Monday 21 January 2013

Goosey, Goocie Gander

Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady's chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn't say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs

Yes, Dear Reader, we are in the goose business with our first three generic farmyard geese, 2 geese and a gander. We'd been looking around in books and on the internet for some of a variety called 'Pilgrim' having read that they were gentle, quiet and in the 'light' category (as opposed to the huge, saggy-bellied, Toulouse or Embden "heavy" type). However Pilgrim proved to be (in Ireland anyway) a bit of a specialist pure-bred type which would be pricey (over €100 per bird) and might even need sourcing from Norfolk in the UK, so we gave up on that idea and decided to look for common-or-garden farmyard geese available locally through the on-line classifieds website "Done"

So this morning saw us driving down to Rahara, just south of Roscommon town (about 40 minutes drive) with a big cardboard box and the cat basket in the car, not at all sure what we were buying, not 100% certain we'd be happy with the geese we saw and definitely a bit dubious about whether they would fit in our boxes. I had already gone onto the poultry advice forum on line to ask what I should be looking for in the way of clues to bad health or dodgy birds, warning bells etc. It turns out that geese are basically healthy and not beset by anything like as many issues (parasites etc) as poultry, so if I was after hybrid farmyard geese, as long as they were bright of eye and standing well on both legs, I'd be safe enough.

Well, they looked OK to us, so we paid our money and loaded them up, along with a bucket of the feed they'd been used to. They looked a bit muddy, but one thing we do know about geese is that they love to have water to wash themselves in and it didn't look as if they had had any down in Rahara, just mud and straw. The guy (quite a big sheep farmer by the looks) warned us to clip their wings as they'd be in a new place and might try to fly off in fright. We would therefore need to keep them indoors till we wing-clipped them.

We have set them up in the calf house with a crate of hay if they'd like to nestle down, a bucket of water and a bowl of the feed, and left them quiet to get over their journey. When we checked back on them we could see them reveling in the bucket of water, dipping their heads and letting the water run across their backs, shaking it about and making a lovely wet mess. We decided they might like a bit more water, so we have filled a crate to the brim and set up a 'stairs' of ash logs to climb up to get it. Tomorrow I will build them a run and let them have a bit of yard to look at (and their water-bath outside)

Mentor Anne and Simon called by and showed us how to wing-clip them. They were not happy about being handled, but this doesn't hurt them, you just clip across the 'upper-arm' and 'fore-arm' main feathers (leaving the long feathers on the 'hand' because that helps them defend themselves in case of a fox or dog attack). This tells them that they cannot fly because they can feel out of balance as soon as they flap their wings. Now we can make them an outdoor run without risk of them taking off, which they can easily do while young and light. We are told that once they know the place and are used to us this becomes less of a problem and , anyway, a fat, fully grown geese is nothing like as aerially minded as a rangey youngster.

We have called them Goosey, Goocie and Gander because it would be silly to give both the girls the same name, wouldn't it? :-) . Goocie has some black feather in her wings. Our plan is to keep these three as our 'parent generation' and only eat their eggs or any progeny. These should not end up in the freezer; those who were concerned about our lambs and rabbits will be relieved to know. 

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