Dec 152017


Barn preparations proceed.  There are boards stacked in the shed, newly ‘shiplapped’ awaiting their next form…barn doors.  Phil aims to get doors and windows on last year’s additions–no mere tarp to keep blizzards at bay this winter, no ma’am.  This winter, ‘the addition’ becomes a bonafide barn, that keeps weather out and animals snug (-er).   Because of other connected circumstances, for the first year ever, the goats’ winter quarters got moved up on the long list of winter preparations and the saw and screw gun were at work this week making downright posh quarters in the other outbuilding for our caprine lovelies.   The move in day was today.  Since weaning time in September, the mamas have been in a neighboring paddock to the kids, separated by electric netting.  Today, the two ‘herds’ were reunited.  We moved the mamas into the goat house, arranged the electric netting to join up the new paddock with the kids’ paddock, and opened the gate once again.  There was the usual head butting as the young wethers established their places in the herd once again, but then all were curious about this new ramp, a door, a building?!  In they went, one by one to check it out.   It appears to pass muster, and Carolyn and I are happy goatherds with these grand new quarters for our goats.  One class of animals at a time, we’re readying for the coming storms.

Then, there are the quackers…the three amigos.  Our remaining three ducks are all drakes, fellas.  When there were still hens around, paired up one to another, the drakes treated each other just awfully.  The small mallard wasn’t permitted to come anywhere near the other ducks with mates, but was always off on his own, kept at bay by the larger green-headed drake.  So soon as he’d come near, the bigger drake would bully him until he’d settle elsewhere.  The small one ended up with a broken foot this spring and had a time with us in the duck hospital ward, leg splinted by Zander, tended by Carolyn.  Once the pond opened up again after the ice receded, we released our little patient and hoped for the best, and…watched.  The bigger drake still drove him off, but the small mallard could fly and fly.  The big one just didn’t have the lift anymore, so the small drake survived.  When the last hen died this summer, we wondered how these three fellows would get on together.  Their past history didn’t bode well.

Then, surprise after surprise followed.  Now, some of you won’t believe this at all–that’s OK, but I’ll relate it all the same.  That little drake changed his feathers and took on the plumage of a female mallard!  Yes, indeed, he lost the characteristic drake curl of tail, his green head dulled into brown, the white ring all but disappeared and his feathers became brown-streaked instead of the classic gray belly and darker back feathers.  He looked for all the world like a mallard hen.  Then….the bully drake did the same!  And, all three started hanging together, you know, just…hangin’.  They swam together, they ate together, they waddled around together–no more life or death bullying, no more competition for female attention.  They were bros.  Sometime around late summer, each of the drakes grew back their usual plumage and looked themselves again.   And, still, the fellas are pretty inseparable. Where one goes, all three go. They stick together now, curly tails and all.  No fighting, no antics, just three drake amigos amicably drifting around the farm, quacking, waddling, ducking it up together.

There really is never a dull moment up here, and few that don’t leave me wondering just what it’s all about anyways.  Biology is a fascinating subject in the field. Our critters certainly give us an education.


Heather and Phil Retberg together with their three children run Quill’s End Farm, a 105-acre property in Penobscot that they bought in 2004. They use rotational grazing on their fifteen open acres and are renovating thirty more acres from woods to pasture to increase grazing for their pigs, grass-fed cattle, lambs, laying hens, and goats. Heather is Master of Halcyon Grange #345 and writes a newsletter for their farm’s buying clubs for farmers in her area and has generously given us permission to share some of her columns with Grangers throughout the state. Visit the Quill’s End Farm Facebook Page for more information.

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