Gradually, over the last few months, I have been morphing into a new position, namely, if I were to entitle it, it would be that as the Ombudsman of the Barnyard. The arrivals of Henry the Gander and Quack and Quack, the Khaki Campbell ducks, have produced a new dynamic in the fowl relationships, one which has cast me in the role of moderator. In that respect, I am deepening my understanding of the meaning of “fowl play.”
Henry is a modest individual, but he will take nothing off of his fellow fowl, and they have come to respect his authority. Having been raised from his egg-state forward by Louis Shelton before coming to live with us, his preferred direction is towards humans. I really do not think he understands that generically he is one of them, and not one of us.
When I let the group out in the morning to begin foraging for the day, his first concern is to make a beeline for the rear stoop of our house, where he will remain, obviously hoping for an invitation to come in to visit, indeed, if not to move in permanently, and leave those strange, feathered folks behind to their own devices.
The lush greenery of the new spring growth is less important to him than developing more intense human connections. Clarence, the rooster, is not an aggressive sort of fellow, and he might not respect Henry’s role at the top of the pecking order, but he also does not challenge it. I do not attempt to intervene in their standoff, being content to see that they do not engage in direct combat. Clarence seems satisfied that Henry has no interest in his bevy of hens.
Alas, then we come to poor Gladys, the Cotton Patch goose, who continues to frustrate me, and to confound my knowledge of animal husbandry. She and Henry basically ignore each other, but she does defer to him at mealtime. For his part Henry would rather talk, or should I say “honk”?, than eat. As I feed the entire menagerie together, I notice that he wants to chat, and only begins dining after I leave. In that brief interim, the others know that he will be upset if they begin munching before he has finished speaking to me. As a result, I have begun serving them in several locations in order for the others to have a chance to get started consuming.
All of the fowl are splendid weeders. They are working on keeping a neat and clean outer barnyard, where weeds and grasses are unwanted. Their work is a great advantage to me in that I have less to maintain, but they also preclude me from planting anything in the area, as they would view it as another course of cuisine. I have to be thinking all the time I am with them, being certain that I grasp their individual idiosyncrasies, and paying careful attention not to interject an unwanted imbalance into their relationships.
Over the many years that I have been fowlkeeping, (a word I coined inspired by “beekeeping”), I learned that Mother Nature on her own schema will establish harmony, even if it means in the form of a pecking order, that probably works in the best interests of all. Consequently, I see my role as that of facilitating the dialog among them in order to assist in bringing about our own rendition of the “peaceable kingdom,” thus I use the term Ombudsman to describe my position.
I listen to Henry. I feed Clarence and the hens, who are not interested in conversation. I do it all with the melodious din of Quack and Quack wafting through the air in the background. Lastly, as always, I remain nothing but perplexed by Gladys.