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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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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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Some random tips

  • The dry dusty shavings you clean from your brooder is perfect fertilizer and mulch for your garden, shrubs, or lawn? I use the smallest grade of shavings (usually called “fine”) and then the used bedding sifts nicely into the grass.
  • Turkey and Peafowl both adore bread product. Don’t feed it in excess of course, but this is a great wayto hand tame them.
  • The weeds that start growing in late winter and early spring are terrific as a “spring tonic” for poultry. Chickweed is called that because it is beloved by chickens of all ages.
  • The best bulbs for brooding chicks are the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. They are increasingly hard to find due to government regulations, but I have found them at the bigbox stores (Lowes, Home Depot, etc) and also at Dollar Tree. Please do not use the heat lamp bulbs sold at farm stores, those a fire hazard indoors. I have a friend who lost their house when a brooder in their garage overheated.
  • A very handy device to adjust the heat in a brooder (and absolutely essential if you insist on using a heat lamp) is a Tabletop Lamp Dimmer.
  • Are your chicks wasting feed in those round feeders that screw onto jars? Cut as small strip of 1/2 inch hardware cloth and form it into a circle. Put it into the feeder to partially block the feed as it drop from the jar to slow it down. Chicks still get plenty to eat, but don’t wast as much feed.