I have a gang of four on the pond.
This worries me.
A surplus of mallard drakes is bad news for new ducklings. No sign yet of frenetic fur balls scooting across the water’s surface in pursuit of bread skimmed form the truck window. When they do hatch they will have to brave the umbrage of jealous, but unsuccessful wannabees, as well as predation from stoats, herons, crows and the like.
Some years I judge my personal well-being by the DSI (duckling survival index). Counting them out and counting them back becomes a daily treadmill of hope and trepidation.
These days my emotional state is calibrated by the ACI (anorexic calf index), as it has been for the best part of the last month.
There are four elements required for success, and I can control none of them.
Moira’s baby needs;
* Desire for milk
* Ability to suck
* Tit recognition
-and above all –
* Will to live.
Up to now, he has shown none of these.
His best practised trick is to clamp his teeth on the tit of the bottle so that he stops the flow. This morning he adopted this denial tactic when I stuffed Moira’s front right tit into his face. He has a well- developed set of teeth for pulling at herbage and Moira objects to them applied to her tender parts, bellowing and contorting in the handling crate to bite my backside as I anchor him in place with my body.
I have made a choice.
No more tubing.
I know I can keep him just barely alive by force-feeding but it is a horribly invasive process that must be affecting that most important final element of the list: his willingness.
So it’s now up to him to choose. It’s simple: live or die.
He is unlikely to receive adequate amounts of milk; but it will be his doing.
And today he sucks.
I have a choice of three bottles with different textures of teat to tempt him with. I choose the two litre lemonade bottle with the soft teat – easy to distort, but undemanding – especially spread with honey.
He sucks from the off – and to my amazement, keeps going – determined, persistent and – the biggest change – active – not inert.
Unfortunately the hole is a pinprick and the bottle has no way to refill with air so he must suck it out of shape to bring the milk down. I shuggle it to let tiny bubbles of air into the liquid and it empties – glacially slowly – but discernible.
When we both give up – after half an hour- I find he has taken no more than a pint.
A start maybe?
Only if he chooses.