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March 08, 2012

Geese and Children

The following is a guest blog from Cheryl Walter with her recommendations on raising geese with children.  Thank you Cheryl!    
If anyone else would like to contribute a blog, please email John Metzer.

Goslings are super cute, and so satisfying to hold! But before you get a goose, you should do a lot of considering to be sure that the goose you want is the right animal for your family. Unfortunately, every fall unwanted domestic juvenile geese appear at local ponds because the people did not fully consider the needs of the geese or their families before they made the purchase. 

Holding Puffball

We have Super African geese that we bought from Metzer Farms a year and a half ago after a period of consideration. We have a flock of Indian Runner ducks, and we wanted to have an extra layer of protection for the ducks, as well as an animal that would help us to keep the grass down.

We have three children, who were ages 10, 8 and 5 when we got our first geese. Before we bought our geese, we knew full well that these particular geese would be aggressive, particularly to kids who showed that they were scared. We considered existing fencing that allows children and geese to have space. We looked at where we would house our geese. We also got a livestock guard dog to help keep coyotes away from the geese. We considered the noise and our neighbors. (As many of the neighbors have roosters that crow at 3:00 am, this was not a large factor. Had we been in town, or a subdivision, it would have been different.)

When we got the goslings, we handled them as much as possible. They loved hanging out with the kids, even listening to my daughter play her flute. 

They all came over to listen to the flute!

However, as they got bigger, the males became more aggressive to my sons, who had backed away, scared that they would get pecked. Once the geese figured this out, every time the boys came into the goose area, the ganders chased the boys. But this is not true of every kid - we had a 4 year old here a couple weeks ago who was running straight at the flock and showed them who was boss – and the ganders ran away! So it really depends on the child. If they are timid, parents would be wise to wait until the child is older. One of the ganders imprinted on me – he follows me around like a puppy, and eats grass out of my hand. 

All of that changed during mating season. Ganders became very pecky (true to their breed) and even my imprinted gander pecked me in the face. I would not let the kids pick up the ganders any more during the spring and summer. 

Stripey, our adult male, in the fall.
I would recommend anyone who wants a pet goose, to get only females. (Metzer Farms sells sexed geese – take advantage of this!) Our females are not aggressive, even when setting on eggs for the first time, as they let us handle them. In fact, one refused for 3 days to get off the nest to eat so I had to take her off daily after that for food and water. The gals were very nice, even when the babies hatched, letting my kids reach under and pull out the peeping goslings to pet them. The ganders, however, if anything, became even more protective and aggressive after the goslings hatched. This may vary from bird to bird and from breed to breed, so look into the breed you want, and get the ones best suited for your situation.

Sally and her gosling Olive.

My children did show ducks at the fair last year, and this coming year my oldest wants to show a goose. We have agreed that it must be female, as they are more laid back in nature, and from what we saw with other geese at the fair, are less stressed. All the kids in 4-H at our fair are encouraged to take their animals out and let fairgoers pet them, so a sociable animal is a must. My daughter picks up the geese daily, and as we get closer to fair, the goose will come into the house to sit on her lap while she watches TV, which to some extent, simulates the sounds of many people at the fair.

Unfortunately, we have known people who impulse bought their geese. They were at the feed store to get some chickens, and just couldn’t resist those cute, meaty, fluffy goslings that are so satisfying to hold. But they did not consider how the animal would fit into their lives. One family lives in a subdivision, and their Brown Chinese goose raised a racket. They did not realize the amount of elimination that a goose does a day, much more than their tiny dog! The goose ended up being a gander, and while it got along ok with the kids, it was frustrated when mating season came. The gander ended up at a local farm. Another nighbor family bought a brown Chinese. It ended up chasing their then two and four year old children. It ended up moving – to our house, where it doesn’t get along with the Super African geese, but does hang out with and look over the ducks. Each fall when we go to the park near the river, we see “new” domestic geese, which makes our whole family sad as they are always quiet tame. 

Last year's Christmas card photo.... with their Christmas goose!
People who want a goose, or a whole flock of geese as pets, should research the breeds of geese and pick the ones best suited for their needs, the ages of family members and the neighborhood. Geese can be very sociable and nice, but some breeds are more aggressive to strangers or during mating season than others. Despite a few pecks from our geese, the whole family loves them. They have wonderful personalities, are certainly unique, and a lot of fun to have around.

February 05, 2012

Are Your Ducks and Geese Overweight?

Waterfowl have a tendency to put on extra fat if given the opportunity.  A reasonable amount of fat on a duck or goose in the wild is acceptable as it helps insulate them in cold water.  It is also less dense than bone or muscle so they float easier in the water with extra fat.  But just as with most animals, a little fat is good but too much fat is bad.

Some breeds of ducks and geese are naturally lean, and some gain weight more easily.  For ducks, the Runners rarely carry extra fat.  Pekins are at the opposite end of the spectrum and can easily be too fat.  Khaki Campbells are closer to Runners in this regard but Rouen, Buff, Blue Swedish and Cayuga are closer to a Pekin.

An extremely overweight Embden goose.  Notice her abdomen between her legs.

There is less variation in geese.  But of all geese, the Chinese are the least likely to gain extra weight but the larger Embden and Toulouse are the most likely to be overweight.  Other breeds are in between the lighter Chinese and heavier Embden and Toulouse.

What is the problem with excess weight?  The bird's life is probably shortened and may make it more uncomfortable due to the extra weight they must carry.  Remember that the legs and feet of waterfowl are not terribly strong.  Add an extra 20-30% in body weight and those feet and legs will develop problems sooner due to the extra weight they are carrying.

A flock of fit Embden geese.  Compare their profile with the goose above.

Farms that have breeding birds must be extra careful in controlling the weight in their breeder birds.  Extra weight in a breeding duck or goose can greatly reduce egg production and fertility.
Our commercial Pekin ducks grow extremely fast and can weigh 7.5 pounds or more in seven weeks.  However, the breeder birds that produce these fast growing birds must be kept on a diet starting at two weeks of age.  Due to this restricted feed, a female Pekin  breeder should only weigh about 7.5 pounds at 23 weeks of age.  But due to this reduced feed, she will live longer and lay more eggs with increased fertility. 

So if you do want to control your birds' weight, how do you do it?  

1) Only feed them a certain amount once a day.
           Pekin - .33-.45 lbs per day per bird with the higher amount if they are in full egg production
           Runners - ..25-.35/day/bird
           Other duck breeds - .3-.40 lbs/day/bird
           Heavy geese .45-.6 lbs/day/bird
           Chinese  .35-.5 lbs/day/bird
           Other goose breeds  .4-.55 lbs/day/bird

2) Only allow them access to their feed a limited amount of time each day
           Pekin - 2-8 hours/day (8 hours is for breeders in high egg production)
           Runners - no limit needed
           Other duck breeds - 3-12 hours/day
           Heavy geese - 2-12 hours/day
           Chinese - no limit needed
           Other goose breeds -  4-24 hours/day

Birds that must forage for much of their feed are less likely to be obese.  Some people use a less dense feed (fewer calories per pound of feed) but this usually does not control the weight in a duck or goose as they have the ability to simply eat more.

If you have ducks and geese simply for pleasure, it is not critical you control their weight.  But if you are keeping them commercially, it is critical you monitor their weight for increased performance and improved longevity.

January 24, 2012

A Picture of Metzer Farms!

I have always wanted a picture drawn of our farm as I am sure many of you would like to see our layout.  Pictures on our website and blog may show parts of the farm, but not the total layout.

My niece is an artist and I asked her to draw the farm.  Below is her wonderful depiction of our farm.  Those of us that work and live here love her detail.  Notice the windswept trees from our daily wind.  See the sheep we have to control the grass?  Behind the farm are the fields of the fertile Salinas Valley - supplying the salads for the nation. Looks like the van is being loaded with eggs or birds to be shipped out!  Do you find the picnic table used for breaks on nice days?

Unfortunately we felt it necessary to remove this special drawing of our farm as it was recently displayed on the blog of a animal rights terrorism group as an example of a farm that would be "a prime target" for their organization since we sell animals.  This is the same organization that pridefully admitted burning 14 trucks at a California feed lot in January of 2012.

Although we have nothing to hide and pride ourselves in our animal care, we do not want to provide a map of our farm to someone that may do harm to us or the animals under our care.

Please keep this in mind when you are asked for a donation to support an animal rights organization or to vote for the legislation they sponsor.

1 - Hatchery
2 - Greenhouse (holding many of our small breeder duck flocks)
3 - Brooder Room (for small numbers of birds)
4 - Building 1 (duck breeders)
5 - Shavings and Hay Bunkers
6 - Building 2 (duck breeders)
7 - Building 3 (duck breeders)
8 - South Goose Breeder Pens
9 - Tool/Maintenance Shed
10 - Mallard Pens
11 - North Goose Breeder Pens
12 - Red Barn (brooder building for large flocks)
13 - Our Home (for our brood)

If you would like to know more about Metzer Farms and the birds we sell, please visit our website.

January 16, 2012

Want to Watch Ducklings Hatching on Your Computer?

We have a camera set up in our hatcher so you can watch our birds hatch each weekend.  Just go to our Live Hatch webpage.

The camera is running live from Friday morning through early Monday morning when we remove the ducklings from the hatcher.  Sunday probably has the most activity as that is when most of the ducklings are hatching.

We also have a Time Lapse showing two Pekin ducklings hatching if you don't want to watch our camera all day!

The third thing we have is a calendar of what we will be filming each weekend.  If you really love Cayuga ducks, for example, you can look on the calendar and see when we will be showing Cayuga ducklings hatching.

Drop by and watch those cute ducklings, goslings, keets and poults hatch!

January 06, 2012

Nine Steps for Effective Building Cleanout

Every year in November and December we have several buildings that have to be emptied, cleaned, disinfected and made ready for next year's duck breeders.  Whether you are cleaning a 7200 sq. ft. building or a backyard coop, the process is the same.  I will show you the steps we follow, using our Building 3 as an example.

Building 3 before the cleanout - White Layers, Buff, Mallard and Fawn & White Runners

1) Before you do anything else, make sure your rodent bait stations are full.  Typically you remove feed from the building or put it away for a brief time when you clean.  If you have any rodents, their normal feed may be gone and they will be looking for alternative sources.  They may now eat that bait that has otherwise been ignored.

2) Move your birds out of the building.  This may be as simple as putting them outside for the day or moving them to a new pen.  The best time to clean a building is when that flock is done laying - either they are molting or you will sell them.  We do not clean out the litter until a flock is leaving and a new one is coming in - once a year.  We add bedding once or twice a week so by the end of a year, it is up to 12" deep.

Moving the old breeders to our Sell Pen.

3) Remove all equipment from the building: nest boxes, fences, feeders, floors under waterers, etc.  Ideally you can use a pressure washer to wash all your equipment.  Remove all the dirt and organic matter with the first wash.  Then use a disinfectant to sanitize everything.  There are various types of disinfectants available: chlorines, iodines, phenols and quats.  Disinfectants containing phenols seem to be most effective in cleaning our buildings.

The divider fences are out.  Nacho, Juan and Guillermo are now removing nest boxes and feeders.

Nacho washing fences, ramps to the waterers, feeders, etc.
4) Remove all the bedding and manure from the building.  This is an excellent soil amendment as is or pile and compost it before adding it to your soil.  The carbon:nitrogen ratio is perfect for our litter so it composts quite rapidly on its own after removal.  When you remove the bedding, oxygen is added with all the mixing.  This oxygen rejuvenates the bacteria in the bedding and often we see water vapor rising from the heating piles of bedding within a day or two of removal.
Guillermo is using the Bobcat to clean near the waterers, notice the bedding is moist.
Juan is cleaning where most of the nests are - opposite the waterers - notice the drier litter.

Keep in mind that if you do not frequently remove your litter, a very slow composting process is occurring in the deep litter.  It will not heat up excessively as it is starved for oxygen.  But this low level of composting does provide some warmth to your birds during a cold winter.

5)  Use the same pressure washer to wash the interior of the building.  Follow up with a second washing using disinfectant - as you did with the equipment.

Nacho is washing the entire interior - ceiling and walls.

6) We have a 5' wide concrete pit with a wire floor along one wall of the building.  Above this are the nipple waterers.  Any leakage from the nipple waterers goes in these pits, along with the manure produced while the birds are drinking or lounging on the wire.  During the year we periodically pump these these pits but we empty and wash them completely at cleanout.

Juan washing out the pits.

PTO powered manure pump.

Pits after cleaning.  We put rodent bait stations below the white ramps.

7) It is best to let the building completely dry before you put a 2'-3" layer of bedding back in for your birds.  Then add your disinfected feeders, nest boxes and other equipment.
Installing the divider fences.

8)  Be gentle when you move in your new flock.  It is a major stress on them if it is a new environment for them.
Juan and Luis moving in a flock of White Crested breeders.

We use these coops to move in our Mallard breeders. Notice the feathers on the floor from our clipping their wings.

9) If it is a new flock of birds, monitor them carefully.  Can they find the feed and water?  Is anything disturbing them?  Remember, they might be in a completely different environment and it is stressful for them - just as it would be for you!  If you want to provide a low level of light during the night, get a night light from a local hardware or drug store.  Buy one that has a photocell so it comes on when the sun goes down and turns off when the sun comes up.  Just plug it into an electrical outlet.  Keep it below 10 watts.

10) You now have a clean building, clean bedding, clean equipment, fewer rodents and a group of birds that are ready to lay eggs for you.

Our young breeders in their new, clean building!