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October, 2011:

Pumpkins & Halloween – 2011

The sixth annual pumpkin competition now draws to a close – who was the winner ?   …

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From Hatch To Dispatch

We are very conscious that it has been a long time since we have updated our blog.   Life goes on, Adrian has had an extensive run of professional commitments outside of France and a limited opportunity to write.  Technology has moved along as well, with facebook and twitter taking care of most (but not all) of our information sharing needs.  I know plenty of people still read the blog and tune in once a while.  Here is an update focussing on a part of our French life.

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New bigger incubator this year with automatic humidity control.  Perfect for hatching goose eggs.

We  tried three goose eggs last year in our smaller incubator.  The eggs had to be turned manually every 6 hours.   One egg was not fertile and two birds died as they hatched.

They’d pipped and broken through  with their perfectly formed little beaks but then were both lost at the same time in their shells.  We were heartbroken.

 

New Incubator

HATCH

This year a new incubator, this incubator has a gentle rocking motion – you can see the eggs here at the most extreme angle of tilt.

Unfortunately, we had a little mishap during the incubation period.  The machine was accidentally unplugged for approximately 12 hours and the temperature had dropped to 18 degrees.  Once it was switched back on it was a case of fingers crossed and see what happens.

Out of 6 eggs, the two eggs which were in the middle, surrounded by the others, were the only two to hatch.

After the first signs of pipping and 34 hours work, the first gosling was almost out. His tiny little elbow looked to have done most of the work but he was flagging seriously.  So we broke a house-rule and helped him out.. couldn’t bear the notion of losing him to exhaustion when he was so close to hatching on his own.

The first gosling was tired, soggy and ok.  Number two was  going strong and the arrival of #1 sent the sibling into a frenzy,  chomping his way through his own shell.

Over the next weeks the two goslings grew from little balls of fluff to graceful birds.

10 weeks old

After 10 weeks there was a touch of grace and beauty in the geese .. but still some juvenile behaviour when prompted.  Despite their size they were still just babies, needing comforting by cuddling up to our feet and wary of strangers.

The garden was carpeted with the last of their baby-goose down.  They barely had any idea what their wings were for, all the length in the arm/wing bones had come on in the last few weeks and their experimental flapping always seemed to take them by surprise.

23 weeks old

We moved the geese off the paddock and into a shaded courtyard. They were spending their last few days finishing on corn, fruit windfalls and copious quantities of grapes from the garden.

We had hundreds of kilos of grapes at this time of year which the birds loved. Ripe, aromatic and filled with sugar they were piling on plenty of fat as a result.  Fat that will give us the worlds best roast spuds, rillets and lots of confit.

We decided that as soon as the night time temperatures dropped, the birds will start burning their fat and getting a whole new undercoat of downy feathers – both things that we have learned to avoid in goose rearing.

The day arrived. Day 163 as it happens… just 23 weeks old is no age for an animal, they were only just setting out on the road to adolescence.

DISPATCH

Goodbye Geese

Last weekend was 28 degrees and shorts and bikini weather. This weekend it was down to 12 overnight. This will signal to the birds that it’s time to fluff up for the winter so experience has taught us that it’s time to bump them off before they start to put effort into becoming super downy and burning up their own body fat.

The male (with some dark markings) had started to show some signs of thinking about being aggressive… so a sign that he was entering sexual maturity… another signal that it’s time to go.

So, down to the deed. They’re penned in to a small coral in our courtyard. No food overnight. We are deeply uncomfortable with the actual act and always take time to do it considerately and as swiftly as possible. A clean break of the neck immediately behind the head renders them insensible and then they’re bled out. It’s over very swiftly.

We can’t but help feel a huge wave of sadness though when they’re gone. Goodbyes are never easy.

Then some hard work begins… the plucking.

Almost bare !

We raise 50 birds a year for the table. Chickens and guinea fowl have been our stock in trade so far and we’re quite adept at the whole process. We can process four chickens from cluck to oven-ready in an hour. Not so with geese, they’re not only so much bigger but much harder to pluck.

We immerse them in a hot water bath at 64c for two minutes to loosen the feathers and ease plucking, but even this doesn’t always get everything out as easily as we’d like. It takes us two hours to do the two birds which have very few pin feathers and whilst downy not anywhere near as bad as the last birds we did.

Dressed out weight for each bird was 4.4Kg. Not bad when you consider that this is mostly *lawn* as an input to the equation. With added weeds, bugs, veg peelings, windfall fruit etc.

Very little wasted.

Heart goes to the cat!
Neck (and wings) into todays tom-yam thai soup.
The liver goes to paté.
The gesiers are confit’d
The body cavity fat is rendered down for the slow cooking of the confit and then preserved for the most savoury roast spuds ever.

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The garden is a lot quieter now and it seems a little empty but we are happy in the knowledge that these birds had a good healthy life and were raised in wonderful surroundings.   We will enjoy our Christmas dinner knowing we did the best for them in both their life and death !

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