I learned a lesson... Thou Shalt Not Judge.
Back story first - Over a year ago, a pair of muscovy ducks flew here to live at Weise Farms. We didn’t choose them. They chose us. On several occasions since, the female duck laid clutches of eggs and sat on those eggs. Each time within a few days of hatching, something destroyed her eggs.
She never stopped trying to be a momma. She would lay more eggs and sit on them only to have the same thing happen again.
On one occasion, we were able to gather some of the scattered eggs and incubate them to hatch a few ducklings. And another time, she successfully hatched out ducklings, but something killed all but four on the day they hatched.
On Ash Wednesday, I got home from work. I was greeted in the driveway by my livestock guardian dog, Ronnie. He was out of his pasture. I led him back to the sheep pen. I noticed the paddock gate was wide open. Thankfully, the sheep were exactly where they should be. It seemed like a miracle that they did not take advantage of an open gate. What a mystery! How did the gate get open?
As I walked around to the front yard, I noticed the duck nest had been disturbed, and a few egg shells were laying nearby. Did Ronnie do this? Quite a few eggs were still in the nest, and they looked just fine. It was another mystery.
In only a few more days, these ducklings were supposed to hatch, but something destroyed the nest once again.
Where was momma duck? I looked around and then I saw her. She was hurt. Her leg appeared broken. It was bleeding. She was hobbling, trying to get back to her nest. Who knows how long the eggs were left unattended, but I felt quite sure she had gotten hurt trying to protect her nest.
I must admit, I judged Ronnie by the evidence. The gate was open. The nest was destroyed. Momma duck was wounded. It made me feel sick.
The next morning, I watched the security camera footage to look for answers.
The mystery of the gate was solved. One of our sheep rubbed along the fence and pushed on the gate, causing the gate to swing open. At that point, I didn’t think the sheep had ever left the pen, so I switched cameras to view the front yard footage, to see if I could figure out what happened to my duck.
Low and behold, all of the sheep had indeed gotten out of their pen, and footage revealed that they were all standing on my front porch. Ronnie stood among them. The sheep were rummaging around near the flower bed where the duck was sitting. It took about five seconds, start to finish, for the whole calamity to occur.
You could see the sheep and Ronnie unknowingly moving toward the duck. And then there was a commotion. It happened so fast. I watched the video over and over and I am certain there was no ill intentions on the part of any animal. But in a few seconds, the duck’s leg was broken, and a few of her eggs were too.
Ronnie must have come back later to clean up the mess to get rid of anything that would draw predators. There were 17 undisturbed eggs remaining in her nest.
Sidenote - Livestock guardian dogs are born with the instinct to get rid of anything that could draw coyotes or predators to the flock. During lambing, they clean up any remaining afterbirth. If a baby is stillborn, they eat it to dispose of it. No one teaches these things to them. They just know.
A little later, you could see Ronnie as he walked behind the sheep, returning them to their pasture. That explains why they were right where they should be when I got home. It also explains why Ronnie looked so proud of himself as he greeted me on the driveway. I’m sure he felt deserving of praise for putting the sheep back and cleaning up the mess.
In watching the video, it took over an hour for the wounded momma duck to get to the spot where I found her, and even longer to get back to her nest. It made me cry. I wanted to help her, but she would not have it. So I let her be a momma.
It was so painful to see this tragedy unfold on the security camera footage. On evidence alone, I would have assumed my dog was guilty. It appeared he opened the gate, he destroyed the nest and he wounded my duck. I would have never known the sheep were even out of the pen. But video footage proved my dog to be faithful in his duties of getting his sheep back to where they needed to go. He cleaned up the mess from the six broken eggs, and he left all of the unbroken eggs right in their place. It allowed me to see a mother duck determined to drag herself back to her nest, even in severe pain. And I saw her get back on that nest.
The next morning, momma duck was at the tank. We assumed she abandoned her nest. So we placed her 17 remaining eggs in the incubator. But then she came back to the nest and sat where her eggs once were.
Sadly, momma duck died a few days later, and none of the ducklings hatched in the incubator.
Life on the farm is filled with joys and sorrows. Sometimes our hearts break. And sometimes the mysteries of life are too hard to solve.
Lesson learned - Never count your ducks before they hatch.
Words of wisdom from my momma - You can’t lose anything if you don’t have anything.
Commandment realized - Thou shalt not judge.
Being Ash Wednesday, it gave me pause to reflect on the day. God doesn’t need a security camera with video footage to see the broken eggs, broken legs, and open gates in our life. Thankfully, He sent a guardian to be our shepherd, to take the blame for our sin, clean up our messes and get us right back to where we need to be. It’s easy to judge what seems apparent. As heavy as my heart feels, I’m glad God let me see the real story.
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