Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Why geese?

 On the Farm

After learning that geese can grow to full size on grass only, I was fascinated and knew that we just had to get some.  Talk about a pasture raised animal!  We have about 4 acres of grass and geese seem like they might be good little lawn mowers!  Geese are herbivores which means that they only eat plants.  They don't really care to eat insects like chickens and ducks.  They even have little teeth on their tongues to help them bite off blades of grass.  Let me back up and explain our journey to get goslings...as with most everything else, it has taken a few years...
Before we even moved to the farm, I did some research about using geese for guard animals.  I had followed a farm on YouTube and they had a goose with their chickens.  The idea is that when a predator approaches the chicken yard, the goose would squawk loudly and scare them away.  To do this, it is best that the goose is raised with the chickens so it accepts the group of chickens as its own flock to defend.  If you have 2 geese with the chickens, they will just stick together and not really develop the guarding instinct.  I didn't think this idea would work for us because geese can live for many years and we would be rotating out the older laying hens on a regular basis.  I was unsure of how it would work to put a goose with a new group of chickens, especially young chickens.  Also, I found out that you can really only purchase goslings in the spring and we were getting our chicks in the fall so they would not have the opportunity to grow up together.  We decided to go with the guard dogs for guarding the chickens, ducks and farm!
In December 2019, I started to research about geese.  I knew that I wanted some but I didn't know what breed might be a good fit for our farm.  Some geese are louder and more aggressive than others and different breeds lay differing amounts of eggs.  Here is a link to a great chart that compares the different breeds.  I did a lot of reading and, after weeks, finally decided to get some American Buff geese.  Now, this gets a little confusing because Buff is actually a color of feathers and the breed is called American.  For some reason, on a lot of websites and books, they are often just referred to as "Buff."  I started looking for a goose breeder.  One of the books I was reading was called The Book of Geese A Complete Guide to Raising the Home Flock by Dave Holderread.  It just so happens that Holderread Farm is in Oregon.  I looked onto their website and found that they had American geese in Blue and Lavender colors!  These are more rare colors and I thought they would be so interesting to get some of those.  

I contacted them and they only sell adult birds.  See, geese only lay up to about 20-40 eggs each year in the spring.  The Holderread Farm sells show quality geese.  They raise up the geese through the summer and then sell the lower quality geese as "utility" geese and the show quality geese for a much higher price.  They actually ship full size geese through the mail but it can cost up to $300 for the shipping for one goose!  I looked it up and the Holderread Farm is about 7 hours from our house.  I decided that we would drive there one day, spend the night, then get the geese in the morning and drive the 7 hours back home.  I asked if they had any geese available and they were already sold out for 2020.  I waited and then inquired again in fall 2020 and got on the list for some geese the next year (fall 2021)!

We waited and waited.  In October 2021, I finally contacted them and they said that they would be going through the geese in early November to separate the utility and show quality geese.  Finally a few weeks after that, I got an email.  It said that they did not have any utility grade Blue or Lavender American geese but they had some show quality geese available for sale.  I wanted a male (gander) and 2 females (goose).  The price for the utility geese was $75 each.  The show quality geese were $250 each.  I was like...no thank you...I wasn't going to spend hundreds of dollars on an animal that I have never raised before.  It almost felt like a bait and switch situation.  I am sure it was not but it was so disappointing to wait for months and months and then not get the geese.  Back to the internet for goose breeders...

Since it was fall, 2021 at this point, I was just in time to place an order for spring goslings.  If you want goslings, you pretty much HAVE to order them in the fall for a spring delivery.  Almost all hatcheries will sell out over the winter.  Since I was going to have to put in an order for geese with a hatchery, I decided to take another look at different breeds and switched to the Pilgrim breed.  This is an auto sexing breed.  See, geese are not like chickens where the rooster is bigger and showier than the hen.  OR the ducks where the drake has a different quack and a curly tail.  Male and female geese look identical.  There are only 2 breeds that are auto sexed which which means that you can sex the goslings when they hatch.  Pilgrim geese are one breed that autosexes.  The male goslings are light yellow colored and the females are gray.  As they grow, the males develop white feathers and the females stay gray colored.  They are good for meat and may lay up to 40 eggs a year.  They are a medium sized breed and fairly docile.  Don't worry, if you come to the farm, they will be kept in a fenced area and not allowed to roam all over the farm and attack people!  Here is a pic of a male Pilgrim goose and a female Pilgrim goose...super easy to see the difference!

Why geese?

As I mentioned earlier, when I found out that geese can eat grass and grow to produce a large amount of meat, I just found it very intriguing.  To be fair, I have never eaten goose.  Maybe we won't even like it.  Also, I hear that it is challenging to pluck the feathers clean on the carcass on waterfowl because of all the down feathers.  It is recommended to not let geese raise goslings the first year they lay eggs.  So, we won't even have any of our own goslings for 2 more years.  If you think about it, geese seem like an amazing animal for the homestead.  They lay eggs in the spring and then graze on grass all summer and fall and then you can harvest them in early winter before it gets super cold and you have a Christmas goose!  Easy peasy!  We would like to get some turkeys at some point.  The downside of the turkeys is that they have to mostly eat grain and it gets very expensive to feed them but they will probably be easier to clean.  We plan on feeding the geese grain also, but we really want to be able to move them around the farm and take advantage of their lawn mowing capabilities.  Also, geese can live up to 20 years and turkeys live about 10 years.  

I think most people probably know that geese are pretty territorial and can honk and make a lot of noise when strangers come onto the property.  This makes them great guard animals for the farm.  Now, a goose is no match for a coyote and I heard on a podcast about a lady that watched as an eagle carried one of her geese off (so sad) but they are quite noisy and make keep small predators away.  They are mostly aggressive in the spring when it is mating season.  
If you didn't know, as with ducks, most domestic geese cannot fly well.  They have been bred to produce meat so they are too heavy to really get off the ground.  At one point, I was looking at a different breed of geese called Cotton Patch geese.  They are actually a landrace so there is some variability among different strains and they are the other breed of geese that autosex.  Cotton Patch geese were used to weed cotton fields in the south.  For this reason, they had to be able to get away from predators so they have retained the ability to fly and they are a smaller goose.  I really was interested in the Cotton Patch geese but I didn't want to worry about them flying away.  

To be clear, the geese are mine (Denise) and not part of Mark's flock.  I have been working for the past 3 years to get Mark's egg business going and it was time for something fun and different.  We may have goose eggs for sale next spring but they are mostly for our family to enjoy.  

So...we have one gander (male) and 2 geese (females)...and they need names!  Let me know if you have suggestions to name them!


Sunday, April 10, 2022

Spring seed starting...cold frames...

 In the Garden (soon)...

We have a new big surprise coming to the farm but it did not arrive when it was supposed to!  It should be coming this next week...fingers crossed...  Since the new surprise is not happening yet, I thought I would spend a little time explaining how I start seeds for the garden.  I like to start seeds indoors and then harden them off in a cold frame outside.  

To begin, I start the seeds in the Stack and Grow Light system that we purchased from Gardener Supply.  I have purchased seedling heated mats to put under the plants so the soil is warmed up so that seeds will sprout.  Here is a pic of the Stack and Grow...it was not cheap but we purchased it over 3 years...3 years of Christmas gifts to be exact...it has 4 levels of lights...
Here are some tiny greens!  Aren't they cute!  I think they are adorable.  I started them inside and then I plant them out into the cold frame.  I am so happy to say that all these greens are from seeds that I saved last year!
I actually put some soil into one half of the cold frame and then plant some of the greens directly into the soil in the cold frame.  I know this is not the best pic but you can see them starting to grow.  In this pic, there is spinach at the top and then one I call Crispy Green and then some red leaf lettuce.  Then, there are a few rows of green and red leaf lettuce and the bottom row is arugula.  I should have lettuce to eat in early May from the cold frame.  I also planted greens directly into the garden and they will grow slower because they do not have the warmth that is generated from the cold frame during the day.  This is kind of like staggering the plantings...as soon as it gets too hot for the greens in the cold frame, the greens in the garden should be ready to eat.
Here are some seedlings that I have in the Stack and Grow.  "Egg" stands for eggplant (because I am too lazy to write the whole word)...I won't put these out into the cold frame until there are no freezing temps at night.
Here is a pic of the 2 cold frames I have.  I just ordered another one...I just LOVE these things!  I only use them in the spring to get things started and then when I am finished with them, I put them away for the summer.
In the cold frame on the left, I have mostly brassicas...broccoli, cauliflower, kale, swiss chard, and cabbage.  I put the cover on them at night.  They can withstand the cold temperatures at night so they can stay out here.  If it would get really cold (in the 20'sF), I will bring them inside for the night.  It usually works out that I can plant these out into the garden about the time that the eggplant and pepper plants will be ready to come out to the cold frame so I just rotate the plants through the cold frame to harden them off. 
Another project I have going in the house is the propagation of sweet potato slips.  This is my last attempt to grow sweet potatoes!  We don't really have enough heat in north Idaho to grow them but I keep trying!  The first year we moved to the farm, I ordered sweet potato slips.  I got them planted and they grew but we did not really get any sweet potatoes.  The second year, I ordered slips again but they were half dead when I got them.  I got my money back.  Sweet potato slips are quite expensive!  Last year, I decided to make my own slips.  That worked fine BUT I neglected them when I got them planted out in the garden.  I decided to see if I could grow the sweet potatoes in the cold frame but it was WAY too hot and I didn't get enough water to them because I was just busy with everything else.  
The fourth time is the charm...maybe?  I got the slips going again this year and I am potting them up so they will be good sized plants to transplant as soon as the weather warms.  I am much more hopeful this year.  I know they look a little yellow in this pic but I think it is mostly the lighting.  I am going to give them some fertilizer here soon.  I tried 3 different kinds of sweet potatoes to make the slips but really only the purple skinned sweet potatoes made good slips.  I am glad I decided to get several to try!
Back to the cold frames, last fall, I planted spinach in the garden.  It started growing and then the cold weather came.  I put the cold frames OVER the spinach in the garden for the winter.  I did not harvest the spinach in the winter, it was just to give the spinach a layer of protection and now it is starting to grow again...here is a pic of the spinach in the cold frame in February.  I have taken the cold frame off now and I cut back the spinach and I am waiting for new growth to happen...
I am starting flowers and more vegetables each week.  I am going to expand the flower growing area.  Here is a pic of the grassy area that Henry sprayed for me to help kill the grass.
I am going to plant "everlasting" type flowers here...we will see how this goes...I may be biting off more than I can chew...

Next, I will be starting tomatoes and the sunflowers will also be happening soon!  Also, some trees started showing up in the mail.  I had ordered these last fall and kind of forgot about them but now it is time to get them planted!  What are you growing this spring?

Have an eggcellent day!