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various photos of the farm

Garden by garage early summer

garden next to the garage late summer

I love sunflowers

The road into our farm.  Deep into summer.

first baling in the hayfields, mid summer

Upper pastures, mid summer

the old orchard in winter

view from the entry gate, winter

view out my window in winter

plum tree in spring

cast of charectors

            The Primary People of the Farm

Patty: (that's her when she was about 16 with her Grammy)  now 85 yr old mom of Bob, Chris and me. She has lung cancer & Alzheimer’s and used to be in hospice until she stabilized. 

I am her "offical" caregiver here, but keeping her at home is accomplished thru the combined effort of all of us. Without the stipend, emergency funds and my time and energy, there is no way we could have ever been able to keep her home. 
She is mostly housebound but takes a certain delight in watching as I learn how to farm. Now and then she remembers something from her farm days, amazing me & usually helping me out too. 

When a young hen surprised me by running around backwards, head dangling between it’s legs & crashing into walls, she said, “Oh. It has limber-neck.”  And sure enough- that is exactly what it had.   So, I was able to doctor it back to health by isolating it and supplying Epsom salts in water for it to drink. Things like that just pop up in her mind at critical times. 


She bought the farm to retire to about 20 years ago. She was a muralist and artist in St Louis for many years- you can see her work still on the ceiling of St Louis University Library as well as at the Lynch Street Bistro.


Bob: Oldest and only son of Patty. He is an organic chemist and has a wife and 2 grown girls. After years of buying geese for the holiday meals he came up with the idea of raising them here at the farm.  But he lives a busy life traveling full time for his work. Somehow, he convinced me it was a good idea. So apparently he is also a good salesman. 

For Christmas he gave me a real shepherd's crook.  Something I never
thought I would want until I had to round up the geese for transport this fall. Well, think about  it.  How would you catch a 20lb, flapping, honking, biting goose?


Chris: Middle daughter who has a husband, grown son and daughter. Having worked together throughout our childhood, she's easy to work with.  Chris tends to go along with just about any construction idea I come up with for the farm, jumping into the thick of it and doing the math for me.  She gifted me with a set of cordless drill and circular saw.  I loved it. Best invention since a Shepherd's crook.

I don’t know why I torment her with a sink full of dirty dishes whenever she comes to visit, but it might have something to do with her tormenting me with boxes of books stored here. 

And then there’s me, Connie 
The youngest and the one living at the farm with the geese and Patty. My current life is all about putting the farm into production (in order for it to at least pay for itself) and caring for the mom- while simultaneously trying to figure out how to keep being a landscape designer. I have no idea what to say about all this.......but I believe in what I'm doing here and have strong convictions about the animals and land. Every now and then I talk myself off a ledge and try to remember that people rarely ever get to have this much of an adventure in their life time.  So, to relax and have fun with it all.

And besides,  I really love raising geese.  Here's my morning ritual... what's not to love?  

The Primary Animals of the Farm:



                                                 The Geese

                                 (Geese are very curious and intelligent)

There isn't anything that my geese won't inspect.  They tore out the exposed wires on my riding mower for a closer look at the engine.  They ripped out screens from the patio doors. Then ran screaming in terror when the door itself fell off it's tracks on to them.  They took the caps off of all the gas cans. Removed the weed barrier in my garden along with the 6 inch staples that kept it in place. The handles of my garden tools were removed and played with and pecked into little chunks.  Any nursery plants not immediately planted had all their leaves eaten off, then were tugged out of their pots and had all their root hairs nibbled off.  As a final insult, their remaining stems were shredded and tossed around the yard.  The little rubber nubs on my Welcome Mat were each carefully pinched off. A broom was dismantled. Bungee cords cut in two. Frogs were ... well, they were amusing until they stopped jumping. 

While I was fixing a board in their barn one day I was surrounded by 32 curious adult geese, straining to also see what I was looking at.  Ignoring them, I squatted to get to the board and was immediately pinched on the butt.  I reached thru my legs to swat the offender off, but when I did that, another pulled my hair.  When I looked up to swat the hair-puller away, the one behind me pinched my butt again. I sat down in goose poop laughing. 

They are social birds who graze upon pastures

Many people are surprised to learn that geese are grazers.  I think that since we associate them with water, we assume that they eat fish.  But our domestic geese are strictly vegetarians, preferring clover and grasses over anythng else.  Geese learn to eat other things by watching each other. After one finally tried a new food, then the rest ofthe flock will eat it too. Grains, oats and corn are favorites of our geese. 

When our apples are ripe, they feast on those and the pears as well. During the winter, my breeders enjoy picking through the lawns for any leftover greenery during the days & dining upon sweet potatos, carrots, heads of cabbage and any kitchen scraps I have in the evenings.  I never cut up their fruits or vegetables because it's more fun for them to play with their food and throw it around.

They bond to the first animal they see upon hatching.  

Belle is not only their guardian, but they see her as their "mom" as well.  I have never seen her be aggresive towards any of the geese, except for once. I had to cover my mouth to stifle laughing at her frustration with them. 

Geese can be very persistant & annoying as a flock.  On a hot summer day I watched as they, once again, first drained Belle's water bucket before heading for their own pools and watering buckets. This happened even as she laid with her entire body around the bowl, passively protecting it from them. 

I had marveled in the past at how much patience she shows them.  They would not only drink all of her water and lay in her dog house, they'd groom her as well. Pulling large tufts of white fur from her until she would resignedly get up and move away to a goose-free patch of grass.  I have to remember to build her an elevated place to lay.
Well, this was the last time they stole water from her, because she jumped to her feet and barked loudly right in ther faces.  Three times. Kind of an "I ob-ject!" bark, that had them stumbling and scurrying from her, wings flapping. I couldnt laugh out loud, because I never want to encourage her being exasperated with them and also didnt feel as though she should be corrected as she had every right to claim her water bowl. 

      The secondary animals of the farm:

Belle  A Great Pyrenees LGD (Livestock Guardian Dog) rescued after being abandoned in the Ozarks. She protects the geese from predators like coyotes, roaming dogs and hawks.  She earns her weight in kibble every day. Video of her getting ready to go to work in the morning:

Once I got her home, I had to have her shaved because her matting was so bad.  This is what a Pyrenees looks like under all that fur.  Who knew they were polka dotted?  I couldn't believe this was Belle when I went to pick her up at the groomers.  Unfortunately it was a very long & cold spring.  And without her fur she got chilled easily.
So I gave her one of my sweaters.

Bosco An English Cocker Spaniel trained in Rally O and agility.  A bit sharp and snarky.  My constant companion. Energetic and lots of fun.
He loves winter.
He love summer.

Ted An English Springer Spaniel adopted from the Anti Cruelty Society in Chgo.  He spends a lot of time sleeping or perched on a high point to oversee the farm yard.
Or searching out volunteers to rub his tummy.

Annabelle An American Cocker Spaniel, adopted from Franklin County Humane Society in Mo.  Sugar sweet but a bit predatory with birds. I know, she's looking at her butt.

My blind "Cur Dog", snatched off the highway.  Possibly the nicest dog in the world.  Now I think everyone should have a blind dog.  They teach you about patience and bravery.

KitKat  My black cat who likes to go for rides to town in the the truck. Acts like a dog.  Thinks he's a panther. Everyone tries to steal him... from the vet to my sister.  He'll stand up to any goose as long as there is a fence between them.

Beast One of my two ganders (male goose) who has a harem of three geese; Beauty & two others and is also in love with Belle, the LGD.  He preens her & vibrates his neck against her- a sure sign of love for a goose.

Gustav  My other breeder gander who has one mate, GiGi (Gustav's Girl) and thinks I'm his mom.  He cant help it.  Geese are just hardwired to think that whoever they see first upon emerging from their shell, is their momma.

RIR's  My flock of Rhode Island Red Chickens; one rooster who will probably die young & end up in a stew pot because he's so mean and 10 hens who lay beautiful brown eggs that I eat every day, toss to the dogs for additional fresh protien and sell to the pie baker & my mom's hairdresser.

Guineas  Possibly the world's dumbest birds.  I started out with a total of 29 and now have 6.  I expect to have to  replenish the flock every year.  They keep ticks down and do a good job of it, but lay their eggs in the grass tufts that grow in the driveway.  Here they are trying to figure out how to get back together. 


Gone but not forgotten:
Jack Best farmdog ever!  Died in an unfortunate farm accident.  He was my mom's friend Mary's dog before he was ours. After she died we took him & Pickle on since they were used to being outdoor country dogs.  He was tough as nails but also made little nuck-nuck lovey sounds in your ear.  The night after he died the coyotes were howling under my bedroom windows- reclaiming their territory.  

Pickle  Jack's companion and also another of Mary's dogs.  Sadly she died soon after Jack did.  She was a pit-bull mix who had some fighting issues, but was always up for a hug and snuggle. Her favorite time was when I'd sit with one arm around her on the back porch step. Great companion.  Everyone loved Pickle.

                                    Just Passing Through                                           

Roaming Bloodhound
He followed his nose down to our valley and stayed for a few days til his owner came and got him.  All he wanted to do was sit in my lap.  Or howl.
Carlos  Enjoying another meal (oh boy, more food!) three months into his rescue.  Gaining weight nicely. Growing his fur back. I scraped him off the highway at 7.5 lbs of pathetic, dying, hairless mess.  He had white and tan fur patches and pink and black skin.  Double teeth.  Fleas and mites and ticks. What a mess.  We had no idea what he was... maybe a chichuahua mix?  So, I named him Carlos.
 Ooops, not a Chihuahua.  But a standard, sable and white, pure bred 22 lb Rat Terrier with an intact tail.  This is about 9 months into his rescue.  Handsome boy. Rowdy & loveable troublemaker.
And here he is, all healthy and trained & ready for his new home!  He lives in Mn now with his new owners who love our little devil dog. 

winter time plans

My name is Connie Cunningham and I used to be a landscape designer in Chgo... now I raise geese on our farm in Missouri.  I went from tending gardens organically to raising geese conscientiously.  What was I thinking? 

Well in all honesty, these two occupations aren’t that different really; gardening and farming.  To be a landscaper in Chicago was a lot like being an ‘urban’ farmer.  The spring, summer and fall months were busy with extreme workloads & dictated by the weather.  The winter months were times of rest and planning for the next year. 

I find that I’m living the same "rhythm" here that I did in Chgo.  And now I am in that familiar "winter planning mode" again. I am thinking about next spring's goslings, next summer’s pastures, additional fences & guardian dogs and the holiday geese that I will be able to take to market. 

People around here thought I was joking when I told them I planned on raising geese,  waiting for a punch line to follow. Earlier this year I had a classroom full of farmers look slightly puzzled when it came my turn to stand up, introduce myself and explain what livestock I raise. I have become used to yelling "Geese!" over the phone, only to be misheard as yelling something about "Beef!" 

I have been warned by the old timers around here that a goose can break my forearm with its wing if it wants to.  And now, from total strangers,  I anticipate their personal horror stories about how "Grammas’ pet goose" would bite hard enough to draw blood. It seems like everyone out here has one of those to tell me.  Yet, no one even owns a singular goose anymore..... much less 200 of them.

What I have learned is that no one expects anyone to say that they raise geese in Missouri.  Cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys... even buffalo and elk are all expected.  But not geese.  And I now know why everyone's Grandma had a beloved pet goose out in her farm yard. 

They are companions.  Possesive of their special human, they run full tilt to greet you with as much enthusiasm and honking excitement as you can just about stand. If you think coming home to a dog is an experience, you should try coming home to a goose.  They are also your ever present, curious shadows as you work in your yard.  They are deeply concerned with your comings and goings.
And they are pretty sure that you belong to them, not the other way around.

And then again, a goose will walk indignantly off with a hateful hiss over its shoulder should anyone else come near you.   But there is loyalty and affection in geese. They seem to thoughtfully "consider" you through very sober, very deep blue eyes.  



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January 2009


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