There is a hierarchy on the farm that goes like this: Barn cats rule the rodents, chickens rule the barn cats, ducks rule the chickens, and the geese rule all. Big and boisterous, they march around the farm in a noisy group, sounding off as they go. They make a ruckus over just about everything – even when they see us walk past the window when we’re inside the house. I’m sure all the neighbors can hear, although we’ve never received any complaints.
We put a pair of African geese with each flock of layers, and they guard the hens by keeping away ground predators – especially foxes. The rest of the gaggle we keep for eggs – big, beautiful white eggs that taste like giant chicken eggs. We set up a wooden doghouse filled with shavings that is the perfect nesting box. In the mornings, from March until sometime in the middle of summer, a female can be seen hunkered down in the doghouse, while another female paces just outside of it, waiting her turn.
African geese are lovely – gray and white and stately – and, in spite of what others have told us, they are not as aggressive as other breeds. But woe is the person who tries to disturb a female when she is on the nest! We steer clear of the doghouse opening when it is occupied. The goose watering hole (one of those plastic kiddie pools) is near the doghouse, so when I go to fill it with fresh water, I try to keep my distance if she’s in there. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the tip of a bill extend a little beyond the open doorway as she tracks my movements. I keep my gaze averted, pretending not to see her, and she stays quiet.
When she finally emerges, she starts honking – short, loud bursts – as she calls to locate the others. On the other side of the house, there is the faint chorus of the others answering. It sounds like they are down in the pasture with the yearlings. She eyes me before she waddles off in their direction, honking as she goes.