Fred the Philanderer

"What'd I do wrong?" . . . .

“What’d I do wrong?” . . . .

Fred, generalissimo of the goose gaggle, is looking downright sorry these days.  He has had most of his feathers plucked away and we are still in the grip of winter!  Loud honks and squawks from the goose yard led to a recent inspection and it appears the two young males, Ricky and McGill are picking on their father.  Poor Fred has a limp from an altercation with a fox (or possibly a bobcat) last autumn that left him nearly crippled, and while he has healed and gets around quite well, he’s not the man he used to be.  And he is certainly in no condition to endure continued attacks from Ricky and McGill!  What could cause this close-knit little goose family to split apart in savage attacks on each other?  And why isn’t Ethel, his partner for life, defending him?

"These geese are ganging up on me!" . . . .

“These geese are ganging up on me!” . . . .

It soon became clear what was going on, and right in the front yard of all places!  Fred was mating with Lucy, one of his offspring and my favorite little female that we raised in the house last winter.  It appears there has been a divorce and Ethel has sided with the youngsters and has been seen taking a peck at old Fred along with the rest of the gang.  There must be a high-priced lawyer under the woodpile!  So much for goose fidelity.  If this keeps up, old Fred will wear himself out trying to chase Lucy and Esmay and defend himself from Ricky, McGill and Ethel.  Not to mention the foxes, bobcats, raccoons, wild dogs, guineas, eagles, owls and other assorted dangerous critters a poor goose has to contend with.  He is after all the defender of his little flock and he takes the responsibility quite seriously.  He has on several occasions bitten me for no apparent reason, but I now find myself feeling quite sorry for the old reprobate.

Ricky rules! . . . .

Ricky rules! . . . .

This dandy young fellow is the heir apparent to Fred’s “rule of the roost” so to speak.  He is not nearly as ornery as his father and has never exhibited aggressive behavior toward us, possibly because we raised him from a hatchling.  To keep the peace we should arrange for a goose swap and introduce some new genetics into the mix.  Ricky will need a mate and we don’t wish to encourage any more incest, infidelity and ruckus in the barnyard!


. . . we're moving on up!

The care and feeding of animals is an awesome responsibility.  When you become the sole source for their nourishment, sustenance and protection, you make a commitment to see it through.  And the rewards are astounding.

Fred and Ethel, our Chinese geese, came to us by a circuitous route.  They were dumped on our pond by a neighbor, who rescued them from another neighbor who had moved away, leaving two ducks and the geese behind to fend for themselves.  We discovered them on our daily walk past the pond, and began leaving a little corn for them. It was late summer, and they seemed to be doing alright, however I had reservations about their long-term survival.  The ducks had puffy little crowns on their heads (I have not yet learned what specific category of duck they were) and they came to a sad end.  First one, and then the other disappeared, leaving only a trace of feathers and speckles of blood on the ground.  We could only speculate about the predator that caught up with them.  Coyote?  Fox?  Bobcat?  Racoon?

This left just Fred and Ethel to circle the pond and greet us for a daily ration of corn.  Soon Mickey and Minnie the muskrats joined in the fun, and pushed past the geese for corn, creating quite a skirmish, but that is another story.  After the loss of the ducks, I noticed in the evenings the geese left the pond and wandered into a nearby pasture where they settled in for the night.  They seemed lost and forlorn in their search for a safe harbor, and I listened in the night for sounds of distress, certain they would meet the same fate as the ducks.

Fred and Ethel perservered.  Autumn and then winter came. In November, a cold spell convinced us they were not doing well.  The pond had frozen over, and the geese stopped eating their daily ration of corn.  They sat on the ground, looking cold and entirely miserable.  We researched the Internet and learned their breed are unable to tolerate extreme cold below 20 degrees F.  There was only one thing to do.  We caught them and hauled them home.  The garden shed became temporary goose quarters, and with a heat lamp, they survived the winter.

In the spring we created a makeshift home for them in the calf warmer.  They settled in nicely, and we walked them to and from the pond each day. Ethel tried to nest down below the pond, but we had to gather her and her eggs and bring them home.  She was highly offended and refused to acknowledge her eggs.  Her next attempt was close to home and she hatched one little gosling. It did not survive, and suffered severe lacerations about the head and neck which could only have come from Fred, the jealous father.  And then she did something nuts.  She hatched four babies this January in the coldest, most miserable weather.  We were aware she was sitting on a nest, and we were reluctant to disturb her after all her previous travails.  We just didn’t think she would be able to keep her eggs warm enough for any of them to be viable.  Ethel fooled us, and the story of her babies has been well documented in previous blogs.

. . . hey, those guys look like us!

Yesterday, we moved Ethel’s four goslings from the house to the garden shed with a heat lamp.  Maintaining housing for baby geese is a challenge.  They initially out-grew  the rabbit cage, and then the sheep tank, and finally had to be moved to larger quarters in the same shed where Fred and Ethel first established residence.  We were able to pound metal posts into frozen ground to create an outdoor fenced area adjacent to the shed where they can wander around and get some exercise.  We were satisfied that we met this next challenge of raising baby geese as well as could be expected.  The next big question in our minds is how and when to incorporate them with Fred and Ethel.   How do we transfer the “imprint” from Mother Goose to their real mother, and how can we be sure of Fred’s behavior when left to his own devices?

Good Grief, Ethel–Babies in January?

Our Chinese geese, Fred and Ethel, became parents today.  In the dead of winter.  What were they thinking?  When Ethel began to sit on a nest in mid December, we shook our heads in wonder.  Her dilligence was rewarded today with three gold and brown babies, with the possibility of more to come!

We had little faith she would have a successful outcome, and panic ensued when we heard the sounds of little peeps at feeding time (Fred and Ethel do not make little peeps — try loud honks and squawks).  We knew her time was near, and a cracked remnant of a shell was our first clue. Upon closer inspection, we saw one downy head poking out from under Ethel’s wing.  Now what?

Fred and Ethyl live in a converted calf warmer, which is used to revive baby calves suffering from the cold. It is constructed of plywood,  warmed with a heat lamp suspended from the ceiling, has an entrance door, a small hatchway at one end to supply food and water, and a ventilation slot that is covered for the winter to keep out the cold and snow.  It has no insulation, and an electrically heated bucket keeps drinking water from freezing.  It was the best goose housing  we could come up with on short notice, but that is another story.  It is no place to raise baby geese in January in Wyoming!

With a minimum of chaos, we gathered up the three babies and headed to the house.  Fred had to be restrained, but Ethyl graciously surrendered her offspring without biting me and clung to her nest where more eggs needed her attention.  The laundry room is now a nursery (again), and a wire rabbit cage is home to baby fowl (again).  And I am Mother Goose.

Photos to follow.