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Getting all their ducks in a row

A duck named Benny has been through a lot, and so have Laurie Beck and Bryant Pierce who adopted him.

The saga began under the Ashland Street bridge in Jewett City in August 2019 when someone alerted Beck that there was a wild duck swimming in the Pachaug River next to their house. Beck investigated and discovered a sick mallard with an injured wing that she theorizes his flock abandoned.

“He was dying. I wanted to rescue him and I fell in love with him — a love beyond comprehension,” Beck said.

She said she knew she had to act quickly to save Benny.

“Everybody kept feeding it bread,” which she said is bad for ducks because it makes their stomachs blow up, which kills them. “I went to Tractor Supply and found out what I had to do to feed him.”

Nutritious foods include red tomatoes, broccoli, squash, green beans, peas, strawberries and blueberries, as well as scratch grains, crumble and pellets, which contain niacin and up to 20 percent protein. Toxic foods include iceberg lettuce, mangoes, potatoes, green tomatoes, eggplant and rhubarb leaves.

After a short time, Beck noticed Benny “looked pretty,” but was very depressed. Then a “little wild mallard girl” Julia showed up “and he was so happy.”

A few weeks later, a man on the bridge followed through on a threat and killed Julia with a rock and then tried to kill Benny. She said he was arrested.

Benny became depressed again and stopped eating.

“They’ll die literally if they don’t have a mate,” she said.

She quickly contacted Craig Bordeleau of Duck Buddies and Side Chicks in Griswold, a rare, endangered and unique duck and geese breeder, who sold her a spotted black-and-white female Cayuga duck: JuleJules.

At first, Benny ignored her and then she began chasing him.

“He thought she was crazy,” Beck said. “By that night, they were together and inseparable.”

She pointed out that Cayugas are known for their meat and lay more than 300 large eggs annually.

Beck said she used to eat duck but won’t anymore.

“So that’s why I rescue them,” she said. “You fall in love with one and it’s a whole different ballgame.”

Benny and JuleJules would go together to one end of the pond.

“If they didn’t come back at the end of the day, we went looking for them, because they can’t survive on their own,” Beck said. “Once you start feeding them, you have to keep feeding them.”

In July, Benny went over the waterfall near the flea market. With the help of a man and a youth he connected with on Facebook, Pierce was able to rescue Benny with a net.

As Jules began laying eggs in the yard, Beck collected and incubated them under a light in their house for about two months.

“She got a little upset,” Beck said, adding that 13 eggs were from JuleJules and three were from wild mallards.

She said she and her husband didn’t think JuleJules was going to take care of the eggs because she wasn’t lying on them and it was wintertime.

“Craig told me they don’t lay on their eggs until they have a full nest,” she said. “So if you keep taking them, they’ll keep laying them. So I confused her. And if you take one out of one slot, she’ll abandon the nest and go somewhere else. They’re very smart ducks.”

Now, if she takes an egg, Beck said she replaces it with a labeled “fake” egg.

When all their feathers came in, the couple began bringing the baby ducks outside during the day to a pen and encouraged them to swim in a dog pool.

Once their “big bird” feathers grew in, they began swimming in the river.

One morning three months ago JuleJules and her eggs were gone, Beck said, adding they never learned what happened.

“I literally cried when Jules left. We don’t know where she is,” she said.

Quacking loudly for his girlfriend constantly, Benny became depressed again.

“He wouldn’t go away from his flock, but he still wanted JuleJules,” Beck said.

So the couple purchased a female Khaki-Campbell duck named Webby from 15-year-old Nathanael Landry of Moosup, and Benny was happier.

Landry also offered Beck six ducks — Rouens, Khaki-Campbells and a Rouen-Khaki mix — he raised for a school project that his mother is allergic to.

Landry’s mother, Mary, said she discerned that Beck was the right person because she loves the ducks like her children.

“Laurie has a great heart and she is a great duck mom,” Mary Landry said.

The flock now includes four rescued white ducks from New Haven “who were too noisy for the area,” but Beck said she knew they had been purchased at an auction to be eaten.

“They were fed rice and water. That’s not healthy,” she said. “They were very sickly when I got them; they stunk and they were skinny and bowlegged. They kept falling over.”

Within one week, she said they grew five times their original size.

“They’re the quietest ducks,” she said. “They lay big eggs too … double-yolkers.”

The couple also paid $600 in veterinarian bills to save Waddles, a black-and-white Cayuga-mallard mix, who had an infection and fractured foot.

For a time, the mixed flock of ducks was creating a spectacle on Ashland Street, so Pierce fenced them in. They can still be spotted swimming by the bridge and up to the Youth Center and foot bridge.

Ducks are good for the ecosystem because they eat all the bugs and algae, Beck said. The river went from being dark and black and filled with algae to now being crystal clear.

“We just have to get the quacking down,” she said.

She asks people not to toss garbage in the river and to throw blueberries from the bridge if they want to feed the ducks.

The couple’s next goal is to build a duck house so the 27 ducks will be quieter and safer and so the females will be able to lay their eggs inside, which is especially important during the wintertime.

Right now, they can’t afford it, said Beck, a dealer at MGM Springfield Casino, who was laid off for almost six months and now works part time. Her husband is a self-employed contractor.

Since the flock is large enough, the couple doesn’t want any more babies. However, their plan in the spring is to give away duck eggs to those in need. Beck said free-range duck eggs are higher in Omega-3, have less cholesterol and are better for you.

“It sounds like they’re doing a lot of good,” Bordeleau, the duck breeder, said during a phone interview when he learned that Beck and Pierce care for 27 ducks.

He said most people don’t realize that by the time all the hatcheries sell their ducks to stores and specific requests for males and females are filled, they end up with mostly males.

“Then the males all fight amongst each other and people try to find other people to take the males for them, but everybody else has too many males. It’s kind of a mess usually,” he said.

Beck said it costs a great deal to feed and care for the ducks and she and her husband would accept donations from stores and the public of blueberries, watermelon, squash, radishes, corn, cucumbers, green leaf lettuce, peppers, green beans, Purina Flock Raiser crumbles poultry feed, Purina Layena Pellets Premium Layer Feed and Producer’s Pride scratch grains, as well as wood to build the duck house.

For more information, contact Bryant Pierce at (860) 961-1595.

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