Last night we had a ferocious storm. Lost a fully grown jackfruit tree, a big macadamia tree, and the roof off the goose house. Jackie sat stoically on her eggs lashed with horizontal rain. Four goslings were out and she wasn’t leaving. Another two hatched after the storm. This morning we had the best fun in ages, eating breakfast on the verandah, watching all five adults urge and demonstrate and encourage the babies to take their first swim. It takes a gaggle to raise a gosling, or six.
I so love the way the whole gaggle take on responsibility for the goslings. The adults stand guard, watching in every direction while the babies graze. Trevor (the big white male on the right) goes mental if you pick up a baby. He has no real weaponry – no fangs or claws – but he knows his role is to protect them. Jackie, in the middle, sat on the eggs, but Maria stayed with her the whole time circumnavigating the island where she sat looking for threats while Trevor and Kermit (the other adult male) stood guard on the bank. They know their future as a gaggle rests with the new generation, and they’ll all do better if they all do better. Smart geese.
Eleven eggs in the first nest, and Jackie is sitting on them, and another two in a second nest. So fingers crossed they might hatch a whole lot of goslings this year. Last year was disastrous for them. We had built a haybale shelter with access only from the water, thinking that would give them enough protection, but goannas managed to raid the nest over and over. And geese in mating season are so noisy! Months of being woken before dawn, and no goslings to show for it.
This year we have built a floating island on the bigger top dam out of recycled panels from a coolroom, with nesting boxes on them and a couple of stands of low electric fence surrounding the whole dam. And we’ve spent the year getting the geese used to being fed at bedtime up there, then turning the fence on at night. They can fly out over it in the morning if they want, but mostly they just wait to be let out.
The gaggle are fiercely protective of the goslings once they are hatched, but eggs and baby goslings are vulnerable to carpet snakes and goannas and hawks and eagles and owls and foxes and feral cats and dogs, and we’ve even encountered quolls here.
The idea is goose dinner once a month or so. But there’s another flaw in the plan beyond getting goslings past the predators. Geese are one of the nicest and most engaging animals we’ve ever tried, much more intelligent and affectionate than chooks or ducks. But if we can raise enough goslings, we can trade them with a neighbour and eat his. I know it sounds silly but it just might work
After a torrid season, with goannas stealing most of the eggs, one of last year’s goslings has successfully hatched four little females.
But I love the way the whole gaggle of geese take on parenting. They have been hanging around anxiously for weeks now, waiting. Now the babies are hatched, hopefully they will go off and graze and we will occasionally get to sleep in of a morning!
Corrin asked me a little while ago about the geese – “At some point, I’d love to hear about your geese, I don’t recall you mentioning them previously than your Lemon Glut. Do they lay? how many? I assume they’re wild? do they do anything else for you .. as in composting like chooks? They’re very beautiful.”
We are relatively new to geese. The original incentive for trying them was an idea that perhaps they would be territorial enough to ward off some of the predatory wildlife like goannas, and give the chooks a bit of protection. Plus we had, for the first time ever, a secure body of water in a lined dam. And the original pair were so picture-book picturesque.
Our first pair of geese were named Kirsty and Xanana (my partner is huge on puns – sorry!) But being very ignorant about geese at the time, we didn’t know that male Pilgrim geese are always pure white with blue eyes, and the mixed colours of Xanana and Kirsty were a sure giveaway of two females.
Xanana sadly got got by a a mother wild dog teaching her pups to hunt. Kirsty sat on the island crying for days. It was heartbreaking. So we got some more geese to keep her company. This time we got five more – José, Patrick, Trevor, Jackie, and Charlotte. After watching the way they worked as a team with one standing guard while the others grazed, we thought that a larger flock might be better at self defence.
The first year Jackie successfully hatched six goslings, one died from a tick, five grew into adulthood, but Patrick was got by a fox and Charlotte died of no obvious cause. This year poor Jackie has had ten eggs taken one by one by goannas, but one of the younger generation has been smarter and is sitting on a nest of eight eggs on the island. So now we have nine adult geese and potentially up to eight goslings due in a couple of weeks time.
So, from that limited experience, ten things I know about geese:
1. They are intelligent, endearing, and have lots of personality – way too much to be suitable meat animals. Goodbye goose dinner idea.
2. They are really demonstrable in their affection, racing up to greet us when we get home, agreeing (under a bit of sufferance) to being picked up and cuddled, which makes them great pets once you get over how big and noisy and scary they are.
3. They are raucous. Really raucous. Early in the morning. Very early in the morning. Did I mention raucous?
4. It takes a village to raise a child and a gaggle to raise a gosling. The whole group are devoted and diligent parents. The males guard the female on the nest and make sure the babies eat first. It’s probably how Patrick got got. All young fathers should watch goose movies.
5. It is cruel to keep them without a swimming size body of water. They are water birds. They love it so much.
6. Watching geese on the dam is one of the great pleasures of life. Beautiful, graceful, happy, entertaining.
7. They graze, and they eat lots of grass. We give them a scoop of laying pellets a day too, but mostly what they eat is grass.
8. They poo soft green pellets, like wallabies but softer, but quite acceptable (unlike ducks that are really messy poo-ers).
9. They can fly, quite a distance when in danger. We have had to go collect Trevor a couple of times from a neighbour a kilometre away, downhill, when they were spooked by wild dogs.
10. Though they are large and noisy and scary and hang in a flock with guards, they are still vulnerable to foxes and dogs and need a safe place (like an island) to sleep at night.
They had been living in a little backyard pen with a baby bath for water. It was the best fun I’ve had in ages, watching ducks discover water. The dived and fluffed and preened and splashed and put on several R rated shows. You have never seen an animal so happy!
With geese (there are eleven of them now, fully grown, and unfortunately all named – so much for goose dinner, at least this year!) and chooks we now have quite a collection of poultry. We have had ducks before and found them rather too vulnerable to goannas, foxes and wild dogs. These muscovies are a bit bigger though, and with two drakes and a floating island in the middle of the dam to escape to, I’m hoping they will survive.
I’m dreaming duck eggs this time: they already have names (Sir Francis, Sir Walter, Daphne and Simone) so I think they’re already off the duck dinner agenda. And though the geese managed to successfully raise a clutch of goslings, I’m not too hopeful about raising ducklings. Just too tasty for the wildlife.
If you were after a grazing animal that grows at a phenomenal rate, the goslings have gone from this to this in just six weeks.
We lost one of the six at about four days old, found floating in the dam with a huge tick. Since then, we’ve had to check them twice a day for ticks, finding one or two most days. But apart from ticks, they’ve been pretty self-sufficient and resilient. The adults are fantastic parents. The whole five adults take on parenting duties, forming a defensive ring around the goslings at the least sign of danger and letting them have first pick at any food.
We haven’t named them, but I really don’t think I’m going to be able to eat them. So much for me and meat animals! Lets hope I do better with the chickens.
Jackie is sitting on 9 eggs. At least we think there are nine. Patrick and Trevor get very upset if we try to go near her. Geese are supposed to be monogamous (or at least “in an open relationship”) for life, but maybe because we have two girls and three boys, both Patrick and Trevor seem to have decided it’s a modern family.
Of all the animals we have tried over the years, geese are shaping up to be one of the favourites. We have tried ducks (too vulnerable to goannas), rabbits (vulnerable, and also defensively vicious), pigeons (a winner for a long while, but then the grey goshawks moved in), goats (way way way too smart, and destructive when they escape), cow (we can’t use that much milk), a pony (huge rows with teenage daughter over whose job it is to clear the crofton weed from the horse paddock), even a draught horse (died of a heart attack in a storm on Christmas Eve – ever tried to bury a draught horse on Christmas Day, when no digging machinery is available?)
The stayers right through have been chooks. Though vulnerable, they’ve been so valuable that it’s worth it. Then last year we added fish in the newly lined top dam. (They’re doing well, now about 20 cm, and we may try eating one or two soon). And geese.
We had a dam. We had grass that needed eating. And we had an idea that geese might be aggressive enough to help protect the chooks. Originally it was just a pair, but a pair turned out to be a bad idea. Xanana (mistakenly named for the Timorese prime minister – he turned out to be a she) was killed by wild dog/dingo pups last summer. Kirsty grieved so grieviously, and we couldn’t keep her alone, so we bought another five geese – Charlotte, Jackie, Patrick, Trevor, and José. Charlotte died of natural causes, so we have ended up with five geese.
Five geese are a formidable pack. They can see off a goanna, make even a large carpet snake think better of it, intimidate a wedge tailed eagle, and so far they have survived a couple of encounters with wild dogs. There are enough of them to keep lookout, and they can fly, swim and bite to get away. They are noisy and sound scary but they are actually really endearing and with handling, quite friendly.
So, in a fortnight or so, with luck, we will see whether goslings will survive, at least long enough for us, and not the wildlife to eat them. There is a plan of goose for Yule dinner at the winter solstice. I couldn’t eat Patrick or Trevor or José or Jackie or Kirsty, but we are going to try to see the goslings as farm animals from the beginning.
But let’s not count the eggs before they hatch. (I think there’s nine).