Despite all warnings, ducklings are almost impossible to resist


Feed stores are dangerous for people like me this time of year. First of all, you can hear the peeping as soon as you walk through the front door, and even if you are purposefully trying not to look, that peeping is like a homing beacon — only the strongest can resist its pull.

I experienced this phenomenon the first spring I lived in South Dakota. Back then, I didn’t know that bins full of adorable chicks and ducklings were a thing you could encounter in a feed store, so when I heard the peeping I thought it was the sound of a toy, or rather toys, malfunctioning.

The peeping was so persistent and irregular, however, I began to search the aisles trying to figure out what was going on. Had security cameras been trained on me when I finally found the bins teeming with tiny, fluffy, very chatty babies, they would have shown a woman about to die of cuteness overload.

That was back when I thought country life was just a temporary adventure. I had no place to keep chicks and no idea how to care for them, but that didn’t stop me from lingering over the bins, trying to puzzle out how to bring some of those babies home with me.

In truth, however, it wasn’t the chicks that made me want to completely reorder my life so that I could become a poultry farmer, it was the ducklings. Their webbed feet, no bigger than my thumb; their wee beaks, the size of my pinkie fingernail–they were so lively and so delicate I could only marvel at their sheer perfection. Oh, how I wanted to reach in and scoop them up!

I resisted that day, but the longing never left me. Even after interviewing every neighbor I knew and hearing again and again, “You don’t want ducks!” I still wanted ducks.

For those who have never kept ducks, I will tell you what everyone told me. Ducks are consistently, and by a wide margin, the messiest creatures in the barnyard.

They like to mix their food and water (they are used to eating aquatic plants after all) and will go to great lengths (literally) to make that happen. Consequently, if you keep ducks, you will always have a sloppy mess in whatever housing situation you arrange for them.

They are also prolific poopers, and because of all the water they consume, that poop is VERY watery. Finally, one of their best qualities is also their worst: If they imprint on you, they will want to be wherever you are, so all your favorite outdoor spaces will be splattered with wet duck doo-doo.

Sadly, none of this information was as powerful as the initial memory of happening upon those ducklings. The feeling of falling so deeply and suddenly into love was hard to forget. But, since that first fateful sighting, I have also learned that when people tell you the worst parts about the care and keeping of certain animals (ahem, goats) they are never exaggerating.

Similarly, no matter how sweet and adorable an animal is when it is a baby, it will very quickly grow into a less sweet and adorable version, but the responsibilities will remain the same.

I was talking to a friend last week, and we were marveling at the gifts of middle age. “If we are lucky, we have as much life left as we’ve already lived, but we know so much more!” she said.

The next day she sent me a meme: “People sometimes ask you what you would do differently if you had your life to live over. Midlife is when you get to find out.”

As I type these words, there is a soft peeping emanating from my lap. In it three web-footed and tiny beaked creatures are snuggled together, their fuzzy heads tucked beneath the folds of my sweatshirt. Turns out, if I do indeed have my life to live over, I’d do pretty much the same things, but this time, I’d bring the ducklings home.

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