When the Duck Dick Dingles
You never know what you’ll need to know as a duck farmer…
I Was So Innocent When I Started Duck Farming
Romance and duck copulation are mutually exclusive terms, I soon discovered after I had the brilliant idea that it would be fun to breed Muscovy ducks on our tiny Vancouver Island farm.
Foreplay consists of the drake chasing a fleeing duck, grabbing her tail feathers in his beak, then leaping on her back. She immediately yields, sinking to her yellow knees in the mud, and waits until he’s done. Not that she has much choice in the matter. A Muscovy drake weighs twice as much as a female and has huge talons capable of inflicting serious damage to anyone who makes him mad.
Once aboard, he stomps her into submission, shifting the grip of his beak to the back of her head. As he wobbles around on top trying to get lined up properly, he balances by pushing her head down, a rather alarming sight when this operation takes place in the wading pool and the poor duck is dunked over and over while he tries to consummate their brief and violent relationship.
Spring Revealed the Drakes’ Insatiable Sexual Appetites
By the end of February in the first year of being a duck owner, the amount of duck sex that was going on in the orchard was nothing short of alarming. Lusty and tireless, the three drakes harassed the ladies incessantly. When the boys couldn’t catch a girl, they harassed each other.
Pulling two huge drakes intent on killing each other apart is not for the faint of heart. Fully extended, their wings measure five feet or more across. Though they mean to beat each other with wing thrashes, several times when I tried to intervene I received a hearty wallop, once hard enough to knock me sideways into the mud. After that, I let them squabble until one would submit and the victor swaggered off, his tail feathers twitching haughtily from side to side.
Despite all the shenanigans, the girls still managed to slip off and find quiet places to lay eggs. For good-sized birds, it’s incredible how sneaky they are when it comes to making secret nests. They don’t need much room — a bit of space under a pallet, behind a bag of shavings, or under a brush pile is enough. Squeezing into her chosen shelter the duck scrapes out a bit of a hollow, deposits an egg, and then leaves the scene as quickly as possible.
For several weeks each spring before someone decided to get broody, I’d find eggs squirreled away all over the place, only rarely in the lovingly built nesting boxes we provided for their comfort.
That first year, perhaps because the ducks were so fascinating and new, I watched them a lot, as did various family members and friends who spent time at the farm. It was a friend who first spotted the problem.
Eileen was helping herd the ducks into their secure anti-raccoon fortress for the night when she noticed something dangling out of Perfect Man, a handsome drake named after a favorite children’s book character. Pink and fleshy, it resembled a bit of innard or a giant earthworm.
It turns out, drakes can suffer dire consequences as a result of copulatory overindulgences.
Eileen wondered if it could possibly be his manly bit, swinging in the breeze. I confess I had stopped reading the duck books at the point when they said, ‘duck sex organs are internal in both males and females.’ I never really thought about how, exactly, that all works in there in the dark place beyond the cloaca. I certainly couldn’t remember reading anything about the insides coming out.
Googling a term like “protruding drake penis” is fraught with danger. Those are the kinds of search results that lead directly to the kinds of websites that can get your computer confiscated by the RCMP.
Fortunately, the search also yielded various very useful websites relating to duck anatomy and reproduction. I had no idea that a duck phallus is shaped like a corkscrew and protrudes during the sex act, linking male and female bird like some twisty coupling device one might find in outer space.
The female end of things is equally intriguing, a passageway that is an anti-corkscrew shape. This set-up makes it particularly difficult for ducks to mate successfully.
This peculiar pairing of mismatched equipment is sufficiently intriguing that Dr. Patricia Brennan of Yale University has spent a fair amount of time studying the vaginal tracts of ducks. The co-evolution of the two less-than-compatible shapes of duck and drake reproductive organs is believed to ensure that only very fit drakes with large penises (in some drakes, the penis is longer than the body!) are able to successfully mate.
The actual moment of sperm transfer takes place in about half a second, due in part to the fact a drake’s erection is not supported by blood flow or muscle or much of anything beyond a temporary influx of lymph. That any ducklings are ever conceived is nothing short of miraculous! Which doesn’t stop them from trying, and this overexertion is one of the things that can cause a prolapsed phallus in a drake.
Further reading (and some of that was quite interesting as various worried homesteaders asked other homesteaders what to do about their ducks’ dingly dicks) revealed that if caught quickly (which was the case for us) and if there isn’t any damage to the member (from a distance, at least, that didn’t seem to be an issue) there are certain steps to follow to remedy the situation.
Because you never know when you might have to deal with such an injury, here’s what you need to do should you find yourself with a drake whose insides have decided to exit the building.
Step 1: Catch and restrain the drake
This is one of those suggestions made by someone who deals with some sort of mild-mannered miniature duck breed, not massive Muscovies with talons they know how to use. Someone should make body armor for farmers as there were many occasions when I needed to suit up for livestock-related procedures.
Thick layers of long-sleeved clothing and long gloves had to suffice in the case of the duck dick intervention. Eileen and I cornered the patient in the duck pen. After a chase and scuffle, Eileen wrapped her arms around Perfect Man from behind and heaved him up so I could take a closer look.
Step 2: Wash the exposed member
Needless to say, the drake was less than impressed with this procedure. Getting close enough to look put me at real risk of having an eye gouged out. Poor Eileen grunted and sweated as she valiantly hung on to a struggling Perfect Man.
The drake had at his disposal two powerful legs (remember the wicked talons), two massive wings, and a nasty beak, all of which were intent on dislodging the determined human who was desperately trying to hold him in a completely unnatural upside-down orientation. Perfect Man weighed close to 20 pounds, all muscle and indignation.
I managed to sprinkle his manly bit with water squirted out of a delicate watering can intended for seedlings. Too much pressure, from a hose, for example, would have rendered the poor boy irreparably damaged. A needle-less syringe would not have delivered enough water to properly cleanse the grubby spiraling noodle in a timely manner. The seedling sprinkler provided a perfect shower for delicate duck parts.
Step 3: Liberally apply antibiotic ointment
My thick, rubber gloves had served me well to this point, but applying ointment to a freshly washed phallus using filthy gloves did not seem like a good idea. Besides, the willy was delicate and it seemed that for this step it made sense to lose the gloves, wash my hands, and move as quickly as possible.
Touching a drake’s penis is one of those bizarre experiences one cannot imagine having until, you know, one has it. I would have closed my eyes, but that would have been both wimpy and unprofessional. I pulled up my farmer britches, squared my shoulders and got to work, squirting on lots of antibiotic ointment and smoothing it around as best I could, trying not to get too distracted by the unrepeatable lubrication quips that accompanied this part of the procedure.
Step 4: Gently push the phallus back inside
In theory, this sounds straightforward, if somewhat unsavory. Under field conditions, it seemed both ridiculous and impossible. Remember, I had just applied a liberal amount of grease to a floppy noodle which now needed to be pushed through a very narrow, wriggling opening.
Though Eileen was doing a fine job of restraining the drake who was, by now, thoroughly fed up, twice I felt those talons rake along the outside of my arm.
Longingly, I eyed the gloves where I’d dropped them on the ground. Gangrene resulting from a dreadful infection seemed like an even worse idea, so I soldiered on with my more or less clean hands to attempt the retraction maneuver, gently poking the slippery dick back into place.
Step 5: Hold your breath and cross your fingers
We stared at the drake’s back end and hoped desperately that the wayward phallus wouldn’t pop out again. We watched Perfect Man’s heaving belly for several long minutes. Nothing untoward protruded from among his white feathers.
Step 6: Keep the drake in isolation. Watch for signs of infection.
That first night after the other chores were done, I lay flat on my belly outside Perfect Man’s isolation pen, pointing the beam of my flashlight up under his nether region. The relief was immense when there was nothing there that shouldn’t have been.
Perfect Man was not particularly happy to be kept in a private pen away from the rest of the flock for several weeks while he healed up, but heal he did. A little later that spring a couple of the girls settled down together on a nest and hatched out a dozen or so ducklings. They were just as adorable as I had imagined they would be, perhaps even more so knowing just how amazing it was that they were ever conceived in the first place.