She is now over seventeen years old. But, the old gray goose is still a fixture on our farm. Here is one from the archives.
She is quite the sight, a twelve-year-old and twenty-pound Pomeranian as Mother Goose to fifteen Saxony ducklings. She is in her element as guardian, head up searching for predators and effectively sending off all challengers.
She is the last of her breed on our farm. The last of what was once a large flock of forty of this impressive, handsome and tasty bird. Even in a large flock she stood out as a big girl. The first season we had her we assumed she was a gander from temperament and bearing. Even when she crowded onto a nest and pushed out other geese we assumed “he” was just helping out, a willing domestic partner, if you will.
When she stayed on the nest and hatched out a dozen or so goslings we realized our error. Her partner, they mate for life, was a beautiful gander and fierce protector of her, the goslings and the farm.
Nothing is more impressive than seeing twenty breeding pairs of geese turn in unison as an act of protecting their babies and charge the UPS man. Flapping wings, honking at decibels so loud it must be heard to be believed, they are an intimidating presence. The UPS man agreed. Agreed that he would remain in the truck and we would come to him if we wanted our package. He was only the latest in a long line of visitors so convinced.
As the years have progressed we gradually sold or ate our remaining flock of Pomeranians (an old German breed). For the last six years only the lone pair remained; the big girl and her man. They had become pets, lawn ornaments, a comfortable and expected presence around the barnyard.
Each January for the past twelve years she laid a clutch of eggs. And as the years progressed and fertility decreased the number of eggs and the viability of the hatch decreased.
Finally, two years ago, the gander disappeared after confronting coyotes invading the farm. I found his remains in the woods a month later. She spent the next few months forlornly honking for her mate. It is not an act of anthropomorphising to say that she was mourning her loss. It was heartbreaking to watch.
For the past two seasons she has continued to lay eggs, not fertile of course, in the barn. We let her set for as long as she will. Usually the dogs will steal the eggs from her so that the last couple of weeks she is sitting on nothing. But she doggedly persists in this act of maternity.
This year during what would have been her last week before a normal hatch we bought ducklings from a nearby farm. Cindy and our farm guest Hannah installed the ducklings in the brooder about twenty feet away from the goose on her nest. The next morning the goose had abandoned her nest and had taken residence in front of the brooder. What a miracle it must have seemed after several fruitless years to wake up and find all of her babies hatched and in a nearby pen!
She did not leave the side of the pen for three weeks. Hissing and flapping her wings at any who came near. Sitting inside one evening a month back we heard her unleashing some Holy Hell out at the brooder. Cindy went out to check and returned moments later to let me know a large black-rat snake was eating a duckling. The goose was frantically trying to get to the snake through the wire of the pen. I dispatched the snake with my 410 and the girl and the flock settled down, albeit a bit deafened.
Cindy turned the ducklings out after three weeks. Since that day the goose never leaves their side, maternally herding them together or away from danger. She is quite the sight with her big frame and all the smaller ducks clustered around her moving across the barnyard or pasture; a mother again, after all these years.