Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Battle of the sexes

When we got our chicks, we made sure we were buying females.  We wanted hens for their eggs and that was that.  Of course, when we arrived at the farm and I saw the ducklings... so cute... well, we just had to bring a couple of them home.  It's not so easy to tell the sex of a week old duckling but we took our chances.  The young gal who chose the ducklings for us was experienced enough with birds that she could make an educated guess.  
I had already decided that we needed to have geese again, too, though we had to wait another week or two before the goslings were hatched and ready to sell.  Our same young gal chose the goslings for us, again hoping for two females.  Our backyard flock was complete.
Then I saw the ad on Craig's List for a banty hen and rooster.  They were almost giving them away and, well, they were right on my way home.  Why not stop and take a look?  Banty hens are marvelous setting hens.  We could certainly use a good setter if we wanted to hatch some eggs next spring.  We used to have a banty rooster named Bertie.  He was really gentle and let Patrick (age 7) pick him up and carry him around the yard.  A banty rooster should be no trouble.
Fast forward six months.  We got lucky and, other than Napoleon, all our chickens are hens.  We are getting between 8 and 12 eggs per day.  The ducks and geese ended up being pairs.  We have one male and one female of each.  This will be great if we want ducklings or goslings next spring, but what do the males contribute the rest of the time?
Most of the time, they are a pain in the neck.  Our male goose, Augustus, started nipping our ankles when we walked through the yard, especially if someone unfamiliar came into the yard with us.  At first, I would chase him down and hold him upside down by his feet for a moment, and scold him.  I was determined that we were not going to have a biting goose.  Now he's too heavy to hold upside down, so I put him by himself in our garden.  He's in time-out for a bit.  
Napoleon has gone on attack now, too, jumping and pecking at our feet as we walk by.  He's so small that he seldom can do any real harm, unless we're wearing sandals, but he's in danger of being accidentally punted across the yard, just by startling us with his sudden desire to do battle with one of our shoes.  That doesn't slow him down at all.  He comes back, just like the little chicken hawk in the cartoons, and attacks again.  
Augustus would be in danger of becoming Christmas dinner, if he didn't have a name.  How could we possibly eat something we've named?  One of my friends suggested we rename him "Dinner".  Napoleon is not in danger of being eaten, at least not by us.  He wouldn't make more than an hors d'oeuvre.  
Now, we're stuck with two really annoying male birds (the male duck is okay) that I insisted we have.  What good are they?  
I had considered the options of giving them away or keeping them penned up all the time.  They were of no real use to us, anyway.  Then one day, I saw something interesting out back.  The geese had suddenly started running back and forth across the yard, flapping their wings and making all sorts of loud noises.  I looked for the chickens and they were all heading into the chicken pen!  Napoleon was standing on top of the ladder, inside the pen, making a noise which we hadn't heard from him before.  I think he was calling the hens back in.
It was then that I realized we hadn't had any foxes or other predators in our yard at all, ever since we've had the birds outside.  After seeing this scene repeated numerous times, I had to conclude that the geese had seen a predator and had chased it off while Napoleon made sure the hens were safe.  That's a big accomplishment for a goose and a miniature rooster!  I silently apologized to our goose and rooster for considering eating them.  They have a job to do, protecting all the female birds and they're taking it seriously.  Augustus will still go into time out if he bites me, but I'll be more understanding.  
They're just watching out for the girls.

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