Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Farm Story for June 2, 2012

Two years ago we acquired a trio of one year old Pilgrim geese.  They are a heritage breed that originated in Iowa in the 1930’s and are considered the only American breed of geese that are auto-sexing which means that it is easy to determine the gender of a goose from its appearance at hatching and through maturity.  The males are white with bright blue eyes and the females are a pretty gray with brown eyes. 

Last year the two geese spent plenty of time setting on a nest while the gander kept watch.  I marked the calendar when they began to set full time and waited for the month to pass. Nothing hatched.  The eggs did make excellent stink bombs as they spontaneously burst in the late August heat. 
This year the geese again prepared a nest and began to lay eggs.  The gander got more and more aggressive, chasing the sheep, dogs and us away as time passed.  The two females alternated time on the nest until the fourth week at which time they both piled on.  It was hard to peek in on them without being attacked but we eventually discovered a gosling.  By the end of the day there were three little heads peeking out of the down-filled nest.  The following day we counted four heads.  On the third day the trio of geese took their four little ones out for a jaunt around the yard.  While they were off the nest I checked the remaining eggs.  Three were very light which made me think they’d never really taken and were dried up inside.  Two had a bit of heft to them so I listened to them.  I heard nothing from the first egg but there was a steady tapping from the second.  Just for fun, I whistled to the egg.  It chirped back.  I carefully placed it back in the nest just as the geese were returning.  I watched from a distance as they tucked everyone back in place.

The next morning we discovered that there were only three goslings.  We carefully checked everywhere but found not the hint of a dead gosling.  We had noticed the smell of skunk in the early morning and have had skunks steal chicks before so assumed that perhaps that is what happened this time.  The geese went about their day and never returned to the nest.  I checked my noisy egg and discovered that it had a tiny crack in it.  It continued to talk to me when I whistled to it. 

To make a long story shorter, the geese never returned to the nest.  Later that evening when the geese were settled down at another part of the yard I checked the egg one more time.  There was a dime-sized hole with a little bill peeking out.  The temperature was cooling down and I was concerned about leaving it out all night.  The adults had no interest in it so we brought it in for the night and placed it on a heating pad.  The next morning it was almost out of the egg.  The geese were settled down as it was still dark so I distracted them as my sweet husband carefully slipped the almost-hatched gosling back under one of the geese.  When I returned from working Saturday Market I checked again.  The gander, one goose and three goslings were grazing the yard.  One goose remained behind setting on the newly-hatched gosling.  It seemed all would be well. 

Later that day we discovered both geese, the gander and three goslings grazing again.  After some searching we found the fourth gosling hiding behind a fence.  We carefully retrieved it and tried to return it to the geese.  They greeted the little one with some suspicious stares, began to hiss and then decided to try to tear its little head off.  Al quickly snatched it back.  It appears that it was hiding to protect itself from its own family.  I set up a rabbit cage in the dining room, plugged in the heating pad and decided it would have to be part of our family.  This delighted the house cats who not only love staring at the goose but also enjoy sitting on the edge of the heating pad that protrudes from the edge of the cage.

This gosling has a green bill and more brown baby fluff than yellow which makes me think it is a little girl.  She is content in the cage and loves to whistle at me as I talk or whistle to her.  She dabbles in her water bowl, gleefully eats the chick starter mash than I put in her cage and loves for me to weave romaine leaves in the cage wire so that she can nibble them down to the stems. I have been taking her out in the grass for several walks a day.  She is barely six inches from my heels as we walk.  I sit down often to allow her time to graze.  She eats little seeds off the tops of the shorter weeds, working diligently to strip an entire stalk before moving on.  I keep an eye out for our cats who are quite interested in her.  I’ve also had to keep Tootsie Pie, our precious black dog, locked in the house as we walk.  Tootsie Pie tries too hard to mother the little thing, either trying to lick its fluffy little bottom or carrying it by the neck to some place she thinks would be nicer for it. 

I have tried several times to reintroduce her to the rest of the geese.  Each time it has ended in near-catastrophe.  Just yesterday I thought one of the geese was warming up to her but she suddenly reared back, hissed, grabbed the little one by the neck and flipped her across the yard as the gander and other goose rounded up their three goslings and scurried them away. I rushed in and saved her one more time.  I am thinking she will be staying with me until she is mature enough to join some of the other ducks and chickens outside but I doubt she’ll be part of this year’s family of geese.  It is easier to have her in the house than to be keeping up with a bottle baby lamb or goat kid who jumps the baby gate meant to hold it in the kitchen.  I imagine the best part about the fact that I have an abandoned goose is that as soon as the sun goes down she goes to sleep.  I am not getting any wake up calls for feeding in the night.