Thursday, 20 September 2012

Geese For Beginners

We have five lovely, snow white Embden geese; two males and three females.  We started with a goose and a gander, bought in January, 2010, and then three goslings hatched naturally the following June. 

The three young goslings.  The male is in the centre.

I knew nothing about geese before we acquired them, so I made several trips to the library to read up on them beforehand.  But I soon learned that the books don't tell you what you really need to know; so here are the facts I read about - and then what I actually found out to be true:

Large breeds don't fly - Well, yes, they do.  We don't fatten up our geese, so they may well be sleeker than other Embdens, but they do like to fly, usually all together.  The fear is that they will over-shoot the boundary of the smallholding and or get caught up somewhere and be unable to escape.  One of the young females did get caught in the brambles by the pond, and luckily I was there to see it and the fox wasn't.  So now we clip one of each goose's wings - very carefully - and this imbalances them.  I was worried at first that they wouldn't escape a passing fox with clipped wings, but when I did witness an encounter with a fox, the geese were charging it, not escaping it.  (NB be warned when clipping a large goose wing.  If you don't duck at the right time a loose, flapping wing can give you a black eye for days!)

The original pair

Geese are easy to put in at night - Yes they are; but not at first, if they've never been housed at night before.  We found this with our first pair.  They had come from a large, waterfowl centre and had run around all day and night outside, so they didn't want to go into our goose house.  For three weeks we had to chase them around the smallholding, sometimes going into the pond, wearing waders to drive them out.  Then it became icy, and I had to wade in like an ice breaker to coax them towards the bank.  But after three weeks, they began to go in more times than not (to be honest, the gander was good about going in from the beginning; it was the goose who was the problem).  By the spring it was all change and now they wander in themselves quite happily.  The younger geese, who have not known any other routine, have never been a problem.

Geese don't usually hatch their eggs in their first year - This is wrong!  Our goose and gander were both under a year old, but they mated soon after we got them and in May the goose became broody on a clutch of eggs in the goose house.  She hatched three and so we now have five geese!

Geese and sheep lazing about together
Ganders reared together get on - Yes and no to this one.  When our young gander was about nine months old he began to fight with his father.  For a couple of months, the father was dominant, but then after another fight he lost out to his son.  Since then, the dominance has switched backwards and forwards, with the son dominant most of the time.  After each bout, they settle down for a bit and observe a pecking order and they'll all hang around together until the ganders get too close.  Then there is usually a bit of posturing.  Fortunately on a two acre site they can put plenty of space between them, so the only difficulty comes at night, when they do have to be separated and they are housed in different places. 

The young gander
I've tried to find another home for the son, but haven't found one suitable.  He's a lovely creature and deserves a long, good life.  I love all my geese; they know me as their owner and are real characters around me.  But I couldn't keep them without the space and although they're wonderful now, I don't miss the hard work of those early days (it's much better looking at the pond than being in it).

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