Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Facing my fears; geese and honey bees

I grew up with my dad raising bees for honey. My brother and I got stung a lot as children. Now, my brother has severe allergic reactions when he gets stung. I just have a slight fear of handling bees. I must have been in kindergarten or first grade when I remember my dad running circles around the house hollering while we tracked him from inside the house, running from window to window to peer out at him. I remember him stopping to pound on the door demanding entry and mom telling him to keep running. As far as the benefits go, I grew up on honey, honey and PB sandwiches, honey and PB on ricecakes, honey and homemade yogurt. I did not realize how much I appreciate good honey until I no longer had any. Now, we eat honey on hot cereal and honey on pancakes. I use honey in our weekly bread and on sandwiches. I have a strong appreciation and desire for local honey which is outrageously expensive here. I've been mentally working myself up to raising bees for a few years now. Last year D got me a beekeeping book for Christmas, which I read. Last spring I signed up for a beekeeping class, but later decided I already had too much on my plate.

This is going to be the year. I'm starting off by taking a beginning bee keeping class which covers all the basics. It is a couple hour class, once a week over five or so weeks. I'm gearing up to order a suit - or maybe just the jacket and head covering. As much as I'd like to imagine myself with barefeet and bare hands among the bees- well I think I'll be a lot less intimidated if I'm suited up and protected from stings. I'm starting off with one hive on the hill above the garden. I'm hoping to meet our honey and beeswax needs, with some leftover for gifts.

I don't have many experiences with geese. Actually I've only met one flock of geese, and we did not get along. There was a flock of large white geese at a farm where I boarded my horse for a couple years. This farm had attack geese and an attack rooster (which finally left me alone after it flew at me while I was holding a shovel, which was the bat. He was the ball). The geese would corner me in the barn, chase me, chase my car, pluck the rubber trim out from my bumper while I was off riding.

I've been doing a lot of geese research. I've learned that my shying away from the geese initially may have instigated our poor relations. I've been deliberating between Pilgrim and African geese, two of the more gentle breeds. I decided on the Pilgrim too late, multiple suppliers are already sold out for the season. I really liked the idea of the Pilgrims as they are the only breed of geese that are sexed. The males are white and the females are blue and gray. I ended up ordering a pair of French Toulouse geese, and an extra un-sexed goose - possibly for Christmas dinner. Looks counted for a lot in deciding which breed to get. The Toulouse are gray and blue, they look like the French aristocrat version of geese. They are stately, blue and gray and handsome.They are also one of the more gentle breeds, good layers, setters, parents, and they make a nice roast goose, good fat, feathers... I would have like to get the ones with the dewlaps, but those are way pricey.

I am getting geese mostly because I like the idea of having a couple pet geese. I also like the idea of large hardy birds wandering around the homestead. We have a lot of birds of prey issues, mostly Ravens attacking young chickens and ducks. As a result the ducks are hesitant to free range. I think they've been traumatized. So I'm hoping to raise the geese with some same age layers and ducks, and maybe the geese will look out for the smaller birds. The ducks are very skittish, not inquisitive or friendly. I'm hoping the geese will fill my desire to have some pet birds.

Now, if you have traumatic geese memories you may be thinking I'm crazy. Well, if they end up attacking my children, they will be dinner. We are just getting a few to try them out. We are going to handle them a lot. I'm going to work with the kids on not running from the geese or establishing any bad behavioral issues - no running, no intimidating etc. We will work on carrying treats daily as we do chores. So hopefully we will have friendly geese. Geese don't lay a lot of eggs. We're talking twenty to fifty/sixty a year depending on the breed. The French Toulouse lay towards the higher end. I like the idea of bonding with the original pair, letting them hatch and rear their young, and then eating the wild things. Obviously I have some details to work out, like they are going to be vicious when setting on their eggs and caring for their goslings. And then, wild goslings may be too wild... It is an experiment.

Other poultry notes: I'm still trying to decide whether to get regular Cornish Cross this summer or a slower growing meat bird. I think we are going to do four Broad Breasted Whites again as opposed to heritage breeds. I'm collecting duck eggs to start incubating in the next few days. I'm collecting Peking eggs and Peking crossed with Saxony eggs. We will keep the females for layers and eat the males. We just need a handful of layers. I'm going to set a few Ameraucana eggs and probably buy a few Ameraucanas and Sexlinks at the feed store. Each summer I end up with five groups of birds to feed and water. I'm trying to think of how to simplify the chores. There are the established layers, established ducks, then the turkeys, the cornish and then the new layers, ducks and geese. I may combine the established birds, and then all the new birds except the turkeys. Does anyone have experience raising turkeys with other poultry? Everything I read says that is a big no no, but then I've heard of folks doing it without problems. Also, if you have experience with raising geese and have any advice I would love to hear it. Thanks again for your words of encouragement and kindness regarding this years kidding losses. Take care.

Oh yeah, and here is to facing our fears, bees, geese or whatever they may be. Cheers!


Homemade Alaska said...

We did Bronze turkeys and put them in with our chickens last year. I've heard the same thing that the chickens carry a disease which can kill the turkeys. I really don't have space to separate them, so I decided it was worth the sacrifice, if we lost the turkeys we lost them. No one got sick so I think we will do it again. Good for you trying bees, it is on my to do list, but I haven't seriously looked into it. We won't do Cornish Cross again, I they are good to eat, but I can't stand them, they are smelly, dirty eating machines! I saw some other meat birds for sale from a hatchery in Wasilla I considered getting, but we may skip it and just eat some of the dual purpose birds we hope to hatch this year. We'll see.

Did you do heritage breed turkeys last year? I would love to get Bourbon Reds, but at AK feed you have to order more than I would want to raise. If so were they worth having? What was the cost to raise them compared to the whites?

Emily said...

We raised broad breasted whites last year and bourbon reds the year before. At first I was really opposed to the broad breasted turkeys but they are like the cornish, how much feed do you want to put in to your birds and how long do you want to raise them for. I think we raised the broad breasted birds close to the same amount of time,or a little less and they weighed twice as much. I wouldn't have kept the broad breasted birds around as long, but I just wanted to make sure we had decent sized birds, well the smallest was 18lb and the biggest 32lb. When we raised the bourbon reds our biggest was 18lb. I'd like to get some bourbon reds again someday and just let them go wild on our property and see what happens - but then that gets expensive if they disappear.

As far as raising turkeys in with other birds, I am equally worried about the turkeys pecking out the chickens eyes - I've heard horror stories about this problem and they've stuck with me.

Miranda said...

Good luck with the geese. I have no experience with them at all, though I think they're super cool!

If you need any help or assistance with the bees, I'd be more than happy to help out. I have just a little experience with beekeeping (only a year or two), but I'm not too scared of them, and it's really nice to have a helper when you're working with them. :)

Homemade Alaska said...

We didn't have any problems with the turkeys picking on the chickens at all. The last couple weeks they did pick on each other, which I think would have been avoided if we butchered them a little earlier. I'm not sure what the personality of the broad breasted white is though, the bronze were pretty docile. We waited a bit long and they weighed in at 28-35# difficult to cook well. They also have dark feathers which does not make such a clean bird. I didn't get the white because I was afraid they would be too much like the Cornish X.

Denise said...

Emily, we are on the same page in so many ways! Bees and geese both freak me out, and my husband said this is the year we're going to try both. (!) I'm very intimidated by bees, particularly after seeing a wild swarm come through a child's birthday party we were attending. We all got inside - FAST! But I'm with you about the honey. Need it, can't stand paying so much for it. And I know we have the perfect place for bees. They are just so ... OUCHY!

And the geese. I've had less-than-fun experiences with geese as well, and hubs came back from the SARE conference going on and on about Toulouse geese. He promised me they are nice. I'm having a hard time getting enthused about geese roaming the place, dropping their droppings hither and yon. Yuck!

Our turkeys and chickens cohabitate just fine. But we did not raise them together. Turkeys are horrible, awful little peckers when they are poults! I got 10 Bourbon Reds last year, and they were always pecking each other's eyes. UGH! But after they were larger and the chickens were about full grown, we did house them together, and no one was the worse for it.

By the way, we wintered our Bourbon Reds this year, and they are laying! We're sure hoping they will hatch some poults, but first it has to get warm enough to leave the eggs outside. Right now we're gathering them because they just freeze outside. I'd like to let them range on our place, but our dogs would probably kill them. (Sometimes I think it's time to get ride of a few dogs!)

Have I invited you yet to see my blog? If not, it's dancingsprucefarm.blogspot.com. I have lots about the goats, but not much about the turkeys. (Maybe that's because the turkeys haven't done much worth mentioning!)

Emily said...

Denise, did someone include geese in their presentation at the conference? Or was your hubby inspired by visiting with some geese lovers? I only know one person that has geese up here and she has a couple Sebastions - which are lovely, but surely the most impractical goose out there- if they would sit on their eggs and be decent moms I could overlook the rest. That is so exciting about your Bourbon Reds.

Miranda, I'll keep you in mind, thanks.

Yeah, thirty pound birds don't fit in the oven so well- we halved ours and that worked great - just not the best thanksgiving presentations.

Phoebe said...

The bees sound like fun. My best friends had a beehive and there is no better treat than a chunk of honeycomb. I miss it. Plus honeybees are so much more comforting to see buzzing around than wasps. I hope you end up with some very yummy fireweed/wildflower honey!

amy manning said...

My husband has a bee hive here on our property. I'm scared to death of bees, but he says that the particular breed that he ordered is very docile. The only time he got stung was when he was installing them, and he said that he was very careless and wasn't surprised. There's a few links you might be interested in on this post: http://www.mysuburbanhomestead.com/bee-hive-early-spring/