Love’s Labour’s Lost

June 15, 2010

Every year our lone female goose Laila lays one egg and sits on it. Just one. I don’t pretend to have much of a background in goose husbandry (or mid-wifery, for that matter), but I’ve noticed that the local wild goose couples tend to roam around with at least half a dozen youngsters each. So I don’t understand why Laila produces just this one egg. What I do know is that she is very serious about her single egg.

In the past she’s laid the egg in a barn stall, cohabiting with Tetsuro our pig who is a notorious egg eater. The results have not been happy.

This year she had the incredible foresight to lay her egg in the pen where she, the other geese (her two boyfriends Dani and Spinner) and the ducks sleep. It’s a safe place. A good place to bring a baby into the world.

Now, at various points over the last 3 weeks she has co-opted a few duck eggs, which I have discretely removed, but leaving the precious (and enormous) goose egg under her soft, white belly. Dani, who assumes he is the father, has stuck around during the day, hissing at anyone who has come near Laila and her nest.

Laila is a White Chinese goose who came to us from Second Chance Wildlife;  they rescued her from the Rio’s lake in Gaithersburg, where she was slowly starving to death. It’s an unfortunate and common misconception that domestic waterfowl can be simply “left” on lakes and ponds. They can’t.

They are too heavy to fly, and thus cannot escape from predators; and they are not efficient (or smart) enough to forage appropriately for their own food. It’s a cruel fate.

So it seems a small price to pay to let Laila attempt a bit of maternal bliss. I’ve sniffed the egg several times over the last few weeks, trying to determine if a baby gosling was growing inside or if a fetid rottenness of unfertilized, overheated muck was about to explode. I came to no scientific conclusions, and thus let her continue on her mission. The girls who volunteer here searched the Internet and found that about 4 weeks was the time period for this egg to reach full maturity. That would have been about Wednesday of this week.

But yesterday I went to do the daily baby check and found Laila sitting on a mess of hay. No egg. Egg was gone. This is precisely the scenario that has played out every year since she has been here. I’m sure I both exaggerate and anthropormorphize when I say that I feel as disappointed as she surely does. And I wonder – what happened? What happens every year?

This goose, this lovely female goose who takes such care in building and tending to her nest, turning and pecking at the egg every few hours, leaving it only for 30 minutes each day to do go out for a walk, who protects and would likely die for the sake of this unborn egg, has somehow, in the eleventh hour, every year for the past four years, let her baby take a walk.

Or an unplanned detour down someone’s gullet.

As of this evening Laila is still in denial. She continues to sit on an eggless nest. Eventually she will leave it, and walk around the farm again with her friends. And no doubt the routine will begin again next spring, and we will all, once again, hope for a fertile egg that will reach maturity in a safe 28 days. But today, we mourn the loss of a baby who could have been, and a mother with empty wings.

Till next time,

Farmer Anne

Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3

A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats