Rescuing a Goose and her Goslings

We found ourselves in a Home Depot parking lot late one night last week with a dilemma. A Canada Goose had made her nest in a small island of a relatively busy parking lot. She had dutifully sat on that nest among the constant disturbance of loud shoppers, boisterous children, heavy vehicle traffic and the never ending flicker of street lights for three long weeks, bringing us all together to this moment. Her babies had hatched that day. Some other kind soul provided her a small Tupperware of water that she had tipped over, leaving it empty. I bent over to fill it from my water bottle while she hissed and we weighed our options…

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The newly hatched babies can’t last long without access to water and there was no way Mother Goose was going to be able to safely navigate her brood through the parking lot and across multiple roads to the closest pond or lake, especially without the help of her mate who was no longer in the picture.

“Well, what do you want to do?” But we both already knew the answer before the Handy Man even asked. We couldn’t just leave them there. “It is Earth Day, after all,” I shrugged and that set us in motion. The employees at Home Depot kindly gave us a large empty box to transport her and after a brief debate about who would take off their shirt to cover her with (I won, for obvious reasons), and a little strategizing, we quickly secured Mother Goose and her seven goslings to the box. She was weak and easy to catch. Too easy, really. We decided to relocated them to the security of our backyard for the night, and asses further action in the morning.

We ushered our ducks to the safety of their house and set her up a hay nest next to the small man-made duck pond where she could sleep peacefully for the night. The next morning we awoke to all seven goslings playing boisterously in the pond, devouring the unmowed grass.

IMG_0518IMG_0526  The rest of the farm was intrigued by the visitors, but kept their distance. IMG_0525 A little rest, food and water had done everyone good and they were ready for their final relocation and release at a near by pond. For the record, catching a rested, nourished Mother Goose was significantly more terrifying than catching the one we had encountered in the parking lot. There are no photos or video of the capture, but this pretty much sums it up, if you were wondering what that is like…

This fairy tale ending made it all worth it, though.

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This isn’t an uncommon problem for geese. Over hunting and loss of habitat took its toll and by the 1950s they were believed to be extinct until, in 1962, a small flock was found in Minnesota and a breeding and release program was established. They have rebounded, but still have on going issues with habitat disruption. In the US, these geese are largely considered pests due to their droppings, noise and confrontational demeanor in urban environments. As suitable nesting habitats dissipate, geese have turned increasingly to man-made havens.

Things to know if you happen upon a nesting goose in an urban environment:

Do not feed them! These are wild animals. You do not want them becoming dependent on human food, nor do you want to give them food that is damaging to their very complex digestive systems. Bread is a big no-no! The goal is to guide them safely to an area where they have the ability to feed themselves and their babies appropriately.

Do not remove a goose from its nest if the eggs have not hatched. Wait until all eggs have hatched before relocating the bird. Any disturbance to the nest and eggs will likely result in death to the unhatched birds.

Do not separate the goose from her goslings. This causes obvious emotional trauma for the parents and the goslings, who rely on their parents for protection and food. Goslings left to fend for themselves fail to develop proper socially, struggle learning basic flight skills and become non migratory without someone to teach them the complex migratory patterns.

Make sure to relocate the gander with the goose and goslings. Geese are monogamous and mate for life around the age of two. The gander shares incubation responsibilities and helps raise the goslings, so taking his family away from him would be devastating to everyone involved. If you can not locate the gander or truly do not believe he is still in the picture, all is not completely lost. The goose will go through a period of morning and likely find a new mate the following year.

Limit physical handling as much as possible and do your best to mitigate the stress of the situation. It is preferable to gather a group of people to gently herd the geese away from hazards to a near by body of water verses capturing and relocating.

Feather Sexing Chicks

New Babies on the Farm

In the last two years on the farm, we have gone through our fair share of chickens. There are several contributing factors to this, but the main one is Roosters. We keep a limited number of hens because of restrictions set forth by the Homeowner’s Association, which is a somewhat sensitive and complicated relationship. For the sake of maintaining some assemblance of being neighbourly, admits our flagrant disregard for the “rules,” we are cautious to not keep any roosters. The problem with this is that when we go to pick out a new chick, I inevitably select a wee baby rooster. I fall madly in love with it as it grows; more so than I ever seem to do with the pullets. I ignore or deny all together the early signs that my she might be a he. Maybe she’s just masculine, I think. Perhaps her more exuberant coloring is a byproduct of immaculate breeding, and those aren’t saddle feathers coming in – it’s just a bad hair day.

Until it happens, one day she crows. And even though I had known deep down, I still feel a little pang in my heart. The Handy Man immediately posts him on Craigslist; the description always includes the sentiments, “He is extraordinarily sweet and we would keep him if we were able.” I make the Handy Man sift through each response, before we decide on a home that sounds the nicest – or sometimes the person who responds with the best grasp of the written English language (don’t even pretend like you don’t do that too). Then off he goes, to be a man somewhere where he can belt his little rooster-heart out and have a harem of lady-friends.

I recently spent some time with a few reputable breeders learning to feather sex and wanted to share with you some good guidelines for when you go to pick out chicks. This is not 100% foolproof and does not work for every breed, but it does give you better than average odds of selecting a pullet and not having to go through the heart break of getting rid of your Roo.

This is best done between one and three days of hatch.

When you pick up the chick, gently stretch out its little wing. You will see two rows of feathering – the coverts and the primary wing feather. In a male, the primary wings grow slower than a female, therefore when you examine the wing, the coverts and the primary feathers are approximately the same length. In a female, the primary wings grow faster. This means, when you examine the wing, you should see two distinct rows of wing feathers. The coverts will be shorter, and the primary longer.

Using this method, I was able to sex these three chicks when I picked them up. I’m confident that all three will be girls.

Euskal Oiloa - Marraduna Basque Hens

Euskal Oiloa – Marraduna Basque Hens

Once the chick has breeched the week mark, this method is no longer applicable. The male’s primary feather growth rate catches up and begins to surpass that of the females’. Although there are many early indicators and countless theories on growth and development at these stages, “feather sexing” at this point is really just a guessing game – I like to think of it as gambling with yourself in a hand that Mother Nature always wins. Most experienced breeders say that often they can’t even tell. So obviously this means that I think I will be the exception; the one person that can! And since we recently acquired a few chicks that are too old to reliably feather sex, I will be wagering myself a bet.

Here, on these three week old Wheaten Marans, you can see the vast developemental difference between the two chicks. The first has primary feathers that are notably longer, and has prominante tail feather development alread. I’m putting $10 on “Rooster” for this one. His counter part will be a pullet.

Boy

Boy

Girl

Girl

Here, you can see simular feather differentiation on these two week old Chilean Araucanas. Though, they are “rumpless,” so there is no tail feather development in either.

Boy

Boy

Girl

Girl

Although this is my official declaration, I secretly hope I’m wrong because I want to keep them both. Look at that single cheek tuft on the little “boy”! It’s like when you see a child with one glimmering dimple flash you a smile. Ever so slightly lopsided from the asymmetry, and absolutely perfect. Clearly, I am falling in love. Which confirms this particular hypothesis. Surely this will be a Roo. And surely, I will still feel that little pang.

Only time will tell for sure, however, understanding developmental differences can help you determin earlier on the gender of your chicks. Hopefully these guidlines will help you select chicks of your prefered gender, before you get them home and start to fall in love.