Eddie Drew of Copsewood Farm, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow has an eleven-year-old gander called Gilbert.Christmas is coming and Gilbert the goose is getting fat, but he definitely isn’t going to be eaten – this year or any year.
Gilbert is a cross-bred goose – his father was a Chinese goose, and his mother was a classical white Embden goose. is He is the self-appointed patriarch of a small flock of seven geese on Eddie’s. Eddie keeps the geese partly for ornamental reasons – they add a traditional touch to his farm, which is open to the public – and partly for their functionality.
The geese carry out three jobs in a highly effective manner.
Firstly, they keep the grass short by grazing. Eddie has several small lawns on his small holding, but he never needs to get the lawn mower out. The geese are busy trimming the grass on his behalf, seven days a week. Unlike some other herbivores (like goats), geese don’t eat every plant within range, so they can be let loose in a garden without risking the destruction of favourite new plants. There are downsides to geese– they tend to leave messy deposits in their wake – but they do manage to maintain neat and tidy lawns, all year round. Eddie needs to give them supplementary feeding of wheat and crushed oats, especially in the winter, but the grass is an essential part of their diet.
The second job that Gilbert and his team carry out highly effectively involves security. Eddie’s farm includes an aviary and pet shop that are open to the public, and there is a risk of burglars and other unwanted intruders. At the close of business, Eddie releases his flock of geese to roam freely, and they are better than any electronic or human monitoring and defence system. If there are unexpected visitors, the geese raise a deafening chorus of hoots and hisses, which alerts
Eddie up in the farm house. If an intruder was bold enough to try to slip past the gang of geese, they would find themselves in physical danger. The geese launch themselves at people in a terrifying way.They don’t present a risk to human life, but they can inflict unpleasant pain and minor injuries. Eddie tells me that the most
common consequence is a nasty bruise on the back of the leg, and he doesn’t need to explain why it is always the back of the leg that is bitten. With a flapping, hissing, goose rushing towards you, the only rational option is to turn and run. In the spring time, when the geese are breeding, they can become even more dangerous, using their wings to beat off strangers as well as battering them with their beaks.
Unlike other poultry, like hens and turkeys, Eddie’s geese don’t need to be locked up at night for protection against roaming foxes: they are well able to look after themselves. Eddie keeps his geese behind closed doors when the public are on his farm, but the birds are friendly and calm with people that they know. For most of their lives, the birds stroll contentedly around the farmyard while Eddie and his family go about their daily business. They are easy birds to herd, and they are very well behaved unless irritated by strangers.
Gilbert himself is not directly involved in the third role performed by the geese: egg production. The female geese start to lay eggs around the end of February, and they continue to produce a daily egg throughout the spring, until Eddie decides to allow them to become broody. At that point, he starts to allow the eggs to accumulate on the nest. Once a batch of sixteen or more eggs have gathered, the goose starts to sit on the eggs, and a month later, Eddie’s farmyard is blessed with a batch of noisy goslings.
Goose eggs are known for being a culinary delicacy – chef Marco Pierre White has a recipe that uses them with double cream to produce delicious scrambled eggs – but Eddie doesn’t use the eggs for cooking. Instead, he uses them as a highly nutritious supplement to feed his monkeys. Eddie is passionate about animals, running an aviary and petshop as side-shoots to his farm. His squirrel monkeys live in a large outdoor enclosure, adding an exotic touch to his traditional Irish farmyard.
Eddie has been fascinated by birds since he was given a couple of fan-tailed pigeons by a friend when he was a teenager, and his farm has allowed him to develop bird-keeping into a business. As well as the geese, his current poultry population includes hens, ducks and peacocks. He also has smaller, more exotic birds, in the form of hand-reared parrots, budgies, canaries and finches that he keeps in aviaries. And to complete his range of livestock, he has rabbits,guinea pigs, rats, mice, hamsters and chinchillas.
His birds and animals are a passion, but they have become his means of earning a living too. He runs his farm on weekdays, and he opens the pet shop and aviaries on weekends and bank holidays.
Copsewood Aviaries is just off the N11 at Kilmacanogue, if you want to meet Gilbert and the rest of the geese.