joy in motion
The ducks are let out every morning to forage in the larger orchard. They love routine, and this shows the female half of the flock bursting into the small yard that leads ultimately to the larger orchard, where we rotate their fencing regularly. They also love the cover of evergreens and low-lying shrubs and trees.
Our ducks are ambassadors for what previously-farmed animals can look like within a plant-centered food system. Sanctuary at SHO is little different from other farm animal sanctuaries who provide critical haven for the many animals fortunate enough to escape their fate inside our broken food system. Our work since 2003 has sought to reinvision our food system to harmonize with the many wild animals and ecosystems displaced by modern agriculture and human development. How can we forge a new relationship to the animals we previously “used”-- for food, clothing, work, or sport? How can we make choices that safeguard the lives of the many animals often displaced by or harmed in conventional plant-based food production systems? These questions form the enduring backdrop of our sanctuary.
the whole duck story, or: why two vegans buying local organic rice adopted 100+ ducks.
In the summer of 2016 we adopted 116 Khaki Campbell ducks from an organic rice farmer in Vergennes, Vermont, where we had purchased rice, armed with the idealism of supporting our area’s organic farmers, and supporting this farmer's innovative approach of growing a staple plant crop in a northern climate like Vermont. When we visited the farm to buy our rice, the farmer graciously showed us his rice paddies modelled after a Japanese rice-growing method, and we fell in love with the tiny ducklings swimming amongst the young plants. They would swarm to his call, “Duck! Duck! Duck!” When young, the ducklings eat insects and weeds without damaging rice seedlings. But as the rice matures and as the ducks grow larger, they can damage the developing rice plants. We learned that the farmer needed to sell the ducklings at about 2-3 months of age, and this planted the idea in our minds to adopt the flock into our permaculture orchard when the time came. Since August, 2016, we have effectively become a duck sanctuary!
We later learned that the farmer had originally purchased 400 hatchlings, and in August, there were only about 130 left. Thus, 270 ducklings had been killed by raptors, snapping turtles, and other predators—in order to bring us our rice. This fed our growing realization that farming the plants we eat often kills animals in the process, intentionally or not. Developing non-harming and ecologically durable food systems has become our passion.
The farmer preferred that the ducklings all go to one place to spare him the bureocracy of multiple transactions. He admitted that a dog food company was interested. We knew we wanted to give these ducks a home, but certainly didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into! Especially since the flock was about 50% male and 50% female and hadn’t yet come to sexual maturity. Mature male ducks can overwhelm females, sometimes killing or drowning them. Most people kill the males for meat at about 8 months of age. Obviously, we weren’t about to do that, so the solution became one of dividing the males into smaller, socially-compatible groupings inside the barn, and creating one larger flock of females with several compatible males. An effort requiring time, management, and observation.
In addition to their daily foraging, we feed the ducks organic grain, greens from a local produce shop, and winter squash from a neighboring organic farmer. We bed them on organic straw and hay from Vermont farms, since all of the bedding ultimately is spread into the orchard system as mulch and compost for the tree crops. Our goal is to let the ducks be ducks as much as possible, without expectation, without demand on them. They are immensely entertaining to watch, with strong and varied personalities, wonderful sounds, and palpable and infectious personality. Their freedom brings joy to all who encounter them.
The ducks teach an important lesson to all of us. Our sustenance can come at enormous cost to both individual lives and to living systems, or it can enhance both. The goal is not only to reduce the harm, but to enhance the entire system of life as we meet our needs. This requires many hands and minds and a fearless dedication of resources to this necessary, long-term, shared project.
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