Teaching and learning

We have raised geese for quite a few years. In anticipation of getting our first, we did some research and traveled to Sayre with the intention of bringing back a breeding pair of Toulouse. When we arrived at the The Reverend’s place he explained that he couldn’t spare any Toulouse, but asked if we might be interested in some African Geese instead? We were a bit disappointed but agreed that African’s would do just fine. After a few years of raising these beautiful animals (center pane) Joanna and I agreed that we still wanted a few Toulouse. So, we searched locally and found some barnyard variety animals which suited us nicely for the next several years. It was two summers ago that we drove North to see The Reverend again in search of Toulouse. This time he said he thought he might have one he could part with, a goose which had just risen from an unsuccessful clutch was for sale. We paid, said our goodbyes, and loaded the animal into the truck (she’s shown in the left pane). She didn’t look all that prepossessing when we got her home, she was moulting and looked exhausted. Over the next several months however she completed her molt, rested up, and began eating in earnest which allowed her to regrow her feathers and regain condition. By the time we were lambing last spring she looked to be in fine shape. Our gander (on the right) was from our barnyard flock, but this girl from up North was a show-quality beauty. The pair got along well. Because the African geese had had some difficulties with our wet and chilly Pennsylvania springs, we allowed the new goose into the barn to lay and then set her clutch. I think she may have produced as many as 40 eggs but didn’t ever get around to setting. After more than a month she decided it wasn’t something she had interest in and stopped coming into the barn. I checked the eggs later to verify that the animals were fertile. They were. Joanna and I were sorry that spring did not include goslings. They are delightful, and it’s always a treat to watch the parents fuss over the little ones who seem to be in endless need of attention. Geese are wonderful creatures. They are smarter and have more presence than chickens, and I do believe that this is more than simply a matter of their size and the way in which they present themselves. Geese approach the world and everything in it more deliberately, they think before they act, and they stop to contemplate … things I have yet to see a chicken do. Our Toulouse are ready for whatever this coming winter may have in store. We again have high hopes for spring goslings. One of many important lessons that Joanna and I have learned from all of these years of farming and from raising so many different sorts of animals is that there’s always another chance to get it right and that the opportunity for doing so is often just around the corner from having gotten it wrong. Trite, but true. Much of our farming experience has been about learning by doing. But we have been taught many things as well and there have been a number of wonderful folks who, whether they realized it at the time or not, were instrumental in teaching us many important skills. It was Dale who taught us how to open and how to rake a field of hay. Bob showed us a quick and safe method for delivering subcutaneous injections, how to disbud a goat kid, and how to properly snip, clip, notch, and snare a hog. Phil showed us how to grade a meat bird. Dean showed us how to disbud a calf. Jacob showed us how to apply a Burdizzo. Allen showed us how to split a tractor. Amy showed us how to draw blood from a chicken. Ray was there when we needed help bleeding air from diesel lines. And the Reverend himself showed us how to dubb a show bird. When we didn’t have folks around to show us how, Joanna and I put our heads together and figured it out. Compared to doing Rocket Science most tasks associated with the sort of farming we have done have involved equal bits of common sense, mechanical know how, and a willingness to, as the folks at Nike would say, Just Do it. That approach can, sometimes, lead to success but also to false starts, missteps, mistakes, and even, on occasion, failure. But experience teaches us much. We regroup, reassess, and try again. Let us hope for a well constructed nest, a good number of eggs, and a beautiful group of goslings come spring.

24 thoughts on “Teaching and learning

  1. That is too bad your new goose didn’t provide you with goslings. I guess you had nothing Toulouse this time around . Hey, someone had to say it. If I didn’t then most likely our other Steve would have. 🙂

    Geese seem a bit smarter than not just chickens, but an awful lot of humans too. Your attitude about farming is good for all undertakings. Perfection and success are not constants for the vast majority if not all of us. As long as we pick ourselves up and keep moving forward then all we be well most of the time.

    • Yes … I too had thought of all the crazy things that could be done with Toulouse … but felt I should refrain! And, you are correct, if you hadn’t have said it Steve S. would have. There is a great saying, out of Joanna’s family, ‘If you only had the sense that God gave geese,’ … so, you are correct in the observation that many birds have more ‘smarts’ than many humans. D

  2. I have been especially strict with myself, not allowing for blog browsing while I’m writing. I tend to save surfing for moments waiting to pick up the kids from band or sports practices. This means that I am often interrupted before finishing a good read, the images are too small to fully appreciate, and I can’t always comment or like the posts I see. I especially enjoy being able to pop into your blog on these days with a good screen. So, I offer apologies for not being regular in my comments and then bombing you with them all at once.

    There is something provocative in the thought that not all breeding stock will necessarily ‘take’ to motherhood. I know from Dawkins that breeding is a complex issue, so I won’t attempt to read too much into it… only to say that I appreciate the alterity that arises from observing other animals. Sometimes, within our own species, we tend to impose a very narrow set of expectations on ourselves and one another and then give such behaviour the misnomer of ‘natural.’

    • First … please, please, please, do not become a comment-counter! I do not look to see who comments regularly and who does not. You do what you can when you can … and that is all. I appreciate all of your observations M … all of them. The frequency with which they show up makes no difference. Now, as far as reproduction. That is a tricky subject. Darwin would have us believe that, for all sexual species, reproduction is job #1 … period. Now, there are several really interesting exceptions to this rule, particularly among the social insects (ants, termites, bees, and so on). There are also really cool examples of eusocial behavior among the vertebrates … ground squirrels and prairie dogs are good examples. It is the social structure of these organisms that may, under certain circumstances ‘motivate’ some individuals to forgo reproduction. Very simply … if groups are comprised of very closely related females (males are peripheral … literally) and individuals can be fairly certain that they share genes with their sisters, cousins, aunts, and others … then helping another of the group raise her young (with which you will share genes) may make more sense than having little ones yourself. Long … but rationale … story. Isn’t life interesting? D

      • Can some of those exceptions be, either conscious or not, fewer young in times of less food? Low rabbit numbers usually lead to low coyote young, for example.

        • Surely … and these would occur as part of natural predator/prey cycles, as you have pointed out. The sorts of reductions in reproductive output I mentioned to M are of another sort that can and do occur during ‘normal’ times. Another example I mentioned was that of the honey bee. It turns out that worker bees assist the queen in raising more workers (their sisters) rather than making babies themselves because (and, it’s a long story) those workers are more closely related to their sisters than they would be to their own offspring, if they were able to reproduce themselves (which, they cannot). Isn’t nature fascinating? D

      • No worries about me counting comments. I’m more concerned with greedily monopolizing your time. I think I said I was reading Darwin … I meant Dawkins. Today has been long. So yes, I’ve encountered his interesting argument. Sometimes I do find myself wondering how certain we can be about attributing motivation to some behaviours … but fascinating to contemplate.

        • Wow … totally (as the kids would say). Yes, this brain of ours is the product of natural selection as are, perhaps, most of our behaviors. You’ve hit upon a really interesting topic … how much free will do we really have? And, how can we know?! Are we free to make choices? Or are all of these controlled by our self-interested genes? Oops … there, I said it … those selfish genes of ours might be controlling all of this! And, why not? Makes good sense to me. I love Dawkins’ statement … which goes something like … a chicken is a gene’s way of making another gene. So, what does that do to the supposed importance of Homo sapiens if we believe that human bodies are simply repositories for a certain suite of genes and that the body is simply that suite’s way of making another repository? My head hurts. D

          • It gives an entirely different nuance to Viktor Frankl’s writing, who as a Holocaust survivor, believed that purpose and the meaning of life was what we chose to give it. Yet, at the same time, Frankl is keenly aware of the arbitrariness of life and that survival can shift dramatically in any direction. He also argued that we need to be careful, in seeking our personal meaning for life, so that we didn’t develop expectations. Instead, he asks that we try to be aware of what life expects from us, at any given moment. I’m not sure if I conveyed the harmony that I see between Frankl, whose psychology is often conflated with spirituality, and Dawkins. On some level you’d think they go in different directions but on another, they mesh. Perhaps I’m being too flexible!

  3. What beautiful portraits of your geese David….you really do do animal portraits well, catching the glint in their eyes 🙂
    I love your can do attitude of constantly learning and refining techniques, the next challenge as you say is always just around the corner! As for goose eggs, I’ve never tried them but I am addicted to duck eggs over chicken eggs….so much bigger (that’s the greedy me speaking!) and so much richer and creamier, yum, yum….perhaps similar to goose eggs?

    • Absolutely … they sound very similar to duck eggs. And, come to think of it, can’t come up with any other difference than size. Because breeding season is so short for the geese, we don’t often harvest eggs … but when we do, they’re a real treat! D

  4. These are great pics! Each one certainly looks to have their own individual personality. Beautiful animals. So did you eat all 40 of those eggs? What use are they on the farm?

    • No … we didn’t consume those … they had been on the nest for about 50 days. When we do collect goose eggs for the table they get put in the refrigerator the day they are deposited – and they’ll last as long as chicken eggs when kept cool and dry. They taste just like chickens eggs, if not a bit richer and smoother. We eat them straight-up or Joanna uses them in cooking. They are quite nice. D

  5. I like the way you put it and particularly like the direction you took the post in. You did not say anything much about how aggressive the geese can get. I know the Canada geese are not critters you would want to mess with 🙂 Perhaps this spring. I’ll look forward to some pictures if, and when, that happens.

    • Thanks for your contributions this morning Maurice. Yes, geese can be aggressive, and therein you will find their utility as early-warning systems. Our geese run with the sheep in an enclosed pasture and don’t free-range all about. If they were to run about I am sure that every visitor to our place would be greeted, or I should say ‘challenged,’ by the mob … as if to say ‘This is our place, and what the heck do you want?’ Ours have never been overly aggressive in that they will not attack when unprovoked. That’s not to say that they don’t make lots of noise … for surely they do! They are very loud and will often sound off for no apparent reason! We enjoy them none-the-less for it. D

  6. Of course I can relate to your hands-on way of learning! As for geese I am fascinated by the way the members of a flock move in synchrony. Special question: What happens to the eggs not used for reproduction? Why aren’t the eggs sold like chicken eggs? No market or too small numbers? I had once been given some geese eggs – one of those seems to be equivalent to 3 chicken eggs … a very efficient solution if you are really hungry! 🙂

    • Joanna and I have very much enjoyed the eggs when we’ve availed ourselves of the opportunity to consume a few. And, you are correct that it’s lots more efficient to use a single goose egg rather than harvest three or four chicken eggs! I’m guessing you don’t see them in the grocer’s because the market just isn’t there … I would suppose that folks are just so used to the chicken egg that seeing anything else on the shelves would just be weird.

      • Sorry for interrupting–I wonder how I would convert standard cook book recipes to accommodate goose eggs? (Substitute 3 chicken eggs for one goose? What if I need only 1 chicken egg?) Maybe that’s the difficult of marketing goose eggs?

        • ! I would ask Joanna right now but she is deeply engrossed in a knitting project … she seems to be counting! I would venture, however, that the ratio you suggest is correct 3 (chicken) : 1 (goose). As far as marketing goes … anything different in the dairy aisle would send folks into a tail-spin. The do not know what they’re missing. We’ll just keep the delights of goose eggs a secret. D

    • Agreed. Dave has just nailed it and if ever there was a post that should be viewed my many, this is one. The essential message here is one for everyone and the context is one that all should be able to relate to.

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