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.

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