Here's some free advice, never get used poultry.
So we are clear – any modest success we've had with this whole farming thing is due to the Farm Master, Bourbon Red. He has patiently taught me about farming this entire way. Pretty much we just wait and see what he and his Lovely Wife do on their farm – then we do that too. And voila! It works! And we are very grateful.
There is the story of how he gave me the blue-eyed, long-necked, white feathered demon, Odysseus Henkiller, our Embden gander. To this day I'm not sure whether to curse Bourbon Red for that winged devil gander or to thank him. I love Odysseus. I hate Odysseus. I love to hate him. I hate to love him. Its a complicated relationship.
Here's what happened: (click 'read more' for the rest of the story)
This gander is not your friend!
We did so well with the laying hens that we were eager to expand our farming operation. Bourbon Red (BR) said he had some ducks and geese for us and we were thrilled! Ducks and geese for our pond! This was going to be great. I couldn't wait to enter the wonderful world of waterfowl. I threw a carrier in the trusty truck and roared up the freeway to their farm to claim my prize.
Getting' them geese, however, was conditional and came with a request and a warning: BR asked that the laying pair of geese never see the chopping block – they were a mated pair of 8 years and were companion animals... and he issued the warning to never show the gander you are afraid of him. No problem. The geese were old and would be too stringy to eat and who on earth would be afraid of an overgrown duck? Load up that goose, man! I was ready to go and I hurried to get the carrier ready from the truck. BR took me around to where they were penned up.
I fell in love with Penelope, the lady goose, as soon as I saw her. She is a lovely grey Toulouse goose. She has a funny wing and a wonky walk but wow, she is just a vision and exactly what you'd love to see swimming across your pond. And then there was Odysseus or “OD” as he was immediately renamed.
To be sure BR is no pansy. At 6'5" and man enough to hog tie a bull one handed, when he asked me to “watch the gate” while he went in to get OD out of the pen....well, there was no way I could have known what he meant was “I may not come back alive. If I'm not out in 5 minutes tell my family I love them.” I watched helplessly as that big ol' red neck charged into the pen and sumo-wrestled OD to the ground. It took a while. I should have known then that this might not turn out the way that I expected.
We crated OD up and I drove home wondering what was going to happen when we got there. My fears were realized as soon as I got the crate open and OD, with a wingspan of at least 5 feet, stormed into my previously peaceful barnyard and proceeded to pummel Fred the Rooster. Wow. I thought Fred was The Meanest Thing On Earth but this dang gander had him beat by a mile.
Over the course of the next couple days I realized we were in for it. None of the bucolic farm articles mentioned just how mean geese can be - just a mild footnote that they made good "guard animals." I had no idea.
After repeatedly beating Fred to a pulp, OD turned his attention to the annoying hens – singling one out to bear the full weight of his wrath. Poor little Barnee didn't have a chance. An older, lame hen she couldn't hardly get away from him. Several times we had to chase OD off of her and carry her gently into the hen house and out of OD's warpath.
When he grabbed another hen, my dearest little pal Henrietta, I had it with him. But there wasn't anything I could do. He wasn't afraid of me at all. In fact, he wasn't afraid of anything! Not me, not the dogs, not even The Big Man. OD even bit the smaller of our two brontosaurused-sized dogs, Lucky..who ran off shocked and crying! And seriously, what was I going to do – fight with a goose?
At first I thought that OD was just adjusting and he'd settle down. Until the day I watched, marveling at how cute Penny was as she gracefully slipped into the big water trough...And then OD pushed in behind her causing a tsunami that whooshed her right out onto the ground. Apparently this guy was used to being the boss goose!
I had been giving OD a wide berth in the hen yard – I'd stay out of his way and I always carried my hickory shepherd's hook – which the Bible would call the 'rod of discipline.' But around here its my 'beatin' stick'.... just in case he went after the hens. Or me. OK I may have been a little afraid of him. Not showing any fear, of course.. just 'hurrying to get my work done'... yeah that was it.
But OD got more and more aggressive after Penny laid enough eggs to built a huge, eagle-sized nest on which she firmly sat. You had to hand it to him, tho, OD's job is to guard her and he does. With his life. For heaven's sakes if that gander were armed we'd all be pushing up daisies. As it was I was getting tired of him chasing the hens and since I knew he was a registered hen killer... something had to be done.
Me and that gander were fixin' to have a show down.
I can picture it like it was yesterday..... It was a cool day, just before noon. A light wind was blowing from the southwest...
Titan, the largest of our dogs, hip high to me and tipping the scales at just over 100 lbs, and I were on patrol. We heard a ruckus in the hen house and rushed to see that OD had pushed over the gate and was actually in the hen house! He was terrorizing the hens who were trying to lay their eggs! What if OD had poor little, lame Baree cornered!
“To me! To me!” I gave the rallying command to the huge dog. Together we rounded the corner and entered the hen yard. Lucky was no where to be seen.
The hens came a-running. “Mama!” They cried and the chickens, including Fred the Rooster, ran to me ….and underneath Ti who they usually run from.
I set my jaw. This was it. Here I would make my stand against that flapping fiend. This would forever determine if I was just a lowly member at the bottom of the poultry pecking order.... or if I was the boss goose. The dog and I went in.
Now the hen house is a box canyon. There is only one way in and only one way out. He turned and OD shrieked his metallic war cry, enraged that he was cornered. His striking blue eye set against his all white body seared me with hatred. I stood in the doorway, my trusty war wolf in one hand and my beatin' stick in the other.
The evil OD and I glared at each other like two gun fighters in the street. Time stood still for a moment. Somewhere in the distance a lonesome train whistle sounded. A tumbleweed blew past. OK well that tumbleweed thing didn't happen but it really was those old westerns.
This was it. Either I proved my dominance or I'd forever be running from that white feathered devil.
OD broke the silence screaming his rage and firmly planting his flippity-floppity feet. I swung the beatin' stick like a batleth and snarled in my best Klingon "Today is a good day to die!" With the swoosh of another parry I assumed the warrior's stance. OD drew himself up and spread his wings - at least a 6 foot wingspan!
Ready for battle Titan strained toward the winged beast. I looked down at my trusty dog and commanded "Get that Rooster" and unleashed the mighty hound.
Now Ti is well schooled in his commands – including “Get that Rooster.” When we go into the hen yard Ti's main job is keeping Fred off me while I go about the business of hen keeping. Many times Ti has positioned himself between me and the dreaded Fred. And when commanded to 'Get That Rooster' Ti puts that rooster in his place.
So knowing his duty my hard workin' farm dog sprang into action like the wolf of Rome in the opening scene of Gladiator.
Titan lunged for the giant bird. OD joined the battle, thundering his wings - at least a 9 foot wingspan! The dog dodged and went back in full throttle. OD countered and a hit!
But, unlike Lucky who cried and ran away when the gander bit him, Ti reared back and gave OD a "So you want a piece of me, long neck? Bring it on!" look and went for him again.
Flapping. Snarling. A swoosh of the the beatin' stick.... and a moment later the battle tide had turned! We won! We had taken the day! A defeated and emasculated OD assumed a cowered stance and ran, head looking back, slightly trailing behind his over-sized body, for the lower hen yard.
“And take that!” I cried shaking my beatin' stick at him for good measure.
The hens cheered, Fred said something about how he “could have done that,” and Ti wagged his tail. Order was restored to the hen yard. For his efforts Ti was rewarded with an extra long game of fetch and a pat on the head.
Now that I am the Boss Goose I can freely come and go with out fearing “that overgrown duck.” A warning tone in my voice and Ti in my shadow are the only weapons I now need against the once ferocious OD. In fact, we have established an uneasy peace. I've even given that gander some special snacks and extra tasty treats...as long as he leaves my hens, and me, alone that is...
That first spring Penny hatched some beautiful babies... and we just loved the goslings. We called them The Meeps for their funny little noises. OD was the proudest papa... and he tenderly attends to dear Penny. We eventually had to move the geese out of the hen yard. But, well thats another story entirely......