Tuesday, May 15, 2007

This is what we call a "teaching moment"

No sooner had I written the last post than the s.o. finished an outdoor pen for the goslings--sharing a fenceline with the duck pen, but not fully open to it. He called me away from my work yesterday evening (which I appreciated, frankly) to help him give the young geese a supervised taste of the outdoors.

We picked up the four geese and set them out on the grass. At first they sat in a corner, huddled together in a downy lump, for about 10 minutes. Then they began to explore, grabbing everything they could find with their bills. (All-time favorites include: the s.o.'s t-shirt, the drawstring of my hoodie, and of course tall grass with crunchy seeds on it.)

I should add at this point that part of the goose pen is made of the same portable electric mesh fence that contains the ducks. It doesn't have a steady current, but rather a periodic electric pulse--a little "zap" every second or so. I've caught it once or twice and it's pretty unpleasant, but nowhere near as bad as the type I grew up with at my dad's place, which would sit you down in the dirt before you knew what had happened.

So anyway, one goose delicately stuck her head through a square of mesh and chomped a piece of grass on the other side. The pulse came through, and all of the sudden there was a jumping, a flapping, and a HONK HONK HONK! The goose ran to the s.o. and did not approach the fence again.

The other three milled around in confusion for a second, then continued to graze in the same area. I saw one look at the fence, consider it for a moment, and then reach out to delicately take a wire in its bill...


And that was the end of the geese's flirtation with the electric fence. What followed was about 45 minutes of happy web-footed exploration, without incident, and then it was bedtime.

Joel Salatin has said that the difference between turkeys and other poultry is that whereas most birds learn about an electric fence the first time (as our geese did--geese are exceedingly smart and don't need to be told twice), turkeys never do figure it out. They persist in sticking their heads through the mesh to grasp good-looking tidbits on the other side. Chomp, zap, chomp, zap, chomp, zap. And this, my friends, is why the geese will soon be free-ranging in a portable electric fence, whereas the turkeys will be in turkey tractors.

I really, really enjoy all four kinds of poultry we have. Their personalities are very different in a way that's hard to explain to people who don't raise birds, but I'll try anyway:

Chickens - Funny, curious, show-offy, possessing the world-conquering instincts of small dogs who don't understand that they are small

Ducks - Operate via "prey animal"-type groupthink rather than individually most of the time (which is a nice way of saying that one-on-one, they aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer); fun-loving and goofy

Turkeys - A little wary and contemplative, yet quite curious and social, even with people; obsessive about shiny objects and new stimuli

Geese - The most social of the bunch; will "flock" on a person rather than avoiding him/her. Clever and able to think on a strategic level, like goats with feathers.