I spend a lot of time around farm livestock now, much more time than around people. It hasn’t always been that way but it is now and that’s OK. Many things that I see are new and fascinating to me. One thing in particular that I have observed is how much more sophisticated is the social structure of geese than the other animals.
For the most part, the geese choose to stay together as opposed to say the ducks which will wonder off in different directions. But what really fascinates me is that they don’t just stay together but function together. Even when two are fighting, the others will stand by and raise a ruckus as if to cheer them on.
We have a flock of too many geese and there are a handful of females that will always tend to a nest while some of the others will stay with a particular female, helping to guard the nest and chase off a curious chicken or poodle. Once the mother brings her babies from the nest, I have noticed that even some of the males will escort her around the farm, taking some of the credit for all her hard work.
Within the gaggle will be subgroups of geese and goslings. When they come upon something they don’t like, they will all come together to voice their displeasure. But the most interesting and unique trait they have is their willingness to take in and defend any gosling!
We collect the eggs from the geese that don’t make nest or don’t stay with the nest and sometimes hatch them ourselves. When the goslings are ready to be on the ground, I put them in pens like I do the ducklings and other birds. No one cares about this except the geese. In fact, in the case of chickens, you must protect the biddies from the chickens as some will try to kill and eat them. Chickens are brutal and cannibalistic.
The geese will immediately notice the gosling and move in to retrieve it, aggressively in some cases. So, I put the gosling on the ground and run. Unlike other livestock, even the mammals like sheep, the geese don’t mind that this particular goose was not hatched by one of them. They will take the gosling and battle for the right to raise it. Usually, one of the existing family groups will win and the baby will take its place among the group.
This is incredible! A ewe won’t accept her lamb back if for some reason they are separated for even a day. Only the most noble of humans will simple take on the responsibility of a stray child.
I have conducted this experiment for several seasons now and I am delighted every time I watch this happen. There is one exception that I have noted. If you don’t resist the urge to play with the gosling, caress and kiss it, it may imprint on you and then the little bird will be confused and run from the flock. I watched the group try for hours one season, to assimilate a gosling before giving up. I ended up having to care for that one myself.