Monday, December 18, 2006

Yet another blog where I tell you what we actually don’t know! It’s not all our fault: we often find that people who write instructions in books about things that they obviously know how to do, miss out vital joining bits or make assumptions about the existing knowledge of their poor readers; you’ll understand what I mean if you’ve ever tried to assemble some flat packed furniture. Our geese are in the rudest and noisiest of health and, all summer, have had a diet of grass supplemented by wheat grain when they return to their house each evening. As Christmas approaches, geese are to be “fattened up” so need some additions to their diet. Before I go on to that, something I learnt about grass this year: with a dry summer, the grass didn’t grow that much but as the autumn brought rain, so the grass greened up and started growing again. It looks really lush now but looks can be deceiving. Paul, our pig farming neighbour, told me that during the summer there might be slim pickings but what there is, is very rich in nutrients and the converse is true of the autumn grass. Val, a smallholder from Somerset, said the same thing when I emailed her for advice, “the grass has no feed value left at this time of year so just treat grass as a salad for them!”

So, back to a fattening up diet. After discussing “proprietary pellets”, Katie Thear, in her Starting with Geese, says that alternatives are barley meal mixed with rolled barley (p74). The French word is de l’orge and the only form I’ve found this in locally is as whole grain. The geese eat their wheat as whole grains and so we thought they could have their barley the same way. As we’ve discovered before though, our geese our fussy eaters and turned their noses, or rather beaks, up at the barley. We contacted Val to ask what barley meal was and ended up grinding the whole grain up, half a cup at a time, in our coffee grinder. Still no luck, so I made a porridge out of it, as they have previously eaten our leftover oats porridge: again no. More alternatives offered by Thear include cooked potatoes, vegetables, spare milk mixed with barley or maize meal. In his treatise on self-sufficiency, Cottage Economy, first published as a series of pamphlets in 1821-2, William Cobbett suggests oats, along with cabbage and lettuce … fattening up with lettuce?

Which neatly brings me back to Val, who said that the autumn grass should just be treated as salad. She also said that “the protein level needs to be very high to fatten and it should have been high from about late Oct!” Despite avidly reading cereal packets at breakfast time when I was a kid, I have no idea what comparative levels of protein there are in the different foods suggested, other than potato is a carbohydrate and I don’t reckon there’d be must protein in a lettuce. As I said, our geese are fussy eaters but they do love cooked potatoes and bread soaked in water or milk. Just up the road we have a dairy farmer, and I’ve arranged for him to give us two litres of unpasteurised full-cream milk each day and we get stale bread from the bakers. So, our geese get as much grass as they want during the day, along with milk-soaked bread, cooked potatoes and any other treats as they come up and their usual ration of wheat in the evening when they go back to their home.

Photo is of the geese supplementing their diet with iron, at least that's what I think they're doing, trying to eat the wheelbarrow!