When you live on a farm or homestead especially with animals you have good days and bad days. Thankfully, we have mostly good days here which I really attribute to quality feed, care, and attentiveness. But, bad days do creep in and today was a really bad day. Today, I had to say goodbye to my gander Hank.
A little more than a year ago I was was anxiously waiting for the post office to call and inform me that my fuzzy peeping goslings had arrived. I couldn't wait to bring them home, snuggle them, bond with them, and watch them grow up to become guardians of our flock of laying hens.
With the exception of our dairy goats and obviously Annie, every animal we keep has an expiration date. For the meat chickens and turkeys it's six months or less, pigs it's around the seven-eight month mark, and laying hens around four years or when their production drastically drops. We are a small farm and homestead with self sufficiency as our primary goal. Because of this, every animal has a purpose and some stick around longer than others.
As far as the geese go, their purpose was to be guardians for our flock of hens. Eggs are a bonus, but this is not their primary job or meat for that matter. They can guard whether they're six months or six years old. Because of this, they weren't organized into the "I'm going to eat you" compartment of my mind that the meat chickens, turkeys, pigs, and laying hens go into. So, I allowed myself to get attached and care for them. Making today's decision all the more difficult.
Geese have a notorious reputation for being mean and aggressive animals. When I tell people I have geese they go "ohhh aren't they mean?!" This is not an unwarranted reputation. Ganders are fiercely protective of their hens and animals they're bonded to, and will not think twice about attacking something or someone they perceive as a threat.
Breeding season is officially upon us, so over the course of the past month Hank and Clara our mated pair of Toulouse Geese have been doing just that. Clara is laying us massive delicious eggs while Hank stands guard of her and the nest hissing at anyone and anything that even thinks about approaching. This is a behavior that we found to be desirable. He was doing his job and we expected this of him. He was however becoming increasingly aggressive towards the laying hens, the very animals we raised him alongside to bond with and protect.
I would see hens with missing tail feathers, feathers in the snow, and at first thought maybe there was an animal sneaking in and attacking them? Then I caught him red handed in the act. Hank was viciously attacking the hens. Pulling out feathers, pulling them out of the nesting boxes by anything he could grab, and at one point shaking them by their necks. I thought it was a phase and wouldn't last long, but it just kept happening.
Because geese have poor night vision, I thought that shutting him and Clara in a large kennel together at night would help, This would prevent early morning and nighttime attacks and give them a territory that was specifically theirs. Unfortunately, this didn't help the situation, and I was still catching him attacking hens out of nowhere midday. Then yesterday while shutting up the coop at dusk I discovered the body of one of my Rhode Island Red hens dead by the coop door. One of the hens that had been a targeted victim of his attacks. I knew it was him. There were no feathers around the neck, no claw marks or cuts, and anything that killed her for food would have taken the body for a meal. This was the work of Hank.
He finally crossed the line and passed the point of no return. Killing the animals we got him to protect is unacceptable. Neither me nor my husband wanted to do what had to be done. Killing the goose that was following us running around the yard and house only last spring wasn't the ideal way to spend a snowy Friday, or any day. So, we put it off all morning, kind of ignored the situation until we heard squabbling and clucking outside. He was at it again.
For those who don't live this lifestyle and really get it may think we could have done something else. Like give him away? No one would have wanted him. It's hard enough to get people to understand that not all geese are mean, let along offer them a protective, aggressive, and chicken killing goose. Even if I did manage to find someone, I wouldn't have been able to get rid of just him, Clara would have had to go too and she has done nothing wrong. All of our birds free range, and this is an issue that happens in the middle of the day, so separating them for housing wouldn't make a difference either. And I will not EVER, keep an animal caged up. No, we believe animals should live as they were intended: free to roam, forage, and spread their wings.
So, my husband went and got his .22 and did what had to be done. He got in a clean shot, but he just didn't want to go down. I will spare you the details. When he finally did, everything and everyone was stone cold silent, it was still and eerie. I bawled hysterically and held his body. This was not supposed to be his fate, but damnit we had no other choice. The rest of the day I have spent trying to distract myself with work, baking buns, and took a walk in the woods. I feel awful, even though we did what had to be done. By ending Hank's life we spared the lives of twenty-some potential victims. It doesn't make it any easier, but what's always right is not always easy.
Today was a bad day. We had to do what needed to be done even though we didn't want to, and it was extremely painful to do so. But, tomorrow is a new day and hopefully it's a good one. Even if it isn't, my hens will be able to forage in peace and not be harassed, ripped of their feathers, and yanked out of nesting boxes. I can at least take comfort in that and know that I did what was best for them.
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