.

As so often happens with highly desirable females, Elizabeth takes all this pretty much for granted. She is one of those lucky beings who has no self-doubt, no self-consciousness of her disability, and matter-of-factly accepts every favor bestowed upon her. The dainty hens who preen themselves and dutifully lay egg after egg, striving for attention, and only get the occasional grunt and nod from the boys, must feel quite incensed at this apparent injustice. Or perhaps they are relieved at the liberation it affords them, for male attention always comes at a cost.

Frankly, I guess I may be a bit old and jaded for surprises in the arena of dating (beastly or otherwise). And so what truly interests me in all this poultry observation is that Elizabeth also has two close girlfriends; Mama and Bertie.

Mama is the diminutive Bantam hen who proudly hatched out a record 19 chicks a few years back. Having had enough of that, she has not sat on a nest since.

Bertie was the sole surviving baby of Goldilocks, who abandoned her in pretty short order, leaving Bertie to be raised inside the house. It took me months to stop Bertie from roosting on top of the refrigerator at night, and I’m not convinced she has ever forgiven me for evicting her, but she is nevertheless very affectionate. Both of these girls need a bit of special care, hence their elevated status as “Back Porch Chickens”.

Often I will find the two girls sharing Elizabeth’s food bowl or just hanging around chatting. They could go around to the front of the garden, or even jump over the back fence; but instead they mostly stick quite close to Elizabeth. And in contrast to her reaction to male attention, Elizabeth seems to genuinely derive pleasure from the company of these miniature hens.

I suppose one may never quite be free from the wiles of the dastardly, untrustworthy Cupid; but I am awfully glad to see that what really endures in old age is friendship. Even for a duck.

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”
― Aristotle

Till next time,

Farmer Anne
Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3
A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats
http://www.stargazingfarm.org
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