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Dealing with aggression in geese

Much of what was previously posted about aggression in chickens applies to geese, but there are a few differences I want to talk about.

Ganders instinctively guard their family, with the intent of raising young. A rooster’s caring often stops after the mating, though some show their hens where a good laying spot is, and some will guard and even care for chicks. With geese, the family oriented behaviors are the norm, not exceptional at all.

Geese are smarter and have better memories than chickens. They may be the smartest of all the commonly kept poultry. This has advantages and disadvantages. They remember encounters with you, and seem to consider how to change your behavior as you are trying to change theirs. Maintaining eye contact with an aggressive gander is the first step. If you ever act afraid, they will not forget that episode and work to repeat it. But there is no reason to be afraid, even the largest gander is not capable of inflicting actual harm beyond bruising your skin and ego. So, when you enter the space with an aggressive goose, march straight towards him, keeping eye contact and forcing him to decide whether he can stand his ground or if you are maybe going to catch him. In my experience, they always turn and run away if you move toward them quickly and decisively.

Now that you’ve established that you are bigger and faster, and not the least bit afraid of him, the gander will always be on the lookout for you and issue a warning to the others whenever you appear. He may still look for an opportunity to bite you in the hopes of eliciting a fear response, so always be aware of his location, otherwise you might get “goosed”.

If your gander was tamed as a gosling and knows you well, his familiarity with you may make him more emboldened. My young ganders would nibble on my fingers as goslings, but as adults, their nibbling is no longer sweet, but motivated by hostility. It makes them harder to deal with as they will come right up to me with little fear. They want to dominate me and make me run from them. I never run or act afraid, in fact I lower myself to be less of a threat and use goose fighting techniques to establish dominance. I treat this as a game and try to play if frequently. In the game, I am going to pat the goose on top of their head. This is how dominant ganders bring others into submission, but putting their head over the others and establishing that he is bigger and taller. So that is what I do with the game I call “Pat You on the Head”. They hate this game because they are always too slow to win, and soon move away and acknowledge my dominance to the other geese.

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Dealing with aggression in chickens

I have had a few rounds with aggressive poultry over the years. Really makes for some funny stories because the outcomes are always a bit one-sided. There are theories about why some become aggressive when a brother or son is sweet as can be. I do believe there is a genetic component, and that the tendency to be aggressive can be mostly bred out of a line of birds. But there is also very clearly a husbandry component as well. You can’t very well change the genetics of a bird in your care, but you can change how you interact, and that is what I want to talk about.

Males of most types of poultry have a role as protectors of their female(s). In many cases they must demonstrate their prowess in order to keep their family together. But they are also prey animals, and any prey animal that is too bold in the face of danger will not survive to pass his genes to the next generation. They must balance these 2 factors and the intersection of these is the place in the social network that humans occupy. Any birds that view you strictly as a predator will never act aggressively, they will seek to flee. But that is not fun for us or them, so we try to maintain a friendlier relationship. This is where familiarity can breed contempt. If a male does not fear you, perhaps because you raised him as a pet, or have always acted gently toward him, he can see you more as a rival. This is the principle source of aggression from male birds.

Chickens have a group social order. When allowed to roam and form their own flocks, they tend to be small and dominated by a single male. Sometimes a second or third male will join the group, but they must give way to the primary male at all times. They can gain the protection and socialization of the flock, and also provide additional guard duty. I think of them as a “wing man” for the primary male. This is not the place for a human, you cannot act submissive to the primary male, that is where he wants you, but only increased aggression from him will result. You must assume the role of primary male whenever you are in contact with a flock that contains a rooster. Most roosters are aware that this can work for them and will readily allow it, as you are soon gone and they are back in charge. And you do provide some benefits for the flock (food, water, treats, etc). But if they refuse to relinquish their position, you have 2 choices – allow yourself to become lower than the rooster, or dominate him by force to establish who is in charge when you are present. Choose the later always.

When roosters fight, they seek to push the other down or chase them from the flock. Your path is to force him low. Grab him and push him to the ground, then pin his neck all the way to the ground and hold it there. Don’t be angry (I think they can tell) and don’t hurt him, you are just demonstrating your superior speed, strength and height advantage. Make sure his hens can see you do this. I usually talk to him and the hens when doing this, in a loud but gentle voice. I want them to realize I can do this anytime, not only when I am upset. After a minute or so, I release the rooster and stare at him. Few roosters with come back at you, most will run away, back to their flock. If you get a mean one that just keeps coming, he may just be incorrigible and will need to be removed.

I maintain the stare for a bit and make sure to have eye contact with the now subservient rooster. The smart ones remember this encounter for weeks and will not challenge you for a long time, all you need to do is make eye contact with him each time you enter his space, essentially telling him – I’m in charge for now and I can see you clearly over there.

This will not always work, but it often does. I try to avoid breeding from any rooster with aggressive tendencies, but as flock protectors, there is something to be said for a rooster that is a bit “cocky”.

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What affects egg size? What about double yolks?

I was asked about this in a text today, and rather than write back a long text, I decided to answer here. This could also be in the FAQ, but I will just link to this post.

Eggs come in all sizes and there are many factors that come into play. The genetics of the breed comes first to mind. A goose’s first “pullet” eggs will still be extra, extra large on the chicken scale. They are big birds and put a lot into each egg, so it needs to be large. Some chicken breeds are known for laying extra large eggs. And some for laying small eggs.

Pullet eggs are those smaller than normal eggs that many hens start with. Especially the early laying breeds and hybrids, some skip this and wait a few more weeks before starting to lay, but start with large eggs. This is also genetic and breed correlated, but some individual pullets will start laying earlier or later than the norm for their breed.

Sometimes a hen (or more often a pullet) will lay an extra large egg that contains 2 yolks. Usually referred to as a “double yolker”, these are essentially mistakes in the bird’s reproductive tract. They usually skip a day before laying one, so you aren’t really getting more yolks, just 2 in 1. Breeders never select for a propensity to lay double yolk eggs because they rarely hatch (there are exceptions – seems like every one is documented on YouTube). Because you are not really getting more egg (due to the skipped day), they are not the bonus they might seem to be. It also seems like it would be hard on the hen to lay the larger than normal eggs.

If you want the largest eggs, be sure to select breeds or hybrids known for laying large to jumbo eggs. Commercial hens are bred to lay a consistent size large, as any other size does not make as much money per pound of feed consumed. The larger heritage breeds are your best bet for the largest possible eggs, or hybrids of those large egg breeds.

Hybrid vigor can also play a role. The largest chicken eggs on my farm right now are from some Olive Egger project hens that are retired from breeding, but still laying and some of them are laying enormous eggs. The really large eggs from these hens no longer hatch well, but they sure bulk up a carton of eating eggs.

As far as I know, breeding for exceptionally large eggs is likely to produce poor hatches and possibly limit the lifespan of the hens, neither are choices I am prepared to make as a breeder.

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Blue Egg Genetics in Legbars

It is not a secret that most of the breeders of Opal Legbars are struggling to have all blue eggs. This is especially problematic because the gene for white eggs in recessive, so it hides easily in a flock. It does not help that the roosters never lay any eggs, blue or white. The only way to ensure you have eliminated the white egg gene is to have the bird genetically tested. That gets expensive, fast. My flock coming into 2023 was all sired by a male that was known to have no white egg genes, but the mothers could have 1 or 2 copies and still lay blue eggs. Statistically, at least half will test as having 2 copies.

I started by testing the 5 cockerels, 3 were found to be heterozygous and were removed. The remaining 2 have sired all the Opal chicks since 2/15. The pullets are all laying blue eggs, but could have just 1 copy, so at least half should have 2 copies of the blue egg gene. That means up to half could have 1 white egg gene. For a breeder to buy and test these chicks is costly. Tests are $20 to $25 each and you will likely find half the results are not the genetics you are looking for, making each “good bird” you find cost about $50 in testing alone. That is the financial basis for charging $50 per pair for the chicks from the “tested as true blue” flock.

But there is a cheaper alternative for breeders to be able to offer Opal chicks in spring 2024 (and beyond) that they know will lay blue eggs. This describes how to do this as economically as possible.

  • Purchase the desired number of Opal pullets for $10 each. These will have 1 or 2 copies of blue egg gene, but it does not matter, as you will get that from the cockerels.
  • For every 8 to 12 pullets, purchase a “true blue” Opal cockerel for $25. These are the key to making sure all the chicks you sell will lay blue eggs. One cockerel can father dozens, even hundreds, of chicks over the season, making this very economical.
  • If you want to also offer non-opal legbars, purchase some Cream legbar pullets as well. They will live with your flock of Opals and be mated to the same Opal cockerels. You will not be able to tell their eggs apart, but the chicks are easily differentiated, so you can sell both colors from a single pen.
  • To plan your replacement flock (producing chicks in 2025), keep some of the non-opal chicks from the Creams you added, male and female. These are true blue as their cream mothers also had 2 copies of the blue egg gene. When you breed the F2 generation from these, all chicks are true blue and always will be in future generations.
  • Only about 25% of the F2 generation will be Opals, so save some of them and build your future flock of Opals from the F2’s. You can also save some of the non-Opal siblings so in 2026 and onward you can still produce both colors from a single pen, all homozygous for the blue egg gene.

This plan will allow you to build your own flock of true breeding Opals, while producing salable chicks each year to pay for the feed. The alternative is to wait and buy true blue chicks in 2024. They will be much cheaper then because my entire flock of Opals will be producing them. But you will miss the entire spring 2024 sales season, which will more than pay for the costs of buying some pricier cockerels in 2023.

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Humidity and hatching

Humidity in the incubator is the most confusing part of hatching chicks. Unlike temperature, where you can aim for a number that you know works, RH is, well, relative. Relative humidity (RH) is a percentage of moisture present on the air compared to it being fully saturated. Technically, you can’t go more than 100%, though I have seen RH meters show higher than 100.

Why is RH important? During incubation, eggs with live chicks release water vapor and CO2 to the atmosphere. This is normal and necessary or the chicks will drown. If the air is too dry (low RH) then they lose water too rapidly, dehydrating sometimes to the point of death. If the air is too wet (high RH) then they risk drowning, or not being able to maneuver into a position to hatch.

So what is the right RH? It really and truly depends on a number of variables:

  • Porosity of the egg shell – ever noticed some eggs have a glossy surface, while others are more matte? They lose water at different rates at the same RH. Eggs laid early in the hen’s cycle tend to be less porous than later. Some breed have different shell types. I believe that the dark eggs, especially those with a glossy finish, like some Marans and Welsummers, lose water less readily and so need a lower RH.
  • Size of the eggs – This is a simple surface area to volume ratio thing.
  • Age – Eggs that have been stored for a while have already lost some moisture to the air, before they even get into the incubator.
  • Washed vs unwashed – Washed eggs lose some or all of their “bloom” that protects them from moisture loss.

There may be other factors, but you can see from this list that arriving at the “right” RH for a mixed group of eggs is pretty much impossible. So what to do?

Experience is the best teacher here, and I mean experience with a specific incubator and specific breeds of poultry. Some breeds/hybrids are so vigorous and easy to hatch that any RH seems ok, others are more finicky. Peafowl tend to need a much higher RH during the setting phase (before “lockdown” or moving to the hatcher. Coturnix quail want a lower RH during all stages. Turkeys need lot RH during setting and very high for hatching. You get the idea.

Generally, you can only add water to increase RH, if you remove the water and the RH is still too high, that is hard to manage. So, I start out with low RH and increase it if needed (if I get a bad hatch). During the course of the hatching season (Winter to Summer mostly), the RH trends upward no matter what I do. Nice that that correlates to the more porous shells of summertime.

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Is your cheap incubator good enough to hatch chicks?

Recently a friend had a bad first hatch in a new incubator, and asked my advice. I recommended running the incubator without eggs and using a digital thermometer with a corded probe to record the temp in various places where the eggs would sit. A min/max capability is very useful as well. Here is one I bought that seems accurate enough for me:

Draw a diagram of the egg area and write down the min/max in each location. Check areas until you get a pretty comprehensive picture of the temperature gradient. So, how much is too much? I cabinet incubators, I frequently see a temp gradient of a whole degree between the top and bottom shelf. The newest eggs should go on the top and the older eggs moved down to take advantage of the internal heat the growing chicks produce. However, in a tabletop incubator I think 1 degree across the area is too much.

If there is a large gradient, that would indicate that the air flow is not sufficient, or not properly designed. That can be very hard to fix. Clean the fans if the incubator is not new, and check that they are running.

If the temps are pretty consistent across the entire egg area, what’s next? What is the temp you recorded ? Forced air incubators are generally run at 99.5 to 100.0 degrees F. If you are in that range and still had a poor hatch, check the accuracy of the thermometers against a child’s digital fever thermometer. Put it into the incubator, where the thermometer probe is located. Wait about 5 minutes to get the thermometer up to temp, then open the incubator, push the button and close it quickly. The thermometer will record the temp as long as it is increasing. When it finally beeps, remove it and compare it to the thermometer you are testing. If this is the incubator’s thermostat, and it is not matching, try to adjust the temperature “offset” or else adjust your incubator set temp to correct for the difference. Wait a while and retest until you get it in the range of 99.5 to 100.

That’s all I have to say about temps. Humidity is also important, we will discuss that in the next entry.

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Statistical probabilities with the blue egg gene

For a lot of my project birds, I am working with the blue egg gene to create blue or green eggs. A green egg is just blue, plus some brown color. This gene is tricky to work with for 2 reasons:

  • It is dominant – that means that a hen that lays a blue egg might only have 1 copy of the blue egg gene and so could make a chick that carries no copies.
  • The cockerels never lay eggs, so you can’t tell if they have even 1 copy of this dominant gene

Short of paying for a genetic test, the best I can do is to compute probabilities of having at least 1 copy of the gene. Because there seems to be a shortage of layer chicks this year, and the pullets that I am finished with from my Isabel Welbar project are such great layers, I decided to put them into my Opal Legbar pen. Until last week, there were 5 cockerels in there. Two are homozygous for the blue egg gene and the other 3 are hetereozygous. Some of the pullets lay olive eggs and some lay medium brown eggs, about half and half.

So, for all of us that loved word problems in high school math, here is a chance to apply that. Statistical probabilities are portions of 100%, and this is a binary possibility (lay green eggs or not). So, I’m going to compute the chance of getting non-green and subtract that from 100%.

60% of the fathers have 1 copy of the white egg gene (non-blue), they will have a 50% chance of passing that to their progeny, so the chance of getting a white egg gene from the father is 30% (.5 x .6). The chance of getting a white egg gene is 100% from the brown egg pullets and 50% from the green egg pullets. Given half of the pullets lay brown, the chance of getting a white egg gene for the mother is 75%. To lay a non-green egg, the chick must get a white egg gene from both parents (white is recessive to blue). So we multiply the 2 probabilities (.75 x .3) and get 22.5% (chance of non-green). Subtract that from 100% and we get a 77.5% chance of each chick laying a green egg.

On February 15, I removed the 3 Opal cockerels that have a copy of the white egg gene, leaving only the 2 that have 2 copies of the blue egg gene. It takes some time to ensure the hens are not retaining sperm from the removed cockerels, but once that passes, the probabilities change. Since only 1 copy of the blue egg gene is needed to turn the daughters eggs green, the chance of green eggs will go to 100% very soon.

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Genetic testing of chickens

I have started using a genetic testing laboratory in Florida to test some of my breeders for the blue egg gene. The process is easy, but not cheap, and results can be disappointing. This last batch I tested all 5 of my Opal Legbar cockerels and 2 of the best looking pullets. The entire flock was sired by a genetically tested cockerel that was homozygous for blue eggs, so the expected results were to get at least half the flock to test homozygous (meaning they have 2 copies of the blue egg gene and so will breed “true” for blue eggs).

Of the 3 cockerels, only 2 were homozygous. I have since removed the other 3 to the “bull pen” where extra roosters live. This means that soon, all the eggs I collect from the Opals will produce chicks that have at least 1 copy of the blue egg gene (and therefore lay blue eggs, as that trait is dominant over white eggs). The conclusion from all this is that starting in April, every Opal pullet chick that hatches will have a (nearly) 100% chance of laying blue eggs. I say nearly because is it possible for a pullet to store sperm from one of the removed cockerels for several weeks, but generally breeders observe that the more recent breedings take precedence over the older breeding, making this less and less likely as time passes.

Now, as for the 2 pullets, they both tested heterozygous. That means they will lay blue eggs (and they do), but half their offspring will inherit a gene for white eggs. This makes them less valuable as the genetic basis for future breeders, as all their offspring would need to be tested to see if they were homozygous.

In a week or 2, I will be sending off samples of other pullets to test. Once I identify 1 or more homozygous pullets, they can be paired with one of the 2 cockerels and will be the foundation of next year’s flock of all homozygous Opal Legbars.

Good breeding practices can be tedious and/or expensive, but it is necessary to advance the breeding of these exciting birds.

If you would like info about the lab that does the testing, their website is

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Locally bred and hatched poultry

Are you concerned that when you buy chicks some might turn out to be roosters? Very disappointing, and in most cases the seller is not going to help you with your problem. You can buy from us with confidence because we breed several different breeds that are easily sexable as chicks, and I will stand behind that by replacing (if I have a suitable replacement pullet) or refunding your money.

We can do this because we use the genetics of chick down color to show the sex of each chick as it hatches. With the autosexing breeds, the difference is substantial, making them sexable as soon as they are hatched. Read about our guarantee here

There are details about each breed we raise in the links above. All chicks will be vaccinated for Marek’s. Please read our page on vaccinations for information about caring for vaccinated chicks. Only chickens get Marek’s, so ducks, turkeys, guineas and quail are not vaccinated.

We try to keep the availability page sort of up to date, but this is a challenge as some go quickly. There is also a waiting list I can add you too, but honestly this is difficult to keep up with as well.

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Isabel Crele Welsummers

My highest priority project is to add the gene for lavender into my line of Gold Welbars. I am now on the F4 generation for this project and making good progress. Egg color has been lighter than I want, but this generation has started to come close to the color of the Welbar and Lavender Marans. This pic shows the darkest egg gathered in the last 3 days from 4 different breeds, left to right:

  • Isabel Crele Welsummer pullet (Gold Welbar + the lavender gene)
  • Lavender Marans
  • Crele Welsummer (Welbar)
  • Copper Marans
Eggs of various dark egg layers