On losing my geese

losing my geese

It was a beautiful sunshiny day and we took the goslings out to play in their tractor. They waddled about, enjoyed their grass and drank their water all the while peeping to one another in their beautiful sing songy voices. An hour later, two were dead.

I had no idea what could have caused them to die so suddenly and without any symptoms. For the most part, geese are hardy and anything that would kill a gosling would kill a chicken first. But my chicken flock is healthy, no signs of disease and certainly none dropping dead without warning. At least so long as Pepper, AKA Chicken Killer, hasn’t gotten to them.

A little over a week later, three more died under the same circumstances: in their pen, within an hour of being checked on and without any symptoms whatsoever.

I felt like crying. We’ve lost over half our little flock and now have only one female and two males. And I really love our little goslings. They’re so different from chickens. So much more personable and they always run to the front of their pen to peep at me in greeting when I come to check on them. They follow me about while I do my garden chores and I’ve found their constant chatter to be a most beautiful sort of music to work to.

But they were dying and I didn’t even know why.

Then I found the chick. It was dead in the hen house, dragged partway through the kennel I keep in there for the chicks to escape to when the hens pester them too much. Whatever dragged it that far had a bit of strength behind it. It was firmly wedged and I think I may have broken its back dislodging it. Because of this, I inspected the body much more carefully and found two tiny bite marks just under the eye.

Weasel crossed my mind, but it was the middle of the day. Whatever it was walked right through our property with twenty two free ranging poultry, entered the hen house and chose a chick it was going to have to drag through bars to take home.

Then I talked to a neighbor. Well, a sort of neighbor. They live a few miles from here, but they keep geese and chickens, too. And they have lost several to weasels. Who were hunting during the day. Who left evidence so slight that she didn’t catch it until she started looking very closely for the tell tale bites around the head or neck.

And I’m not happy. Weasels are not easy to stop once they get started. They can wipe out a flock in a single attack, for they tend to kill until there is nothing left to kill or their little murderous spree is interrupted. Then they stack their quarry and camp out near the carcasses to gorge themselves for days.  They are difficult to keep out for they can squeeze through any opening large enough for a mouse to enter.

And I’ve now learned that hawks aren’t the only predators I need to worry about during the day. We have a tractor for the young ones because they are the most vulnerable. Since the neighbor’s dog killed one of our chickens (and we have our own Chicken Killer), I’ve been wanting to get some built for the others as well. But this weasel, if that is what we are dealing with, has so far seemed to prefer the penned birds, the ones that don’t have the ability to run away or fly up into a tree.

I’m afraid the tractor intended to keep them safe will become their own death trap.

And I don’t feel any better than when I was clueless as to what was causing the deaths. I feel rather helpless, actually. Because I know I can’t just camp out next to them all day every day, and eventually this little thing will find its way into the hen house at night. Probably as soon as it realizes the dog is only dangerous if it goes into the fenced area.

So I sit at the edge of my garden, watching the geese work the rows, peeping at them when they lower their heads and peep at me, stroking them when they waddle over and wondering if I can keep them alive until they are big enough to defend themselves.

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11 Comments

  1. Reply

    Alison

    June 21, 2010

    try putting hardware cloth instead of chicken wire around the sides of the tractor. so sorry for your poor goslings! you’ll soon have their protection down pat.

    • Reply

      Dana

      June 21, 2010

      I thought about that, but the ground is uneven and it would be too easy for a weasel to slip underneath. I’m going to try pulling the tractor up closer to where we keep our beagle tied out and hope that helps discourage anything from trying to get in.
      .-= Dana´s last blog ..On losing my geese =-.

  2. Reply

    T F Stern

    June 21, 2010

    Sorry to hear about your losses; wish I knew of a solution. They don’t cal them Weasels for no reason, pesky little vermin that they are.
    .-= T F Stern´s last blog ..Silver Bubba’s Hobo Kittens =-.

  3. Reply

    Sheri

    June 21, 2010

    Oh so sad. Sorry to hear this. Wish I had something helpful to offer.
    .-= Sheri´s last blog ..Sunday’s Share =-.

    • Reply

      Dana

      June 21, 2010

      At least adult geese are pretty good at defending themselves and when raised with chickens can be halfway decent guard animals. They don’t like intruders.

      Right now, I have the beagle staked out near their pen and I’m hoping he’ll be enough of a deterrent if this is what is getting our birds.
      .-= Dana´s last blog ..On losing my geese =-.

  4. Reply

    Aagaard Farms

    June 21, 2010

    I’m so sorry – I know a little bit of what it’s like to lose an animal. Although the chickens are not pets, they are part of our flock and farm, and we take our responsibility to them very seriously. I was angry, sad, guilty and frustrated when we lost some chickens to neighbours’ dogs. But, the energy has to go into caring for the rest, not lamenting the lost! There will be better days!

  5. Reply

    Louisa

    June 21, 2010

    I am so sad for you…..I gasped in horror as I read your post as I have my beautiful babies out in a goose tractor as well, overnighting too.
    Have you considered a guard dog like joel salatin (polyface farm) that is trained to protect your flock??
    There is a certain breed that is good for this.
    Our adult Emdens take on our dogs and will not let the dogs near their babies….so once they are grown it may be ok….
    Again, I am so so sorry.
    .-= Louisa´s last blog ..Saving our bacon….. =-.

    • Reply

      Dana

      June 22, 2010

      We want to get a Pyrenees when we get our goats, but they need a fenced area to patrol within. We have a lab mix who actually is very good at driving off anything unwelcome but it has been very hot recently and he’s been retreating to the coolness of the house.

      After finding out about weasels, I decided that I’m not letting him off that easy. I also staked the beagle out by the tractor. He wouldn’t be too hard to get around, but his barking always attracts Hunter’s attention and I’m hoping this will be sufficient to protect them during the day at least.

      I hope so, anyway. I’ve read that full grown geese don’t have much to worry about so I probably only have 6 more weeks or so of fretting before they’re big enough to defend themselves. They made a bit of a fuss about Copper being staked out near them today and it was the first time I’ve heard them hiss!

      Then maybe I can rely on them to protect my chickens since they’re sleeping in the same shed!
      .-= Dana´s last blog ..On losing my geese =-.

  6. Reply

    Alison

    June 22, 2010

    we have a border collie mix as a guard dog. she’s great. we use petsafe’s wireless containment system so we don’t have to fence so much. very useful.

  7. Reply

    Jamie

    June 29, 2010

    I hope you’ve figured something out. I would cry, too. 🙁
    .-= Jamie´s last blog ..Adoption Story- Guest Post by Anne-Marie =-.

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