KATE FREUD: A duck for a house pet? We must be quackers!
These days as I sit at my desk, our three children at school and nursery, I am left with rather an unusual companion.
One that dozes happily on my lap as I type, one leg outstretched — a sign she is content.
Occasionally she will emit a quack or jump down and waddle out of the room, her webbed feet slapping down the corridor.
Never mind the pandemic puppy. Our lockdown saviour is of the feathered — not furry — variety.
Admittedly, a duck is somewhat incongruous in a London home. But if this past year has taught me anything, it’s to go with the flow.
I’ve so fallen in love with our new family pet I’m no longer pestering my husband, Jack, to have another baby to join Jago, nine, Georgia, six and Willow, three — much to his relief.
So content are we with our little quacker that we’ve even inspired family members to follow our lead: Jack’s Auntie Emma has just hatched five of her own ducklings and is besotted.
Never mind the pandemic puppy. The Freud family welcomed Bruno the duckling into their home (pictured with Willow). The duckling has proven to be adorably devoted to the children
My sister-in-law Martha and her two children are also basking in the joy of five newborn hatchlings at their home in East London.
Perhaps you might broaden your own pet horizons, too, once you learn how enchanting a pet duck can be — just as strokeable as the softest kitten, rivalling even the cutest bunny for sweetness and, surprisingly, as fiercely loyal as any dog.
Our little duck, Bruno — born on Valentine’s Day, and named by our eldest, after the boxer, Frank, before we discovered her gender — is adorably devoted to our children, wanting to be with them every minute of the day.
As you can see from these pictures, she accompanies them everywhere — from supervising homework sessions on the laptop to invading bath time at night.
She constantly runs after them, often under their feet and has quickly learnt to climb the stairs, meaning wherever we are, she’s by our side.
We’ve made some small adjustments to our home to keep Bruno happy — adding a paddling pool to the garden, where she’s as pleased as can be (and we’re hopeful that as we haven’t encountered any foxes during the day, neither will she).
When we pile off to bed, she cosies up in her pen in the kitchen with the children’s fluffy toys, which she has loved since her first days.
Bruno has been a beam of light for us in this trying year, especially during the latest lockdown, when she helped the children form a little daily routine.
Bruno has been a beam of light for Kate (pictured) and family, especially in the latest lockdown
After an early start, the children collecting her from her pen, Bruno would indulge in a little light cartoon watching, sitting side-by-side with them on the sofa.
Then, just before breakfast she took to sitting between my feet under the table — or if she had her way, on the table.
No cereal for Bruno, however: she prefers pellets and chick grit, a digestive supplement to help her break down her food, which is vital for young poultry as, obviously, they don’t have teeth.
It looks as inedible as it sounds. She also has the odd lettuce leaf, fresh herbs and cut grass, which we take from our local park, as our own garden has only fake grass.
After breakfast, there were walks in the garden, pottering with the children and splashing in puddles.
This carefree fun was particularly great for our youngest, Willow, as Bruno was fabulous company for her while her siblings were busy home-schooling.
Hearing Willow’s peels of laughter as Bruno hitched a lift in her bicycle basket was just magical.
In the evenings when the children were in bed, Bruno snuggled into the crook of either mine or Jack’s neck, where she dozed off almost immediately.
Feathered friend: Bruno the duckling helping Georgie Freud with her home schooling work
We tucked her into bed with her teddies and she would be thrilled to see us in the morning.
Today, life is just as idyllic with Bruno always delighted to see the children bustle in from school, the happy ang reunited.
The only downside is that, in among the hours of joy and laughter, there are many, many poos. Every 20 minutes without fail she makes another deposit.
That said, even the way she does that is charming, doing a little reverse thrust so we know when it’s coming.
At the risk of providing too much detail, I should say that, at the moment they are quite dry and easy to pick up, but in a few weeks as she gets older that may not be the case.
Before Bruno, our track record with pets wasn’t exactly successful. Our first foray into the animal world took place two years ago when Jack said he was just ‘popping to Halfords’ — and came home with two hamsters from the pet shop next door instead.
The hamsters fairly quickly tried to eat each other, with the whole experience proving a traumatic one, so my reservations about another pet, let alone a duck, felt justified.
Yet Bruno has become a much-loved member of our family.
Jack Freud with Bruno who was welcomed into the family as ‘lockdown project’ earlier this year
You may now be wondering how and where to get yourself a duck. Well, Bruno came courtesy of my mother-in-law.
The day after this most recent lockdown was announced in January, she revealed she had bought us some duck eggs to hatch as a ‘lockdown project’.
I had serious doubts. Home-schooling and my job as a journalist felt like a big enough project.
But Jack reassured me and we invested in an incubator for the 28-day wait to meet our new additions.
As the days passed, it became clear that only two of the six eggs showed any sign of life within — we had been told there was a strong chance some of the eggs wouldn’t make it, as the hatch rate for ducks isn’t normally more than 50 per cent.
One evening Jack appeared with an expression I was familiar with — he’d had the same look of wide-eyed terror each time I was in labour.
Upon closer inspection there was a small hole in one side of the egg.
After three days, there was no progress, apart from the distressing sound of the duckling’s chirping getting louder and more urgent. My mother — who is part of our family bubble — came to visit on Valentine’s Day and together we decided to assist the duckling. This is against expert advice, but we feared it wouldn’t make it as the shell was so tough.
Mum and Jack set about freeing our tiny hatchling who arrived weak and wet.
Jack had to cut the umbilical cord, which was attached to the side of the egg, something we hadn’t read about. There was blood too, another bad sign.
During the natural birth process, the blood vessels that cover the inside of the egg are meant to stop being used and most of the blood goes back into the duckling itself. Things were not looking good, so we kept the children away.
Within a few hours it was able to stagger forward a few steps. We moved it to a more comfortable cardboard box home filled with wood shavings, blankets, a heat lamp and water and food feeders.
Soon, we couldn’t drag the children away, and slowly but surely, this wet little duckling, still covered in fluid and shell under its heat lamp, began to look around and take it all in.
Unbeknown to us, the first creature a newborn duckling claps eyes on is the one they believe to be their mother. Which, to me, explains why the children have become the focus of our duckling’s adoration.
Jago rapidly christened the new family pet. And there was no doubt Bruno was a real fighter. It was only when we checked the sex a week later (a YouTube tutorial came in handy — though there are some things you can never unsee!) that we realised Bruno was a girl.
As the final egg didn’t hatch either, we tried to find another duckling to keep Bruno company, but as he was born early in the season and many people aren’t breeding their ducks this year because of Covid, we had no luck. But we later decided one little duck felt like enough to think about for now.
Yet, despite Bruno being so adored, it’s with a heavy heart we have had to admit a London lifestyle is just not right for her.
While most parents cheered to the rooftops when Boris Johnson announced schools would return on March 8, there were mixed feelings in our house.
We had retreated to our cottage in Hampshire before lockdown began in mid-December and hadn’t been expecting to have a duck on our return. She deserves a life of fresh air and animal friends.
I have spent hours googling ‘house ducks’ and ‘training a duck’ but they can’t be house trained.
So our plan is for Bruno to move to my mother-in-law’s in the Hertfordshire countryside, along with her other animals.
This is still a way off, however, as Bruno can’t be introduced to a new brood until she’s 12 weeks.
The children know they will have to say goodbye and there have already been plenty of tears.
But I have promised them that this will be the year we get a puppy, most likely a cockapoo. I figure after cleaning up dozens of duck poos a day, a dog will be easy.
Bruno came into our lives when we needed her the most.
She brought fun at a time when there wasn’t much of it to be found. She heralds the start of spring and reminds us there’s still so much to feel hopeful about.
There’s no doubt we’ll all be experiencing empty nest syndrome when she flies off to sunnier — and more spacious — climes.
KATE FREUD is Editor-at-large of The English Home, Baby & Little London.
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