A local couple's adventures with a backyard flock.
by Katherine Pioli and Benjamin Bombard
Guided by the Slow Food philosophy, Katherine and Ben (assisted by a micro-grant from Slow Food Utah), will take CATALYST readers along on their attempt to raise ducks, chickens and geese in their backyard—not only for food, but to become a source of information for the community.
Fred the gander has taken our two young goslings under his wing. With Ethel on the nest, it seems like he needs some kind of goosey relationship to feel complete. Ever since they were little fist-sized fuzz balls, Fred's been interested in the peepers. He used to hassle Dorothy the mother hen and try to scare her away from them, behavior that looked a little threatening to the goslings--we half thought he might try to cull them from the flock himself.
You've read about them. You've watched them grow up from tiny little bobble-headed peepers into egg-laying, kiddie-pool-swimming, midnight-honking backyard mobsters. You've even watched one of them wage mortal combat with a watering can. Now come meet the Windsor Street flock this Saturday 22nd June as a featured stop on the Wasatch Community Garden's Urban Garden and Farm Tour.
More exciting news on the Windsor Street Farm. Ethel the goose has proven our naysaying wrong and started sitting a clutch of her eggs. For the longest time, we suspected that her genetic line may have had the tendency towards broodiness bred out of it. Every time it seemed she might sit on some eggs, every time she got our hopes up, within a night and/or a day, she’d be off the nest again. But this time’s different. This time she’s on the next for a good solid month…we hope.
The goslings are growing bigger every day. We haven’t named them yet, though I have suggested calling them “Thanksgiving” and “Christmas.” Dorothy the hen is doing a great job of raising them. She sticks up for the little ones and flies in the face of the dogs or cat or geese when they get too near.
After months of worry and head-scratching and second- and third-guessing, not to mention a full year of eager anticipation, the day finally arrived last week: a pair of baby goslings hatched at our Windsor Street homestead.
Don't hold your breath, but we might have some goslings soon. No. Really. Please don’t let us get you excited. We have no idea what we are doing here. There might not be goslings, but we are pretty sure that there are. Two.
Eggs are piling up on our shelves. Dozens of chicken eggs and duck eggs. More eggs than we can even sell at times. Goose eggs are piling up in the goose nest, but our goose has so far failed to pile herself on top of them for any longer than a couple hours. Hope was beginning to fade on the Windsor Farm that any of our birds would go broody and help us increase our flock size – because it seems like that’s what we need, right?
With spring blossoming in Utah, the birds, like the rest of nature, are busy with the business of procreation. For our backyard flock, that means the ganders crush our lone goose with their insatiable instinctual affection and the drake mounts his hens. In one respect, that was somewhat problematic for us. As I mentioned in a previous blog, we recently learned that the Protester carried dirty genes.
I came home from work yesterday to find our goose and gander* wandering around the yard as if they didn’t have any obligations in the world except to eat fresh green spring grass. Except they do have obligations: five big, beautiful eggs tucked into the goose’s straw nest under our bedroom window. Oh, but she wants to be a free woman. Well, missy, not today!
Last week our littlest goose started hanging out in a corner of the yard – literally a corner between a fence, a shed, two cinderblock bricks and a weed tree. There was hardly enough space for her to rest peacefully. We watched her turn in different directions and settle only to rise and turn again. But she seemed determined. The other two geese stood like sentries on either side of her as she grasped at grass and straw and vines to tuck around her. She made a new noise, sort of a whining, crying sound.
Spring’s arrival has brought big changes and weighty revelations to our backyard poultry ranch, not least of which is the snow melting. Bigger yet, though is this news: our goose is laying! I say “goose,” because, contrary to what our previous beliefs of the gender distribution of our American buff goose flock – that is, two geese, one gander – it’s recently been revealed to us that we in fact have two ganders and one goose. That’s been a tough pill to swallow.
What is Ben talking about? Aggressive peepers!? This very morning I crouched down to talk with my birds and the Protester came right up, peeping. He stood close enough and still enough to let me ruffle his breast feathers with my fingers. I stroked his wings, too. He likes the attention. The ladies are much more aloof. They don’t let me touch them.