Our Great Goose Group

Our property seems ideally suited for geese. Lots of grassy pasture, with a big low wet area that’s fairly swampy even all summer. I’m glad we got lots of extra goslings this year, because with this much grass they’re basically free to feed once they’re out of the brooder. A goose is a nice-sized meal for our family, yielding all the meat everyone wants, plus leftovers. And there’s nothing as delightful as the “goose grease” that melts off a roasted bird. We save it in quart mason jars in the fridge.

We had 14 goslings out there for a long time, plus one little hatchling, and the four mature geese. They’re a mixed bag of Toulouse and Embden. We lock them in the barn with the sheep and chickens at night. Then, a few nights ago, we had a bizarre incident: one of the juvenile goslings got his/her long neck tangled all up in some of the barn’s interior fencing. I discovered this when I came out to lock up for the night. Much like what happened with our dairy goat, Marigold, the bird got so wrapped  it ended up committing suicide. The goose’s body was still warm, so he/she couldn’t have been dead long. But I couldn’t revive it. A tragic and completely unforseeable waste, but the kind of thing that a stupid animal can do.

So, we have 13 remaining juveniles, and the little hatchling, and the four mature adults…and they make quite a group. Really remarkable how they’ve bonded as a unit. There’s a mature Embden gander who’s definitely the Alpha. There’s one mature Toulouse who’s the “mother” to the little gosling and makes sure he/she keeps up. Especially interesting is that when I or one of the dogs comes out and approaches the group, she positions herself in such a way that the little one is very hard to see. Even as they’re running, the shape of her body often makes the little one disappear. That’s good for him/her, but tough for me to keep track of. In the photo below, note the mother has positioned herself between me and the gosling, as the gaggle hurries toward the pasture.

They’re all so entertaining as they work the pasture, we could watch them and their interactions for hours.

But as the juveniles are maturing, we have a new concern: telling them apart from the mature adults. This is important, because older geese are not good to eat. The meat is tough as shoe leather, so our preference is to let them live out their lives once they’re more than a year old. We intend to butcher all of the juveniles this November/December, so we need to be able to identify them. Many are now almost as big as the adults, and fully feathered. Before they get any more mature, I needed to mark certain members of the gaggle.

The solution: I caught the four mature adults, one at a time, and put a heavy duty “rip tie” (or “zip” tie, or “cable” tie, or whatever you prefer calling it) around each leg, just above the knee. I left it just loose enough for more leg growth, but tight enough not to slip off. (I did both legs so we’d have a backup in case one came off.) I then trimmed the excess plastic.

Scooter had a grand time helping me chase particular geese down in the pasture. And he was indeed a big help. Border Collies are indispinsible when you have livestock. His instincts and abilities never fail to blow me away, especially since he’s had no training.

Hopefully all the rip ties will hold, and we’ll be able to keep these four mature adults to raise another gaggle of goslings next year. And enjoy lots of delicious roast goose this winter.

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