Late in 2003 we were lucky enough to acquire Laurie Maitre's herd of Milking Devons, some of which are featured in the New Holland News Online article "Historic House Cow Awaits Its Return". We bought three of them in August; the Matriarch Lynn who turns 18 in February 2004 and is due to have a calf around that time, and her daughters a young heifer Windy and Melody who is the most beautiful Devon cow I have ever seen.
When the rest of the herd became available in November we bought them too, when they arrived we let the young bull, Mikey out of the trailer right near the house where our beef cattle are. At first he was a little wary of them, his first encounter was with a 16 month old bull and they went head to head for a little while, fortunately it wasn't serious, then he started checking out the girls. I crossed my fingers that he would not escape, as I had heard that he had little respect for fences.
Then we set off to herd the girls onto the large hayfield across the creek where the rest of the Devons were. Lynn not only remembered her daughter and granddaughters faces but also their voices. Because it was so muddy we couldn't get the new girls delivered right to the field so they had to be let out of the trailer at the gate and we walked them in the right direction. Fortunately they followed the wire right to the creek crossing. Once they were across the creek they could go left and follow the road, or right and go along a trail along the creek... they went right and so we followed. A couple of times Rachel called and Liza and Delilah called back to her. This must have alerted Lynn and Melody that their missing family members were closeby.
We followed along the trail hoping to be on the field in time to see the family reunion. Dick took the high road and was up there before us, he called out that he could only count about 20 animals and didn't think the new ones were up there. We arrived at the field just in time to see the cows starting to appear from out of the woods. Much to my surprise it was Lynn and Melody leading the others to the pasture. Before we headed over there I had seen Lynn up on the field, so she must have heard her family and gone off to find them and bring them home... aren't animals amazing?
Due to the shape of the white mark on her forehead we named her "Diamond". She was in reality no treasure to her former owner, during her first lactation she was culled from the herd, but not before she had been marked forever by having half her tail removed. This is done so that during milking the cow's tail can't hit someone in the face and also to prevent it from sending manure flying in all directions. Some farmers feel that this is a necessary procedure, though the majority of cows are allowed to keep their tails, which are useful tools for swishing flies away to keep the animal more comfortable.
Dairy cows in general do not feed their own calves, they are taken away at birth as this is the easiest way for the farmer. If no bond is formed the cow doesn't miss her calf so she won't call for it. After Diamond's calf "Booger" was born we left him with her for ten days to give him a good start in life. She didn't seem very maternal and stood passively as he fed, giving him very little attention. So when we took him away and started milking her, she reacted in the same way to a person milking her as she had to Booger. For a Holstein her milk production was poor, though she provided more than enough to bottle feed Booger, another calf and for family use. So twice a day Rhianon milked her, but suddenly her milk production dropped...
One more remarkable cow in the group was Holly, it became apparent that she must be carrying more than one calf, however Holly was very unremarkable in both her intelligence and milk production. It seems that she could only count to one, and twin number two was ignored, we had seen him feeding on several occasions so he should have been alright, but his mother never seemed to notice his existence, focusing only on the first born. Even with only one surviving calf she didn't provide enough milk.
While Hollyhocks was stealing milk from another cow, that cow's calf "Midnight" noticed what was going on, then later as they were running around together as small calves do, Hollyhocks stopped for a quick drink from Diamond. Soon Midnight decided to see if there was any for her, and to her delight she too found that Diamond had a steady supply of milk available to all takers.
We decided to reunite Diamond and Booger, it had been five weeks since we took him away and there wasn't always enough milk for him so we thought that if he was with her he would be able to get enough. Sure enough he hadn't forgotten his momma and went straight to her and drank hungrily.
Soon we realized that this wasn't going to work. Hollyhocks had taught at least five other calves how to sneak in behind cows and get milk, though none of them seemed to be as good at is as she was. She would watch carefully and wait until cows were at the hay rack and sneak in and get all the milk she wanted without the cows realizing that it was not their own calves. The others never developed her great technique and the only cow they could steal from was Diamond, who was getting a little sore from always having a calf feeding from her.
We decided that two calves wouldn't be too much for Diamond to feed so we left Topaz with her new momma and brother. When the weather warmed up we put the trio out on pasture with the rest of our Milking Devons.
We have come to realize that Diamond is indeed a treasure; if ever we have an orphan calf she will be a wonderful foster mother to it.
Many years ago there were Canada Geese here on the farm, but for some reason they stopped returning from their Southern journey and the only goose who resided here was Hiss, an African goose who was later joined by a pair of White Chinese a "gift" from a friend. This same friend later tired of her Buff Geese and gave us a pair of them too, so the flock went from one to five.
Canada Geese are a menace in the Twin Cities and to reduce their numbers there was a goose round-up during the molt when the adult geese are flightless. Because geese return to the area where they learn to fly the only way to prevent the geese from returning is to "cull" them. At this stage the immature geese have not yet taken their maiden flight so they can be relocated and will not return to where they hatched. The young are released into "the wild", but without the guidance of their parents they are lost souls.
During the 1998 goose round-up the D.N.R. released a group of twenty five geese here on the farm, we managed to coax a few into the yard and they stayed near the domestic geese. The others scattered in all directions, and most of them were probably killed by predators or cars. One of them died in a neighbors yard when her dog mauled it, another was injured by the dog and we brought it home where it soon died too. Watching their companion die seemed to bother the other young geese who then decided to walk off down the road. Nathan went in pursuit of the trio and managed to bring three of them back, the other had crashed off into the woods and we never saw it again.
The remaining pair grew and in spite of living with flightless domestic geese they soon discovered their wings. It was good to see them fly then circle back to their adopted family, but one sad day the female crashed into a barbed wire fence and was mortally injured. The one remaining Canada Goose "Mono" had been flying with her and was obviously distressed by her accident. The domestic geese having witnessed the tragedy talked Mono out of flying any more, every time he forgot himself and looked as though he was about to fly they honked at him in such a tone that he soon stopped trying.
So it appeared as though this wild goose lost the will to fly.
But events changed, we purchased three pairs of pinioned Canada Geese and Mono began to realize that he was one of them. Of these three pairs, one left, another didn't hatch any young and the third had babies. Since they were only a year younger than Mono we hoped one would be a mate for him, but sadly one night they all disappeared. We decide that the best thing to do would be to buy a mate for Mono, even though the only adult female we could get was pinioned. We brought her home and the introduction went so well that the following spring Mono dutifully stood guard as his mate sat on the nest, then he proudly escorted the newly hatched babies and his wife into the yard to show them off to us.
Several weeks later when the goslings were learning to fly their proud father learned with them, leaving the distraught wife and mother on the ground as they flew in ever increasing circles. Soon she was able to tolerate their disappearances and waited patiently while her husband and children were visiting the lake on the other side of the hill.
The following spring Mono had two nest boxes that he was guarding, his wife in the original one and around the corner where Mrs Mono couldn't see he set his old girlfriend Buffy up as his mistress. Unfortunately for Buffy, Mrs Mono discovered the apartment where she was living and jealously chased her off and moved in there herself. Four weeks later Mrs Mono hatched just four eggs and right from the start one looked different, as time wore on the difference became even more apparent, Mrs Mono in her ignorance raised this child as her own.
Goosey stood out almost from the start, she and her sister were so much friendlier than the rest of the young geese we purchased and would eat right out of hands. When the time came the group discovered Lake Winona and many local people were surprised by the friendliness of these "wild" geese. One time when we were at the lake I said to Dick "Look there's Goosey!" and then I called her name. Dick was so surprised to see her walk excitedly up to me then allow me to pet her. Her future husband Bad-boy followed closely but as usual kept a distance between himself and me... I'm sure he wondered about her sanity.
The pair took on parenting in their "teens", while most Canada Geese aren't mature until their third year Goosey and Bad-boy set up home in a nest box right in our front yard when they were only two. We were always concerned as she chased cars that drove by her home, and just as concerned when she would chase the dog. Tessa thought the goose wanted to play and she would run away with her tail wagging, then stop while Goosey caught up. It had always appeared to be a game, but now Goosey was nesting she became more serious and would bite Tessa's nose and give a vicious twist... poor Tessa would yelp and run, while most dogs would probably have bitten back.
They were such proud parents when their babies hatched, both lost their aggressive tendencies as they took on their parenting role. However Tessa still wanted to play with Goosey and much to Bad-boy's horror Goosey taught at least one of their babies to bite the dog's nose. I'm sure he was more relaxed when they were out in the field eating grass, but around the yard he always seemed to have a concerned expression.
In the following spring they set up home in the same nest box, but for some reason the eggs didn't hatch and they seemed lost as they watched the other pairs proudly bringing their newly hatched goslings into the yard. Goosey and Bad-boy kept returning to the nest hoping that a gosling would emerge from an egg. All the time Goosey became more agitated, while Bad-boy would stand by with his normal concerned expression. She became unusually aggressive to other geese and one sad day she chased a group away from her nest and was hit by a car.
Bad-boy's expression was more concerned than normal. Mercifully Goosey died very quickly, and she now lies below a rose bush where her nest used to be. There will never be another Goosey... months later Bad-boy is still mostly alone, I sometimes hear a tapping at the door and half expect Goosey to be there demanding some bread, but it's never her just Tessa. Bad-boy will come and visit, he just stands at the bottom of the stairs as he used to when Goosey knocked, he accepts my offering of bread but looks so sad. I imagine that next Spring he will find a new mate, but I'm sure he will always miss his childhood sweetheart.
Last year in May, a woman came here wanting to buy geese or ducks to live on her pond, so we sold her our pair of buff geese which Stephanie didn't like because the male often chased her. Two days later Dick was talking to our neighbor Jack who told him that he had seen a goose walking through his fields and heading toward the highway. Dick asked me to describe the goose to Jack and I told him that it was a rather large light tan colored goose "That's him" he told me, "and by the speed he was going he should be there by now". I looked out the window and sure enough there he was with his girlfriend "Hiss" who we had kept. They were talking goose talk to each other. Now this gander had walked about three miles, part way up a hill, down the other side, across Highway 43 and through some pretty wild coyote/fox territory, through the creek and up the hill to the farm yard. I have no idea how he found his way home, but he did.
I pointed him out to Stephanie, expecting her to be upset at his return. She said "It's good that he came home", I said to her "But I thought you didn't like him", to which she replied "I don't, but we will never make him go away again." Rhianon phoned the woman who had bought the geese to tell her of B2's return, she told Rhianon that Buffy was sad and offered to bring her back too.
This spring Buffy and Pricilla [Canada goose] set up house in one nest box, Pricilla, a widow moved in with Buffy, a jilted wife whose husband, was off having a good time with Hiss, an African goose. They would take turns in sitting on the eggs but at times became a little boisterous and I was concerned that the eggs may be damaged so I set up a duplex for them. Upon candling Pricilla's eggs I found them to be infertile and gave her two of Buffy's eggs. Their neighbors Goosey and Bad-boy [Canada geese] moved in a couple of weeks later and Bad-boy became aggressive beating up on Pricilla each time she left her home, so security bars [a cage] was installed to keep her safe in her own home. The day came and goslings hatched, Pricilla and Buffy were so proud, Bad-boy's attitude softened as he sat on the roof of his neighbors house watching the goslings. Three days later the proud new mothers were released from the maternity ward and set off on new adventures with their babies. Buffy's faithless spouse suddenly regained interest in his wife and became a proud father in spite of his wife's obvious indiscretion... the proof of which is visible in the form of a cute little half Buff, half White Chinese gosling. Pricilla has become more of an aunt than a mother and comes and goes from the goslings lives, obviously upset that her "friend" went back to her husband.
Gos hatched in our incubator on the fourth of July, she was Rhianon's baby, so Rhianon will write her story.