On losing my geese

It was a beautiful sunshiny day and we took the goslings out to play in their tractor. They waddled about, enjoyed their grass and drank their water all the while peeping to one another in their beautiful sing songy voices. An hour later, two were dead.

I had no idea what could have caused them to die so suddenly and without any symptoms. For the most part, geese are hardy and anything that would kill a gosling would kill a chicken first. But my chicken flock is healthy, no signs of disease and certainly none dropping dead without warning. At least so long as Pepper, AKA Chicken Killer, hasn’t gotten to them.

A little over a week later, three more died under the same circumstances: in their pen, within an hour of being checked on and without any symptoms whatsoever.

I felt like crying. We’ve lost over half our little flock and now have only one female and two males. And I really love our little goslings. They’re so different from chickens. So much more personable and they always run to the front of their pen to peep at me in greeting when I come to check on them. They follow me about while I do my garden chores and I’ve found their constant chatter to be a most beautiful sort of music to work to.

But they were dying and I didn’t even know why.

Then I found the chick. It was dead in the hen house, dragged partway through the kennel I keep in there for the chicks to escape to when the hens pester them too much. Whatever dragged it that far had a bit of strength behind it. It was firmly wedged and I think I may have broken its back dislodging it. Because of this, I inspected the body much more carefully and found two tiny bite marks just under the eye.

Weasel crossed my mind, but it was the middle of the day. Whatever it was walked right through our property with twenty two free ranging poultry, entered the hen house and chose a chick it was going to have to drag through bars to take home.

Then I talked to a neighbor. Well, a sort of neighbor. They live a few miles from here, but they keep geese and chickens, too. And they have lost several to weasels. Who were hunting during the day. Who left evidence so slight that she didn’t catch it until she started looking very closely for the tell tale bites around the head or neck.

And I’m not happy. Weasels are not easy to stop once they get started. They can wipe out a flock in a single attack, for they tend to kill until there is nothing left to kill or their little murderous spree is interrupted. Then they stack their quarry and camp out near the carcasses to gorge themselves for days.  They are difficult to keep out for they can squeeze through any opening large enough for a mouse to enter.

And I’ve now learned that hawks aren’t the only predators I need to worry about during the day. We have a tractor for the young ones because they are the most vulnerable. Since the neighbor’s dog killed one of our chickens (and we have our own Chicken Killer), I’ve been wanting to get some built for the others as well. But this weasel, if that is what we are dealing with, has so far seemed to prefer the penned birds, the ones that don’t have the ability to run away or fly up into a tree.

I’m afraid the tractor intended to keep them safe will become their own death trap.

And I don’t feel any better than when I was clueless as to what was causing the deaths. I feel rather helpless, actually. Because I know I can’t just camp out next to them all day every day, and eventually this little thing will find its way into the hen house at night. Probably as soon as it realizes the dog is only dangerous if it goes into the fenced area.

So I sit at the edge of my garden, watching the geese work the rows, peeping at them when they lower their heads and peep at me, stroking them when they waddle over and wondering if I can keep them alive until they are big enough to defend themselves.

Our goslings arrived!

I hear the dog bark as he races for the road. Barking, barking, barking. That can only mean one thing: the mailman is here. The mail coming is always an exciting event around here, perhaps because it is heralded with such fanfare by the dog, but today we are expecting our geese.

I’ve decided we have the world’s most laid back mail man because even with our lab mix staring him down and threatening to eat him alive, he casually steps out of his jeep, pats the barking beast on the back and strolls to the back of his vehicle. Four children descend upon him.

“Do you have our geese?! Do you have our geese?!”

“I don’t know what it is, but it looks like a duck. It sounds like a duck. I think it might be a duck.”

The children look at him questioningly for a moment but decide to let it slide as he hands them a cardboard box full of holes. They are beside themselves with anticipation.

Of course, the camera battery is dead. The poor goslings have been in that box for three days, but I decide a few more minutes won’t hurt. I put the battery in the charger and send the children to tell their father the geese have arrived. Mostly just to get them away from the box.

We open it up to find that geese are very different from chickens. “Mama! Mama!” they shout. It sounds like a sing songy sort of peeping, but the meaning is clear.

The little goslings are adopted by the children as quickly as we were adopted by them and I decide that maybe the dining room table isn’t the best place to get acquainted with poultry.

We feed them. Water them. Discover that they know they are geese and know what water is for.

And let them settle in for a bit. I want to take more pictures but it starts to rain. The chicks all run for shelter, but the goslings all run out to play. I decide to leave them to it.

When the sun comes out in the evening, I decide to try for some more pictures. But geese are very different than chickens. My chickens follow me around because they are expecting food. If I make any actual motion toward them, they scatter. Every time I get down to try to get a picture of the goslings, however, I am charged by eight little fluff balls who want to climb in my lap and be snuggled.

I do way more snuggling than picture taking.

Being babies (only three days old) they haven’t quite got their balance. They stumble over their own feet, and a good tug on a blade of grass sends them tumbling backwards when it finally snaps free. They also have the newborn propensity for just suddenly falling asleep amidst all the commotion.

If you would like to know more about our little pilgrim geese and what they have to do with our organic gardening project, try not to laugh too hard at me in my first little instructive video.

And check out Sweet Shot Tuesday for some more sweet shots. Even if it isn’t Tuesday any more.