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.
The little peepers arrived right on time, 29 days from the start of incubation on 9th April. And here’s a strange story. The night before they hatched, I had a dream of a large white egg, in close up, surrounded by a gauzy black void, and something was pecking out from inside the egg, tapping on shell’s bulbous end. Tick tick tick. Then, near the end of work last Friday, I got a call from Katherine. “We have baby goslings!”
As soon as I got home, I lifted up Mama Dorothy from the nest a bit and saw a single gosling peeking out from beneath her bulk. Another gosling revealed itself when I lifted the hen up even farther.
Running inside the house, I flipped through Harvey Ussery’s book on chickens for some advice. He recommends introducing chicks to the real world and their new flock from day one. Better they learn to forage and fend for themselves from a young age. So I did as he advised and recorded as the two wobbly little goslings took their first stumbling steps. “They look like sleepy, fuzzy aliens,” a friend observed when she saw the video. And drunk, I might add; on their first day of life, little birds – maybe like little people? I wouldn’t know; baby animals are the only babies I’ve ever really closely observed – wobble and totter like drunkards.
When we first got our waterfowl flock last spring, our hope was that the birds would imprint on us and maybe even grow to like us. From what we read, handling them as little as possible can help to that end. Nothing doing. Our birds will try to force their bodies through a wall of utility fencing to get away from us. This time around, we’re trying to handle the goslings more as an experiment. From the moment I introduced them to the bright new world, I began handling them. They craved warmth and protection, and holding one of them in my hand, he (she? We still have to sex them) began dozing off.
One of the goslings – we’ll call it G1 for the time being — appeared stronger and fitter for life than the other (G2). G1’s downy feathers were clean and yellow; G2’s were dirty, and egg detritus still clung to its wings. And yet, G2 was the first one to take his tentative first steps. He seemed more lively and awake. While G1 nestled in the warmth of my arms, G2 tried his best to stumble through the grass and even to nibble it a bit.
Mama Dorothy seemed pleased to finally be off the nest. With her new found freedom, she took a good solid poop and then immediately started foraging. She showed little interest in the goslings, and I was concerned that maybe she thought her job was done: “I hatched the little bastards, now it’s your turn!” My first inclination was to get the birds in a brooder ASAP, but Katherine disliked that idea. She wanted to give the goslings as “natural” an upbringing as possible. That meant not only being hatched by a bird, but being cared for by one until the time came to get weaned. Ultimately, we’ve charged Mama Dorothy with rearing the hatchlings.
We’re going to do our level best to get a bunch of blog updates out during the goslings’ first few weeks of life, so stay tuned.