The Secret Life of Poultry: Topper the Comeback Duck
Reading Time: 5 minutes
I’ve always been one to root for an underdog (or underduck?), so when Topper of Topsy Turvy Duck came across my social media feed, I contacted her owner Lisa Guckelberg to learn more. My first exposure to Topsy was a video of her getting into mischief with a tough-looking dog, Buddy, who is an unlikely companion of hers. The two were following Lisa around while she did chores, and Topper was sassy and talkative. Somehow, it’s always the sassy ones who win me over.
While I originally sought to learn more about this unusual friendship, Topper’s backstory drew me in.
Topper wasn’t always the sassy, larger-than-life duck that she presents as now.
A few questions in with Lisa, I discovered Topper was rejected by her local Tractor Supply for having a severe disability. It was to the point where Topper couldn’t eat, drink, or walk properly, and her chances of living a normal life or surviving to adulthood were slim. Her neck was so twisted that it made a complete circle and Topper’s head rested under her breast. “She was very active and vigorous; she just could not untwist her neck,” Lisa reminisced.
In July of 2019, the employees at that Tractor Supply called Lisa to come to pick up Topper. At the time no one realized how special Topper would become. She was just a day-old Pekin duckling with a poor outlook. The Tractor Supply store had Lisa listed as a contact for situations like this and they knew Topper wouldn’t have a chance with an inexperienced person. Luckily for the duckling, they gave Topper to Lisa in hopes that she could fix her twisted neck.
Lisa drew on all her past farming wisdom to begin treating Topper. She brought Topper inside her home and made her a cervical collar out of an old sock to start gently and gradually straitening her neck. After a week of therapy with the cervical collar, Topper’s neck began to straighten out to a more natural position. It was a reassuring step in the right direction, but that was only the beginning of their struggles.
At a week, Lisa was able to reduce the time that Topper had to wear her cervical collar. By ten days old, Topper began looking great and was able to see the world right-side-up.
Soon after their first success, however, Topper began having balance problems. She would throw her head behind herself over her back, a move commonly known as stargazing, and end up flipping over backward and be unable to right herself. It was happening so often that she was losing the duckling fluff off her back and Lisa began to have anxiety about leaving Topper, fearing that she would flip over while she was alone and get injured.
“I worried that she had flipped and was stuck,” She said. As time passed and Lisa worked to strengthen Topper’s neck muscles, Topper began to recognize when an episode was going to happen and fall in a way where she could right herself without assistance.
Topper was a fighter though her younger days, and despite her health problems, she continued gradually getting better. Lisa bought some companion ducklings to stay with Topper as she healed. Buddy, Lisa’s dog, showed concern for the little duckling and was attentive to her needs from the first day Topper came to them. Lisa began posting about Topper’s journey on social media. Topper soon had a huge support system of dogs, ducks, and people watching her and rooting for her health.
When Topper reached eight weeks old, Lisa decided to take her for a visit to the Tractor Supply store from which she came. The employees and the customers alike delighted in the visit. Topper was personable and friendly, and completely different from the little twisted up duckling that she started as. Everyone at the store was surprised to see how far she’d come under Lisa’s care and was eager to see how she continued to flourish.
Topper did wonderful on her first trip out and seemed to genuinely enjoy meeting people. She also took a liking to ride in Lisa’s Jeep and watching the world from the passenger seat. “There are not a lot of places that welcome ducks,” Lisa told me. Shortly after the first visit, Topper began making weekly visits to that Tractor Supply and even went along with Lisa to help teach a poultry class at the Indiana Agricultural and Technology School.
To be more “official” at Tractor Supply, Lisa made a custom employee vest for Topper. It is, without a doubt, one of the cutest things in the poultry world currently. As for future plans, Lisa is searching for ways to branch out and share a little bit of Topper’s magic with the world. She wants to have Topper make the transition to a therapy animal and visit hospitals and nursing homes with her to share the joy Topper brings to people.
It soon became clear that Topper was something special. Something about her character or the amount of love and time she was given as a duckling in Lisa’s care developed into a personable, sweet, friendly duck.
“Her personality is amazing,” Lisa said. “She is very gregarious and does not know a stranger. Very trusting and affectionate … and Miss Sassy Pants 24/7.” Perhaps one day Topper will have the opportunity to be a therapy duck, but for now, her visits are limited to Tractor Supply and colleges.
On the farm, Topper gets along with all manner of animals. Lisa has chickens, guineas, turkeys, and cats that Topper interacts with happily with ease. Lisa also has horses, but Topper isn’t allowed in with them for safety reasons. Despite the rules, Topper and Buddy still follow Lisa into the horse barn while she cares for the horses.
Today, Topper is perfectly healthy. She no longer has significant balancing problems and her neck is straightened out. Lisa’s engineered sock cervical collar worked to fix Topper up and allow her to live a normal life both on the farm and while visiting her admirers. She hangs out with her duck friends and Buddy when she’s not causing mischief or trying to go on car rides.
And how did Topper get her unique name? Lisa wanted to give a nod to Topper’s struggles and journey. “It just came to me as I was trying to think of a way to name her that also indicated her handicap.” She told me. It began as Topsy Turvy, but later got shortened to Topper.
To follow Topper’s journey, follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok at Topsyturvyduck, or check Lisa’s farm page on Facebook or youtube, Finding Joy on a Small Farm.
Originally published in the April/May 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.