Tuesday, April 23, 2013
GOOSE HERDING AT MIDNIGHT
Those of you who are on the various yahoogroups lists with me already know that much of my life is spent chasing one animal or another here on the Rock ‘n Tree Ranch and elsewhere. Last night was no exception to that rule.
However, some of you may not be familiar with the personalities and habits of geese and the herd dogs that guard them. So let me give you a little background here.
Geese are very intelligent birds, unlike guinea fowl—but that’s a story for another day. They are for the most part the world’s best parents. The love and care they give their young not only when they are little but as adults is a lesson many humans should learn.
Like humans, geese also have distinctive voices for each individual goose. When you are familiar with your geese you soon learn their voices just as you would learn the voices of the people you know. Unlike humans it is the hens that generally have the deeper voices, while the males can shrill and hit quite high notes that will hurt your ears if they are very stressed. You also learn the different tones of their voices that mean happiness, fear, and concern.
The term pecking order comes from the way poultry handles their hierarchy in their flock. They tend to respect their elders, but the young will battle to be in control of their own level in the pecking order.
In our flock we have the three elders. These are the twin brother white Embdens Frodo and Magellan. Pigwidgeon, a big old grey Toulouse gander . Frodo is the elder statesman of the lot and all the younger geese follow his lead.
Frodo’s mate is the daughter of Pigwidgeon and his one and only mate Penelope, more on this in a moment, Serenity. by being of the second generation from Piggie and the mate to Fro-Fro she is of extremely high rank as well.
Piggie, as Pigwidgeon is generally called, mated with Penny and they had our first successful hatch over nine years ago. When Penny was broody on her second hatch she lost her life trying to defend her young. Piggie has mourned her nine long years and has never found a new mate, despite all our efforts to supply him with suitable candidates. He instead keeps a watchful eye on all the generations of their original offspring that have came since then. As each new round of goslings is hatched Grandpa Piggie helps in their raising and defends them without fail. In my mind’s eye I often picture Piggie wearing small round wire framed eye glasses. This is because he seems so old and wise.
Serenity is a good Mama, as her mother was. She has successfully hatched and raised several goslings over the years. Last year she hatched four, but one was weak from the beginning and the changes in weather caused it to become ill and die. She mourned it for days. Her remaining three Huey, Dewey and Louie she still shepherds around along with Bad Boy and Snowball two orphans she adopted when their own parents died last year. She treats all five yearlings the same.
Mama geese are extremely protective of their eggs and young. You can read about one such battle for the safety of a hen’s eggs in “Popcorn, the Mom-goose”.
Our flock is guarded 24/7 by the “girls”. The girls are both rescued dogs with no special training other than their own natural instincts. I’ve spoke of the girls often. The alpha is Jolie Marie, an Aussie Collie mix with one brown eye and one blue eye. Jolie, aka: Jo Jo, is a natural self taught herder. Generally she can successfully herd the birds where we need them without trouble, mainly because the birds know she’s boss. However, she does sometimes get frustrated with a panicked bird or a stubborn one. Generally she will put her long pointy nose on their feathered backside and push them where she wants them. Other times she will bark at them to order them to behave.
She spends her nights among the birds when they are sleeping outside a pen for one reason or another and outside the pen gate when they are penned. When one is broody in an unsafe area she stays by it as a guardian every night, no matter the weather. These are her birds, just ask her.
All night long she and the “enforcer” Misty Georgia, a bouncy loving shepherd mix, patrol keeping the coyotes, possums, and coons away. While Jolie is a great herder, Georgie is not. She tries, but she’s too bouncy for the job. So she uses her energies to chase away the bad guys.
You can see photos of this cast of characters and some of the other 14 geese can be seen at the right.
So now on to last night’s event.
As I have previously said we tend to go to bed with the chickens around here because both men have to get up so early each work day. So both men were sound asleep and I was dozing when I started hearing “Euh, Euh, Euh,” a pause then a repeat over and over. I knew the voice and I knew immediately it was Serenity. Serenity who was suppose to be broody under the front porch on several eggs. It was nearly 11:30 pm, why was I hearing her under my bedroom window? She never leaves a nest at night when broody.
Listening closer I could hear Frodo softly answering from the safety of the garden pen. Her voice was full of fear and sadness. His shrill was full of concern. I jumped out of bed to try and peer out the bedroom window to verify what I thought I was hearing. No luck, the soft grey goose could not be seen in the deep darkness outside.
I could make out the white silhouette of Frodo in the pen and hear Piggie calling to Serenity as well.
I could also hear both girls barking an intruder alert.
I scrambled into clothes, grabbed my cell phone and went to get a flashlight. I saw no reason to wake the guys up if the situation was what I expected. I felt confident I could handle it by myself, well with Jolie’s help.
The front room flashlight was not where it belonged so I rushed through the house to the sunroom and grabbed the one from there. Back through the house and headed out the front door. Listening intently for sounds of terror before I could get there as I went.
As soon as I opened the front door I knew I was right, something had attacked Serenity on her nest. I knew this before I even checked under the porch because Jolie was not at her post on the porch where she had been sleeping since Serenity went broody a few nights earlier.
A quick check under the front porch verified what I thought. Something had definitely attacked the nest, the eggs were gone and so was Serenity. I could hear her near the garden and hurried that direction to see if she was injured.
She was racing back and forth up and down the perimeter of the fenced garden trying frantically to get to her mate and father who were racing up and down with her on the inside of the fence. Just past where she was a coyote yelped. The whole flock came to life and started screaming “Coyote, coyote!”
Out of nowhere Jolie placed her cold nose against my hand to let me know she was there. Georgia could be heard barking warnings to the coyotes that these were her birds and they were to leave the area NOW!
I spoke quietly to Serenity as I slowly approached the grief stricken panicked bird. She wouldn’t let me near her so I instead opened the gate planning on trying to simply herd her through it as we would normally do. That was my plan, but by this time Serenity was inconsolable and had lost all reason.
Jolie then tried to put her up, but Serenity wouldn’t listen to Jolie either. Frustrated Jo-Jo tried to nose the goose toward the gate, a tactic that generally works.
Instead Serenity, who must of thought it was the coyote after her, started flogging Jolie. Jolie maintained her cool and did not snap at the goose as most animals would have. She instead backed up and came to my side to wait for the goose to settle down.
About that time there was another coyote yelp from near the gate side of the garden and the now totally panicked hen took off in the opposite direction in full out flight mode. Heading toward the clear cut and certain death if she got that far.
“Retrieve Jolie, don’t let her get in the woods.” I said and Jolie sped off full tilt after the bird, passing her in ease within a few seconds. She turned her back toward the garden, but the bird went to the coop side of the shanty rather than the way she needed to go. She was now back in a safe zone, cornered and even more frantic.
Frodo and Piggie ran to that side of the garden pen and stood talking to her, obviously trying to calm her down. I could almost hear them saying “let Mom hug you, she’ll put you in the pen.”
Hugging is our term for picking up the bird and hugging them to our body to carefully carry them to safety or to tend to a problem. See the Mud Wrestling post for another adventure that involved hugging a goose.
Serenity, who is named that because she is usually a very calm and relaxed bird, was having nothing of it.
Jolie was NOT happy at this turn of the events, the goose was NOT where she had told it to go. Her frustration was starting to wear on her. I called her to my side and told her to let the bird calm down.
Jolie laid down on her belly at my side with a loud sigh of disgust and waited for me to say “put her up” to release her from this frustrating turn of events.
Instead I said “what do you say Jo, do you think we need to call in back-up?”
Jolie turned her head toward the sounds of Georgia removing coyotes from the area and then back at me. “No, you know George is doing her job and she’s not good at herding even though she tries real hard. I think Sean, what do you think?”
Jolie cocked her ears at me as if to say yes. I then called my son, waking him from a sound sleep. I apologized for waking him, then explained the situation. He said he’d be right there. I relayed this to Jolie, who sighed, glanced at the bird, and laid her head on her front paws to wait.
I did not call my husband because I knew his phone was on the charger in another room and he’d never hear it. I could not leave the bird to go get him, besides if I knew Sean well we wouldn’t need a third human.
Sean joined us amazingly fast. He has a very calming effect on animals and he soon had the bird where she was no longer flailing at the fence or trying to climb it. The two ganders on the inside of the fence also calmed. Once he had talked her into a calmed state I tried to herd her away from the corner she was in to go to the far side of the long run she’d have to go around to get to safety. She immediately panicked again.
This is when I decided to leave the area, taking Jolie with me. I left my son to talk with the bird some more. Shortly there after he said “headed your way, keep Jolie calm.”
Jolie obeyed my voice commands to “help me, keep her from going to the woods” and as my son herded Serenity toward the open gate. We took our post on the far side of the gate where the coyote had previously been to show the goose we were protecting her from that side.
He could get Serenity within a few feet of the gate, but every time she’d panic at the last minute and turn to run the opposite direction. We figure the coyote had probably marked the area and that was why she was so frantic.
Once again ds started speaking to the now exhausted goose, telling her to sit still and he’d hug her and put her in with Frodo and Piggie. Almost immediately the large goose settled at his feet tucking her wings to her side in a “pick me up” pose.
Sean gently picked her up and carried her the six feet or so to the gate and through it. He then said “there you go sweet heart, go to your family.” As he gently set her down on the ground.
You didn’t have to tell Serenity twice. She ran straight toward her mate, intertwining her long neck with his while her father and five yearlings crowded around her checking her out for any damage.
We latched the gate and praised the dogs for a job well done. Jolie responded by curling up near the gate to guard it the rest of the night, while Georgia went on patrol.
A check of the nest verified the eggs were gone, and Serenity had fled only after all was lost. The nest was in an area Jolie was too big to get into, and that is why she had been barking for help.
We are sad we lost the eggs, but thrilled we still have Serenity. Jan who managed to get back to bed about 12:45 am in OK