Finally! Part of the plan for the acre field was a grazing animal to keep the grass down, fertilise the trees, and sweep up any windfalls. According to several sources, traditionally in the East of England orchards were planted closer together and grazed by chickens and geese as opposed to pigs and sheep which was more traditional elsewhere. With our two orchard quarters we have replicated the two sizes of orchards – both the small orchard (bush trees) and large orchard (half-standard trees) will be grazed by the poultry, but the poultry will be the only animals let into the small orchard.
At the moment we are mowing like mad, especially with the current wet weather, which means the grass grows quicker and the dry spells between the downpours, which allow us to mow, are few and far between. This, along with the grass looking a decent thickness after being down for a couple of years, means the time felt right to look for an organic mower.
We looked at various breeds, and settled on the Pilgrim goose as the perfect breed. They are a relatively recent breed, from the early 20th century in the USA, but their roots most probably go back much further to previous farmyard breeds in England and France. The main feature of the breed is that they are sex-coloured; the males are white, like a smaller Ebden, and the females are a grey/olive, a bit like a Toulouse. The big advantage is that you can tell which will be your layers, and which will be for the pot, at an early age. They are also a small to medium sized goose – weighing in at about 12-14lbs when adult, so manageable if you need to man-handle them. They are also, supposedly, a very gentle and docile breed – in comparison to others. They lay a decent amount of eggs for a goose – around 35-45 a year, all in the spring breeding season, and an egg is typically 7oz in weight – about 3 times the size of a chicken egg. Frankly, I can’t really see why you wouldn’t keep geese – they lay a few eggs and eat a lot of grass, the exact opposite of the chicken which lays a lot of eggs and eats a bit of grass. But they cost a lot less when it comes to feeding them, although they do foul their bedding a lot more.
So the downside of our choice?
It turns our they’re rare. So rare they’ve just been placed on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust register. Tracking some down meant a trip to Somerset, which happily coincided with a trip to the maker of a decent plastic goose ark, their new home. Ten hours of driving, four of which were spent sharing the car with three heads all popping up sporadically from the cage loaned from Penny our Newfoundland cross, and we arrived at their new home in Merrybower just gone midnight.
They spent the night in the garage, before being carried down to their new home where they were let out. As you can see in the video – no sooner had the cage door been opened, they were eating grass – fantastic! Go my little mower friends, go!
The photographs show their new pond, which we need to clean out regularly (though I’ve over-estimated how much water I can lift when it comes to emptying! Apparently Charles Atlas has no competition here, despite me weighing more than 97lbs…), and their new house – plastic and easy to clean and maintain.
The pictures show them in a separate quarter (Penny’s quarter) from the chickens, but they were so keen to meet them we pulled the chickens’ coop into the same area. It turns out the geese just wanted to show them who was boss – not very true to breed!
We have named them Bartholomew (Barty), Lucy and Grace. Lucy is the one with a white patch on her breast. We plan to breed from them, as Barty is from different stock to the ladies, so we will have to keep an eye on Lucy’s goslings to make sure they don’t inherit her patch. Having said that, at the moment Grace seems to be the more docile one, though in fairness they are all lovely to watch. It would be nice to think we could get up to a flock size of around six, but we shalll have to wait and see where life takes us. It may be that a couple of Ryeland sheep will be the next grazers…