Laura Dean Bennett
Life on a Pocahontas County farm can certainly be hard at times, with all the work there is to do, but there are also many unexpected and endearing moments attendant when you are working with animals.
Alfred and Sharon Dilley’s idyllic cattle farm in the Hill Country has been home to generations of the Dilley family.
In addition to their family, the farm has always been home to a number of laying hens, turkeys, guinea hens and ducks.
Alfred and I stopped along the road a few days ago to visit a bit, as we often do when we meet a neighbor in the Hill Country.
Alfred likes turkeys, and he’s always enjoyed keeping them as a hobby. And they apparently like him, too. He even had one that used to ride around with him on his 4-wheeler.
So the turkeys on his farm are just for decoration – and so are the ducks. Alfred and Sharon like to watch them on the pond.
Alfred said a rather interesting thing had recently taken place with one of his turkeys and a baby duck.
One of the ducks had laid 12 eggs but wasn’t setting on them.
Sharon rescued the eggs and put them under a turkey, who didn’t have any eggs, but, she could tell, was in the way of being broody.
Now, I’ve only raised chickens and have no experience with turkeys, but I’d guess that the signs of a broody turkey hen are about the same as a laying chicken.
The hen fluffs out her feathers and tries to look big and she settles into her nesting box and means to stay.
If you try to remove her from her nest, she’ll growl or peck you and if you do manage to get her away from the nest, she’ll run right back.
If she fails to lay eggs, she may even become so distressed that she’ll start plucking out feathers.
Clearly the maternal instinct is a force to be reckoned with.
So, Sharon, an old hand around fowl, killed two birds with one stone – pardon the unfortunate expression –and gave her broody turkey hen the 12 duck eggs.
The turkey was content and the eggs had a chance of hatching.
Unfortunately, only one of the 12 hatched.
When she found the tiny little duckling, Sharon took it up to the house to care for it.
“I put it under a heat lamp in a little cardboard box in the basement for about two months,” Sharon said. “I fed it crumbles and laying mash. You can’t feed ducks anything medicated, you know. It will kill them.
”As the little duckling grew, I just kept changing boxes, getting slightly bigger ones.
“I had to change the boxes often – you know they like to play in their water,” she added
“Eventually, I took the duckling back to the chicken house, and I’ll be darned – that turkey hen took up with it right away.
“I had the duckling in a little cage to keep it safe and the turkey came right over and lay beside her.
“I kept her in that cage for about two or three weeks and that turkey hen was right there beside it the whole time.”
Just like a mother. She wouldn’t leave her baby’s side.
And they are still inseparable.
We walked to the chicken house, and Sharon opened the large chicken house door and out spilled an assortment of fowl, watching me suspiciously, but all anxious to nibble on the soft green grass growing outside.
The young duck, who Alfred and Sharon have named Lucky, came leaping across the threshold with her anxious mother keeping pace as well as she could.