Scribbler ducks

Brubaker Bros. ducks in the mid-20th century paddle and waddle about in pens and ponded water before being channeled into the slaughter house.

Opponents of a 40,000-square-foot duck barn proposed in Colerain Township worry about the manure the birds will produce. They say it will stink up the neighborhood and pollute the water (LNP news story, Aug. 22).

Forty thousand ducks (one per square foot) will create an enormous amount of manure. They also will make an enormous amount of noise, much of which apparently will be contained within the structure.

Duck farming seems to be making a comeback in Lancaster County. At least two similarly sized duck farms already are operating in Clay and West Lampeter townships.

The county’s largest duck farm shut down in 1961. The Scribbler lived on the Brubaker Bros. 100,000-duck farm at Beechdale in Bird-in-Hand from birth until the last quack faded from the banks of Mill Creek. The Scribbler knows something about the vast slick of manure, not to mention the constant babble, that ducks produce.

Environmental regulations were, to say the least, loose while the Brubakers pioneered a Pekin duck farm from 1903 to 1961.

Unlike the “factory farm” approach to housing 40,000 ducks in one building, the Brubakers maintained multiple duck houses where the fowl, according to age and stage, could take shelter.

The ducks, however, preferred to spend their time waddling around outside in fenced pens, some of which bordered the creek. Water and feed troughs ran through each house/pen complex.

It is difficult to describe the sound a huge brood of ducks makes. Relatively social birds, ducks rarely cease quacking. They sound something like a forest of locusts, but 100 times louder and 1,000 times sillier.

The Scribbler’s great-grandfather, Oram D. Brubaker, who started the farm, told visitors that the enterprise sold every part of the duck (including feathers and blood) except the quack.

The folks in Colerain would not have to endure the unabated noise of more than 100,000 ducks, but they rightly worry about where the odoriferous manure of 40,000 ducks would go.

At the Colerain farm, workers would transfer manure from the duck barn to a concrete storage structure. That manure would be spread as fertilizer on nearby farm fields. Clean water and fresh air advocates complain that some of the manure would run off into and pollute area streams, some of which feed the Octoraro Reservoir.

Oram Brubaker and his sons (J. Harold Brubaker, the Scribbler’s grandfather, and Clarence N. Brubaker, the Scribbler’s great-uncle) probably did not worry much about manure runoff into Mill Creek.

The 1954 edition of “Profitable Duck Management,” an industry handbook, had this to say about that:

“The growing of thousands of ducklings on yards surrounding a pool or along a stream results in large quantities of duck manure being washed into the water. ... There is likely to be less trouble of this sort on narrow, rapidly flowing streams.”

Mill Creek is relatively narrow but hardly rapid. The ducks were fenced off from the creek, but their manure washed freely through the barrier to flow gently down the stream.

The Colerain neighbors of what may become the county’s newest duck farm, while having legitimate concerns, should be grateful they live in 2021 and not 1961. Duck management — the monitoring of manure, as well as the muting of quacking — has come a long way.

Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler'' column every Sunday. He welcomes comments and contributions at scribblerlnp@gmail.com.

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