Is the only way I can describe how I feel about the close of the day, here on our little Ffarm.
Because Death – red in vulpine tooth & claw – has scythed down a much-loved member of our cosy little community. Our darling Brecon Buff goose, Roberta…..
Whilst not the most perfect example of her breed, with her clumsy pigeon-toed wobble, bright orange beak & ‘”smoker’s cough” of a goosey honk, she was certainly the most delightful, gentle & amiable goose we’ve ever met.
We always look forward to opening the door of the goose house, to be followed by our faithful flotilla of Dave & Roberta as they half-flap-half-fly along, behind us, anticipating their hearty corn breakfast followed by perhaps a few laps splashing in the wildlife pond before grazing contedly in the meadow below the stable block; or perhaps simply sunning themselves after their swim, finding a pleasant spot on the farmyard whilst preening their feathers & softly chatting to one another during the quietitude of a warm summers’ afternoon.
And dear Roberta had such an exquisitely lovely personality: never did she threaten us nor even hiss at us; indeed she hatched three lovely little goslings last year but never attacked when we went in to check on the happy family.
But whilst we fondly looked forward to increasing our little flock with these ‘home grown’ additions, they then brutally suffered their heads being bitten off over two successive nights, by goodness-knows-what (we suspect it was a greedy squirrel as this is their textbook tactic – although how on earth the little b****rd managed to infiltrate our ‘Fort Knox’ of a Goose House, we haven’t to this day been able to ascertain). Yet the chicks’ tiny bodies – the (ahem) ‘meaty’ bits – weren’t even touched. Senseless killing, in the extreme.
Having discovered that the poor little things had been literally murdered during the early hours, rather than the anticipated aggressive attack we naturally expected from bereft Mum Roberta, she anxiously waddled to the door of her house; then fluted softly, pleadingly & gently to me that something was wrong with her young; & could I help her, please?
I couldn’t. And it made me weep. Poor Roberta & Dave.
Then Roberta put her heart & soul into tightly sitting a clutch of five enormous eggs this Spring….but sadly, to no avail; so no patter of tiny webbed feet to perpetuate Roberta’s gentle legacy.
Today, as ever, I checked the geese at 3pm; they were enjoying the brunt of a heavy shower (unlike us); sitting together atop a pile of purple shale to preen their lovely feathers & hooting cheerful greeting as I called a welcome in response, hurrying past to the Kidding Shed to check on the goats. After topping up water buckets & refilling hayracks I returned to the Dairy Complex to continue my deep clean of the pipework in the Milking Parlour whilst Tony roled up his sleeves to install the automatic drinkers in the new Milkers’ Pen. I briefly popped out to fetch us a cuppa at 5.30pm, when the geese were still together, delicately pecking fresh tender shoots from the wayward green strands of unripe corn springing out of last year’s muck heap, as ever calling cheerful acknowledgement to me from their palatial pile of (ahem) goat guano.
But only half-an-hour later, when I ventured back out into the rain to prepare the evening feeds, I found Dave standing by the goose house, looking anxious. I assumed Roberta was already inside – quite a suprise as they don’t normally put themselves to bed – & moved to persuade Dave to join her. But he dodged past, hissing alarm. Looking through the doorway I realised she wasn’t there – odd, as they were inseparable. And there was something else odd, too; because if on a rare occasion they did get separated – such as if Mrs Goose flapped up to the pond for a paddle but Dave decided he couldn’t fly that day – they’d kick up an almighty racket until I managed to reunite them. But Dave was oddly silent, just looked utterly confused.
As the horrible realisation dawned that she could be missing for a very unpleasant reason I hurried down to the lower meadow which borders the woods, calling anxiously. I never needed corn to command the geese, if ever I was moving about the farmyard they’d invariably waddle hurriedly to join me.
The only sound was the rush of the swollen river, sighing through the valley on its westward journey. Not one bird trilled in the trees or sent sweet music echoing up through the woods. And there, in that gulf of silence, just below the brow of the hill, my worst fears were confirmed: a few clumps of cream-coloured feathers, smeared with livid spatters of poor Roberta’s blood. She must have put up quite a struggle.
Thisis one of the realities of farming that I find very hard to bear. Over the past year we’ve lost a pair of plump hens & two gorgeous little lambs (& we assume almost one of the ewes, who had been brought down & injured by – something, anyway) to these brutal predators – & now poor Roberta.
I’ll keep the very lonely Dave in for a few days; then he’ll have to be confined to the Upper Yard, the wildlife pond & the orchard behind the cottage whilst I search for a new mate to keep him company. I recalled a snatch of conversation I’d overheard at the farm sale on Friday; a local smallholder angrily recounting how in the middle of the night, a fox had attacked his geese. He’d rushed outside in hope of shooting the predator but was too late – the fox had taken one & attacked her mate, ripping off the bird’s beak. The poor creature was still alive when he found him.
Losing the odd chicken to a fox is frustrating; to have several birds or animals senselessly killed & not even taken for food, is sickening.