WEST FORK KICKAPOO - After being penned up for 14 days of sub-zero weather, the flock doesn’t seem to remember where their beloved creek is. When the door opens, they stand still, unsure if they should plop down in the snow or start moving.
This is the flock’s first winter. All was well until the sub-zero temps started, but they’ve been under house arrest—lockdown—ever since.
We’ve kept them in their outdoor pen with a heated water dish and a fresh bowl of chow. During the day, they could choose to stay outside or hang out in the Duckhall, where a heat lamp burns 24/7.
In the evening, there was no choice. Around here, due to the presence of predators, the flock always gets locked up for the night. In this recent cold spell, even Louisa and the goats were tucked in at night with bundles of straw.
This morning, the Duckhall pen looks like a crime scene: splattered blood, poop droppings, dirty ice, all mixed in with bits of feathers and scraps of uneaten food.
We can’t figure out where the blood came from, yet it’s fresh. And Wilma, the Roman tufted goose, is hurting. Her left foot is useless and poses a severe handicap for her. Because it doesn’t function, she holds it up and tips over when she tries to walk.We’ve had discussions about whether it’s cruel to keep her alive, yet we’re hopeful she can heal, ifshe can make it until spring.
But spring is a long way off, and today is the first morning above zero in just as long...or so it feels. It’s not an easy season if you’re a duck or goose that’s used to playing in moving water every day.
Now, I’m trying unsuccessfully to herd them toward the one ice-free spot in the creek. Molly the mallard gets upset and flies a few feet, landing on the snow-covered creek bed. The others seem dazed—where did she go?
Wilma is still in the Duckhall, and I carry her out and set her down on the path we’ve stomped out to the open water. Faithful Eleanor, my other goose, waddles over and they murmur to each other.
Quack, quack! Molly calls to the rest of the flock from where she sits atop the frozen creek.
But despite Molly’s calling and Eleanor's encouragement, Wilma can’t stand up.
She is filthy. The other ducks walk over her, not caring if their droppings land on her. She is a sorry sight, but the sun is shining, the temperature about 20, and I’m certain she’ll feel and look better if she gets in the creek. I lift her again and carry her through the deep snow along the creek.
Molly follows along in the creek bed, and down the path comes Eleanor, who isn’t going to let Wilma out of her sight. Once at the water, I crouch as low as possible, hold out my arms, and whisper, “Go on, girl, go get cleaned up.”
Wilma falls forward and lands face-first in the shallow water, but quickly rights herself. Eleanor and Molly are already there, with the rest of the flock on their way.
Oh my, what a scene: a dozen waterfowl preening, bobbing, chasing, splashing ice-cold water in all directions. Most of the flock follows the creek toward the Hidey-hole, where they hop out, trudge through the thick snow that separates it from the creek, and slide right back in. The Hidey-hole is filled with chunks of ice but it’s still the largest open area for them to hang out in.
Wilma can’t get through the snow even on the new path the flock has blazed, so she hangs back with Eleanor. Wilma is doing most of the dunking and feather shaking while Eleanor seems to be supervising. If Wilma doesn’t survive, Eleanor will be a mess.
With a month or more of snow and colder temperatures yet to come, Wilma will need to be one tough goose. Her best chance at a full recovery will be long, warm, sunny days, lazily floating in the Hidey-hole with Eleanor at her side.
Trying to find a solution for a goose with a useless leg has kept me awake on these colder nights. Should we splint it? Keep her in the hospital cage I once used for sweet Flo, who also had a bad leg and did recover? Or see if it can be amputated? If it’s amputated, can she relearn to walk on one leg? And will she then be a sitting goose for the local Wile E. Coyote who frequently visits?For now, seeing Wilma, Eleanor, and the rest of the flock free from their sub-zero lockdown eases my worries.Meanwhile, for Wilma, springtime can’t come soon enough.