When you have farm animals, especially when you have both male and female of a species in the same paddock or pen like we do at Diamond Forest Farm Stay, then farm animals are wont to do what nature intended. This is, of course, how we get baby ducklings, calves, alpaca crias, lambs and baby chicks just to name a few. Our guests all love our baby animals, hoping that they will be the lucky ones to be there when they are born or hatch rarely giving much thought to the mechanics of actually having pregnant animals and babies every year. In most cases this process goes on unnoticed by guests but every now and then it catches us all by surprise and becomes a very ‘in your face’ spectacle.
Mating season for ducks and chickens is Spring and more often than not as soon as they are released from their pen the mating behaviour and the mating begins. Of course, children will ask what is going on, although in the case of the ducks and the chickens the question usually is ‘Why is that chicken/duck attacking the other chicken/duck?’
Duck and chicken mating can appear quite aggressive. In times like these I usually leave the answer up to the parents and there are a range of answers that the children get from ‘Oh they are just playing,’ ‘That chicken is a bully,’ or, in some cases, the actual truth, ‘They are making babies.’ It all depends on the age of the children asking the question and the parents beliefs on when is too young and how much information should give children.
But there are times when I actually have to explain to parents that the ‘attacking’ chicken is actually a rooster and the ‘victim’ is a hen. They blush, they are astonished, they laugh and are often a little bit horrified at how brutal nature can be. I usually make the comment, ‘Just be thankful you’re not a chicken,’ before I leave them to ponder the ‘joys’ of nature.
Ducks, unlike chickens, need water to mate. That is they actually mate while swimming on the dam a good percentage of the time and the poor duck often looks like it is being drowned by the drake as two other drakes look on waiting for their turn. I’m often asked ‘Is that duck alright? Should we rescue it? It looks like they are trying to drown it.’ It can come as a bit of a surprise when I explain what is happening as it’s not really what people expect. I’m also thankful I am not a duck too!
One of the most blatant, in your face moments we experienced was only the other day. We were on our daily animal feeding and we had just turned towards the cows to go and feed them when our bull, Nugget, decided this was the most opportune moment to mount our cow, Princess Leia, in full view of everyone. Cows mount cows all the time as a form of dominance. This was not dominance. This was mating and our bull had all of his equipment, normally tucked away, well and truly on display and bodily fluid was going everywhere until he managed to get it in the right place. I believe there were a few ‘well I guess he just got lucky’ comments before we all made a point of focusing on feeding one of the other cows, Bambi. The children were completely oblivious. Talk about a real farm experience!
Our funniest moment, however, was an act of dominance that was mistaken for mating much to the embarrassment of the parents involved. Our female donkey, Violet, mounted our male donkey, J.R. A young boy looked to his parents and asked ‘What are the donkey’s doing?’ to which they replied with a very articulate, anatomically correct description of what happens when animals mate, naming the appropriate body parts and what was done with said body parts.
As every parent has different ideas on how and when to have these sorts of discussions, Mark and I didn’t interfere. When they had finished answering his question they asked their son if he had any questions. The little boy frowned and looked a little confused and then he said,
‘But. . .the farmer just told me that the donkeys are brother and sister!’
I guess the main thing to remember when you visit our farm, or any farm really, is that babies don’t just magically appear and when you are on a farm you may see a little bit more than you actually bargained for. That’s all part of being on a farm, it’s a part of having a real farm experience. . .you just need to decide how much you are going to tell your kids!