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.
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.
Fred the gander hates intruders in his backyard. He especially hates any stationary interlopers: five-gallon buckets, dog bowls and especially watering cans.
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.
The other day, as I walked to the peeper pen to fill up the waterfowl’s drinking and washing bucket with fresh water, the geese and ducks were out and about, and as I passed by them I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the Hisser--who earns her name everyday--was chasing after me, her neck snaking low to the ground, mouth open, tongue out. She was pissed. I don’t think she likes me.
I thought you peeper fans out there might want an update on Cricket/Bumblefoot’s condition. A quick recap: Ben and I came back from a week-long vacation to find our male duck limping badly. We found a swollen bubble on a finger of his webbed foot. Some interweb research told us it was bumblefoot, a potentially fatal infection. After attempting at-home surgery, we sought professional assistance.
Ever since this cold snap settled in a couple weeks ago, we’ve been struggling to find a reliable and relatively convenient way to provide the geese and ducks, and the chickens, with fresh water. It hasn’t been easy, but I think we’ve finally found a working solution that could be as close to ideal as we’re likely to get.
There is a duck in our tub in our bathroom. He, maybe she, is soaking its feet in a dog bowl full of warm Epsom salt water. Like many moments with our bird friends this one is extremely entertaining and photo-worthy. But, newly named Bumblefoot is there for a very serious reason.