July 2013- goose project review and turkey camping

the goose fancier

Fancier: : one that has a special liking or interest

2

: a person who breeds or grows a particular animal or plant for points of excellence <a pigeon fancier>

So, in February, we got this flock of 40 geese because this guy was losing his place to foreclosure. He needed someone to take them ASAP. He waited until the last minute, which I find very irresponsible, as these were his babies and he’d been raising them for 10 years. With the help of our neighbors, we brought them home to our farm, visions of hatching out 100’s of goslings dancing in our head.

The geese began to lay mate and eggs about a month after they arrived. As I began incubation, fertility was excellent, the embryos were developing. Things were looking good. Meanwhile, the adults were needing about 40 lbs of feed a day, which isn’t really much per goose, but that is alot of feed over all, every day. The eggs were coming in, and I found some other people with incubators across the two states to take eggs and the deal was they’d get half of what they hatched out successfully. That’s a good deal for them and us, if I do say so. We’d be spreading the genetics of these geese out into the world as well, which is critical for heritage breeds to thrive and continue on.

Slowly I came to sad realization that the embryos in my incubators were dead after the initial good start. They just stopped developing after the first 2 weeks. Many things can cause this, but having eggs at others’ places, well, it seemed like someone would have some success. A guy from MN drove 4 hours to pick up 60 eggs and every single one stopped developing after 2 weeks, like mine had. One lady took 20 eggs and had 7 hatch out. A friend took 6 eggs and hatched out 2. One couple, who had 3 huge incubators to work with picked up eggs each week, probably about 200 eggs in total. Their first group of 60 eggs hatched out 4 goslings. FOUR! We didn’t know if it was because I’d cleaned the eggs, which is controversial, or if something was wrong in their incubator. I stopped cleaning the eggs and that next batch of eggs hatched out better with 12 goslings arriving in the world. 12 out of 60 or so eggs! The last group of eggs in their 3rd incubator hatched out 20. So that was that. As I researched, I found out this was a very common problem for anyone trying to hatch out goose eggs in an incubator. They just don’t do well with non-professional incubators. We ended up with 20 lovely goslings, and they are now huge and nearly full grown geese.

As we had a tremendously long winter, the adult flock of geese wasn’t able to move out to pasture for quite sometime. But when they did, we had a raccoon attack them one night. Luckily only 1 goose fell victim, and we then surrounded them in electronet to keep them safer. I just didn’t know an adult goose could be taken down by a raccoon. The goose project was flopping, we felt awful and worried, and the feed bill kept adding up. We had 4 females make nests and begin to sit. We thought maybe they’d have better luck, doing it naturally. Sadly, that was not the case. I found 4 dead and smooshed goslings outside of the nests. It was just one more disappointing thing. I found out later the very best way to keep broody female geese on a nest safely is in individual pens. Apparently the other geese will harass them too much. We are just not equipped to do that here, not whatsoever.

When we picked up the flock of geese in February, we brought a contract to sign, assuring the man that he’d have a month from our notice to pick up 10 of his choice of the geese if we decided it wasn’t going to work out for us to be goose breeders. I think I said if “we decided to get out of the business of raising geese.” We recently emailed him to give him that notice, and he set about finding other people who might be able to take some of his geese. It’s been arduous to deal with him, because he is full of opinions and ideas about how to make money with geese, but has clearly not been able to do it himself.

His big thing is how there was such a big demand and such a high profit potential in selling the eggs for eating, meanwhile clamouring on and on about this “critically endangered heritage breed,” and what were we going to do with the other 30 geese if we weren’t going to keep breeding them (which is not what we said, we just gave him his notice as per the contract and needed to rethink how were going about this goose thing.) What I don’t understand is how selling the fertile eggs for consumption has anything to do with propagating a critically endangered heritage breed. I just have to say that goose eggs, while they are novel in their hugeness, are not that delicious in my opinion. Duck eggs are delicious, but goose eggs are more like a chicken egg- kind of boring.

Another insight into why I find any advice or opinions of his absolutely dismissible is that he told me several interesting nuggets when I first went to see his geese. He said he spent $3,000 a year to feed his adult geese, and that he made $3,000 selling eggs to this Minneapolis restaurant. Sounds pretty…..wait a second. You are paying for their feed. That’s IT. That is not a business! And that is also NOT propagating a heritage breed when you sell the potential babies before they are even hatched! The other thing he told me is that the reason he was being foreclosed on was because he couldn’t show any profit from his “farming” venture because he and his ex had used the ‘farm” as a write-off for her very high paying salary. Now she’d left the picture, and he had no record of operating a profitable business and couldn’t get out of foreclosure on his very expensive eco-home and hobby farm. Because he wasn’t. He simply was keeping these geese as pets and a pet project, He is a goose fancier. That is different than running a real farm.

We learned this the hard way- if you are farming, you have to have some profit to make it, to continue on. You cannot sustain yourself by simply covering your expenses. If you are learning to farm, or hobby farming, covering your farm expenses with the same amount of sales brought in is good. But you can’t quit your day job with that. It’s nice if your hobby pays for itself, but it’s not a business unless you take what you learn,  make smart financial decisions, and grow from there.

So as we wrap up our 2013 goose experience, we’ve learned several important lessons:

Goose eggs are cool and they do sell, but they do not pay the bills to make keeping the adults profitable. Also, you should raise and sell what you personally love to eat. We’d eat goose eggs, but they were not our choice egg. VIVA duck eggs!

Goslings are super amazing and awesome, I really love raising them and we’re excited to have our first taste of our home grown goose.

Trying to be a breeding farm is an entirely different business decision than being a “production” farm. Breeders maintain adults year round, while we, being more of a production farm, raise up young birds for meat and egg production. It’s very expensive to keep a breeding flock of geese because they have a very short breeding season and the hatching rate is quite low.

We will happily pay for goslings next year. Let someone else specialize in the breeding side of things- we don’t have to do it all here.

At the end of things, we’ll have to deal with this guy for a bit longer until he comes to get his geese, and we’ll have to keep listening to his money making ideas on email until then. We told him he can take the majority of the geese back if he can pay the feed bill we’ve covered for the past 6 months. 6 months times 30 days = 180 days of feed x 40lbs a day. It’s pretty significant! I thought I’d share the experience because it taught us many good lessons and revealed some important insights into small scale farming. You can be small scale and profitable, it doesn’t have to be a dream- you can achieve it if you think smartly and avoid the “fancier” mentality, unless you specialize in it and know what you are doing.

Jooooooo-ly

OH man is it hot. I’ve been riding my ole cruiser out to the hayfield to check on the turkey babies. So fun to rediscover the joy of cruising, just now it’s down the hay path, not on the streets of Minneapolis!

Their inquisitiveness is totally endearing. It’s night 3 for them out there  tonight, and we’ve been camping out there in the electronet with them, we’re a bit protective. Plus the tent is cooler than our bedroom in the house…

the bee sting

Today we agreed we’d take it easy, as Andrew got a bee sting yesterday which made his entire hand and forearm swollen. It looks like a plump baby hand, poor guy.

Yesterday we were sledgehammering the walls of an old shed which is in the way of our duck barn addition, and a nest of something looking Bumble Bee-ish was not digging it. Andrew got stung on his wrist. We worked on the other side of the shed after that, and had no more problems, but after a few hours of crazy work, exhaustion set in, so we went to the garden to relaxingly pick green beans. I’d noted the plants were absolutely loaded and we had to pick ASAP to keep the plants productive. If you leave mature beans on the plant they will say “all right, we’ve spread our seed out in the world,” and go into dormancy. Normally we pick our veggies the day before delivery, but these beans had to get picked. 15 gallons of beans later, it was time to do chores and then be done for the day.

My husband needed a rest today to let the bee sting swelling go down, and a rest is good if possible, since we work every single day. It’s just not something I’m used to or inclined towards. I like breaks throughout the day, but a day without work? Impossible.

I’m the one who collects and cleans the duck eggs everyday, and I’ve been loving it as a time to listen to podcasts. I’ve gone through the entire available episodes of this awesome show called Risk (I highly recommend it, unless you are religiously squeemish) and now I’m catching up with Lynn Rossetto Kasper’s The Splendid Table. I love listening to this show, it’s motivating my sluggish cooking. After the duck egg time, I went out to lay fresh bedding for the ducks, give the goats more hay and check on the heritage chickies, bunnies, goslings, and piggles.

Then I emailed all the Co-op buyers for egg orders, caught up on emails, reviewed the past 5 years of egg production records, got a chicken going in the crockpot, watered my newly seeded trays of lettuce, collards, cabbage, fennel, radicchio and kale, then worked on trellising the winter squash vines in the hoophouse, seeded late cukes in the hoophouse, hung out with and observed the magnificent goslings for a bit, organized a commission for Andrew’s birthday present, and then caught up with my “big sister” Angelica on the phone.

The garden called to me & needed watering & some weeding. We do not have a weed free garden, does anyone? The worst is our paths between beds -insanely hugely full of giant lambsquarter plants. I just walk on them to break the stems or otherwise deter their growth, we are not going to pull all those out. I already clipped a ton of the delicious tops a month ago to go into our CSA braising mixes. I’d noticed the weeds in the paths were beginning to shade some of the plants in the beds though, and the heat and sun lovers need no competition- eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes. So I got to work trampling down the paths and pulling out the worst weed offenders. I spotted the first eggplants protruding from the flower stems, found my first ripe tomato which had blossom end rot, ate a gazillion cucumbers and more and more green beans. You know how they say not to let a horse out onto fresh pasture too quickly in the spring, as it can be volatile on their stomachs? I should learn from that – I’ve been farting up a storm with all the fresh raw intense veggies! Poor Andrew!

I biked out to the hayfield to check on the turkey babies. Sooooo super loving riding my bike out there, feels good for my physical stamina and it’s just pure ecstasy to go down the big first hill past the goats’ pasture, and up again by the sweet corn and potato patches, around the bend and up into the hayfield. The turkey babies have doubled in size in the 4 days they have been out on pasture, seriously. Super happy & sociable babies. Now when they see me on my bike they all come a-running towards the electronet to visit. We’re pasturing them up there to add something back to the soil, and it’s a great open pallet of poultry pasturing space. But it’s scary up there too, closer to the wildness and forest and predators. So we have been doing what we feel best- checking in on them often, and at night we’re camping with the turkeys. Our tent is in the paddock with them, and it’s really a great excuse to camp. The moon’s been swelling each night, and there’s no better vantage point than on the tailgate of a truck, beer in hand, listening to the baby turkey nightime cooing as they settle onto their roosts, knowing there’s a cozy tent waiting for ya a few feet away in the moonlight.

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