Prepping for goslings to hatch

I never thought we would get this far since Pilgrim goose eggs are notoriously difficult to incubate, but right now I have five eggs that are five days out from hatching and all are showing signs of life! So, it’s time to set things up for hatchlings…

Some folks brood their baby poultry right in the house, but we prefer to keep them out in the garage. We have a set of metal shelves set up with plastic totes that Phil has modified by cutting out the top, making a wood frame around the opening, and attaching hardware cloth to protect the babies from any chipmunks or mice that might get into the garage and to protect them from the possibility of a brooder heat lamp falling onto them and burning them.

The shelves in this unit are made of heavy duty wire from which we can hang the brooder heat lamps. The shelves can be moved up and down if we need the lamps closer or further away than the cord will allow.

Last spring we brooded purchased ducks and goslings and found that large wood shavings were the best bedding in the brooder boxes.

However, for the first couple of days post-hatch, when goslings are still figuring out what food is, you don’t want them to have access to the wood shavings because they will eat them and develop an impacted crop. For that reason, I have covered the wood shavings with puppy pads which I will remove once the goslings are eating well.

I have purchased unmedicated starter crumbles for them.  It is imperative not to feed crumbles that have been medicated with amprolium to waterfowl. They consume a great deal more feed then chicks do and will receive too high a dose of amprolium. Besides that, they aren’t especially prone to coccidiosis, so there really is no need for medicated feed.

Commercially prepared feed is insufficient in niacin for waterfowl. Their legs will not develop correctly without supplementing with brewers yeast. Additionally, I have purchased some small packets of electrolytes and probiotics to get them off to a good start. After a few days, I will put out a little dish of chick grit for them and begin feeding them small amounts of chopped fresh herbs and grass.  I started various herb seeds in window boxes next to my catalpa tree seedlings:

There are differing strains of thought on the protein level that is best for goslings; we follow Metzer’s recommendation and keep the protein between 20-24%.

Finally, I washed up some little feeders and waterers and placed them on a small wire rack to elevate them slightly so that the goslings don’t kick their soiled bedding into their feed and water.

Today is Day 25 of 30, and we are all ready and waiting with bated breath to see if any babies will hatch on Wednesday next week!

Fighting Big Ag and Globo-Feed-Corp, Part I: plant Catalpa trees

One of my kids needed to grow something from seed for a science assignment, and she could earn extra credit if she planted a tree.  My husband’s second-favorite tree is the Catalpa; we had one growing behind our old house, but we don’t have any growing here on our 10 acres, so I suggested to her that we buy some Catalpa seeds. I was able to purchase a packet of 25 Catalpa seeds from TreeSeeds.com for just one dollar.

Catalpa speciosa (northern catalpa)

She planted them in peat pots that can go right in the ground when the weather is warm; germination has been over 80%!

Catalpa (or Catawba) trees are fast-growing and easy to grow from seed, but the Catalpa tree does not produce fruit or seeds that people or animals can eat, so how would it be fighting Big Ag to plant catalpa trees? Here is how:

First, honey bees will forage on the nectar from Catalpa tree leaves:

In his most recent post at Hawaiian Libertarian, Keoni writes about the smarmy marketing ploys of General Mills and other Big Ag/Big “Feed” companies, noting that:

“…genetically modifying crop plants to withstand inundation with pesticides and weed killing herbicides IS the primary purpose for GMO in the first place… and pesticide-herbicide laden GM corn is the primary source for most Feed ingredients in the processed food industry.

..,Much of the product portfolio of (General Mills) relies on the GM crops that require massive use of pesticides and herbicides that are undoubtedly playing a major role in killing off bee colonies nationwide.”

Planting Catalpas helps bees, but you can also fight Big Ag by eschewing their sugary breakfast cereals, replacing them with eggs, which leads me to the second important use for Catalpas.,,

Catalpa trees have historically become infested with Catalpa worms, which are really the Sphinx moth caterpillar, which ONLY eat Catalpa leaves but do not kill the trees:

Recent reports indicate a precipitous decline in Catalpa worm populations. Pesticides are one suspected cause of this decline.

Catalpa worms have always been prized as one of the best kinds of fishing bait. You can sell them to fisherman or use them yourself!

But not only that: chickens love Catalpa worms! And you can freeze them so that you’ll have Catalpa worms even after their season is done for the year. I am constantly trying to come up with alternative sources of feed for my chickens in order to reduce my need to purchase bags of feed. Though they can’t live on Catalpa worms alone, it’s still one more source of protein that I can harvest from my own land, which our free-ranging hens will turn into eggs with superior nutritional value.

I am fortunate to live near Dexter Mill, a small local feed mill that blends their own feed from locally-produced non-GMO ingredients. However, many people don’t and must rely upon Purina chicken feed.  And friends, Purina is now owned by Nestlé, and Nestlé has a global partnership with General Mills to use the Nestlé brand to market GM breakfast cereals in countries where people don’t tend to eat cereal for breakfast.  And so we are right back where we began, aren’t we.

There is literally no way to escape Big Ag/Big Food’s poisonous tentacles unless you produce every step of the chain right on your own land.  And who among us can do that?

But anyone can grow a Catalpa tree and feed the honey bees.  Anyone can use Catalpa worms to catch a fish or (if you keep poultry) supplement their chickens’ diet.

And everyone can do something to resist the Global Goliaths.

Incubation progress and dealing with detached air cells.

I’ve set up a second incubator full of Pilgrim goose eggs;

This has been my little surgery-recuperation spot, with a rocking chair, reading material and incubators close at hand.  Currently I am (finally) reading SJWs Always Lie, which I received as a birthday gift this year, as well as Storey’s Guide to Raising Turkeys, in anticipation of 15 Midget White poults due to arrive in June.

Also, Domestic Geese by Dr. Chris Ashton has been invaluable as I learn to hatch the notoriously challenging-to-incubate Pilgrims.

I purchased some extra Pilgrim eggs on eBay from a farm in Missouri.  Although the seller packaged them well, the post office seriously mishandled the box, crushing one side and breaking one of the eggs, which leaked all over.

Smashed Pilgrim egg in bubble wrap

The problem with this is that fertile eggs have an air cell within them that can be damaged if they are jarred and jostled too hard.  Though the remaining eleven eggs are not cracked, there’s little chance of them developing if the air cells are damaged.

Eleven eggs from another farm plus three from Abigail; our hope is to increase genetic diversity in our flock.

I have propped up the purchased eggs with the blunt end up in hopes of getting the air cells to repair themselves back at the top of the eggs.

Here is the progress on Abigail’s eggs that I put in the other incubator about 12 days ago:

You can see a well-formed and intact air cell at the top of the egg. The blood vessels in the developing chorioallantoic membrane are also visible.

It is still a longshot that we will actually be able to hatch any goslings, but so far everything is moving in the right direction with Abigail’s eggs.  Now that the weather is warming up, we have stopped collecting the eggs she is laying in hopes of enticing her to sit on a clutch and hatch them the old-fashioned way!

Training an aggressive gander to accept you as the alpha flock leader

I found an interesting thread on training geese on the Backyard Chickens forum.  Olive Hill, an experienced goose-raiser, shared the following comment:

One only needs to observe a gaggle of geese interacting with one another to know what they do and do not understand…Geese will understand if you get physical with them in the same way that they get physical with each other.

A goose fight almost always begins the same way. One goose, who either believes himself alpha to or wishes to be alpha to another, hands out discipline for a behavioral infraction. It may be that Goose A believed Goose B grazed too close to him, or Goose B may have walked between Goose A and his favorite mate. Whatever the infraction Goose A disciplines Goose B. This may be a nip, it may be a snaked neck and a wing spread, it may be a hiss. Whatever the discipline, Goose B has two choices: 1) He may accept it and obey by refraining from the behavior in question (and generally removing himself from Goose A’s immediate vicinity) or 2) he may challenge Goose A to exert his own dominance thereby proving his actions were not wrong — the dominant goose does as he pleases and therefore, if Goose B proves HE is, in fact, dominant, then his behavior was not punishable.

So let’s stop here and relate this to a human goose interaction. Say you have a Gander, who we will simply call Gander for the purpose of this exercise. You are weeding your flowerbed when Gander nips you. Here we have Goose A disciplining Goose B. This means that Gander either believes himself alpha to you or wishes to be alpha to you and has chosen this opportunity to try to exert that dominance. You have two choices. You can accept the discipline by not effectively reminding him of the true hierarchy of your relationship. Or you can put him in his place. Obviously we know the appropriate choice here. You need to challenge his discipline to determine, in no uncertain terms, that you are alpha to him.

So let’s go back to our goose on goose interaction. Goose B has decided that he will challenge Goose A’s discipline. What does he do here? He meets Goose A’s advance with an equal advance of his own. Usually this is the point in the interaction where wings begin to spread and necks snake. Goose B snakes his neck and spreads his wings at Goose A. This says “You may NOT discipline ME!”

So let’s go back to a human goose interaction at this point. This is why I always encourage people to spread their arms, posture and snake their neck as the first line of defense against an advancing Gander. This is what he understands as the first step in a challenge to him. This gives him the option to back down before the interaction must escalate to a physical one. Many, many, many ganders will stop right here. They are bluffers, those geese. They like to talk a big game, but are not often prepared to actually play the game they talk. But what if he doesn’t?

If Goose A decides not to back down when Goose B does not accept his discipline, this is the point at which their interaction gets physical. They will dance around at one another, much like boxers in a ring, until one sees an opening to grab the other by the base of the neck. Once one grabs on, they both grab on.

Now, it’s not really reasonable for you to be dancing around in a circle with a goose waiting for an opening to grab him by the base of the neck so you can beat the tar out of him with your “wings” (we’ll get to the beat the tar out of one another portion in a moment). It’s also not fair to the goose because you don’t have a base of the neck at his level onto which HE can grab. So what’s a goose owner to do? Look at what comes next in the goose to goose interaction.

Once they have ahold of one another, before the beating begins, what happens in this natural position? Their chests bump. Hard.

So what can you do that he will understand as the second step in a challenge? Bump his chest. Hard. This is also why blunt toed boots are excellent foot wear for chores. A good, hard chest bump tells the gander you will fight him over this. He understands it, it the normal progression in a challenge. It also mimics the natural dynamic between two geese as when you bump him, he will be tossed back a little bit, losing his ground to you. When two geese are bumping one another, it causes them to occasionally lose their grip on the opposing goose.

What happens if the chest bump isn’t sufficient? Do it again. It would truly be a rare gander that would escalate an interaction to the bump stage and then not follow through after just one bump. In a goose on goose fight they will repeatedly bump and push one another with their chests. I, personally, will bump up to five or six times before taking it further. This mimics their natural progression. It also gives him ample opportunity to rethink his actions.

But what if he doesn’t? What comes after the chest bump? Here’s where the goose on goose action gets ugly. What comes after chest bumping, to put it bluntly, is beating the ever loving poop out of one another with their wings. This can take a long time, is likely to result in many large bruises and sometimes only ends when one or both geese are literally so exhausted they cannot possibly carry on.

I do not recommend getting into a wing beating match with a goose. It will hurt. And the bruises will last for weeks. I have never been in a wing beating match with a goose but I have had to break up wing beating matches between geese and the size and severity of the bruises I can assure you are not worth engaging them in the exact language they speak. Instead, like the grabbing onto the base of the neck, we need to look just a little bit further in the fight to see what happens. Now, some goose fights resolve themselves during the wing beating match. Those are usually the less evenly matched fights. Your goose does not realize he is not evenly matched with you however, so it’s okay if we ignore those fights and focus on the fights that progress to the sheer exhaustion stage. In these fights the beating continues for what seems like forever, when one or both (usually both in an evenly matched fight) begins to tire it slows, they start throwing those chest bumps they used in the beginning back into the mix as it’s less taxing and eventually one goose will fully pin down the other. In essence, whichever goose is more exhausted ends up pinned — and therefore the loser. The pinning goes on for a few seconds to a minute, however long the winner feels like punishing the loser and then the loser is let up to tuck tail and run.

So if we skip the wing beating for our human-goose interaction, what we need to do is skip straight to the pinning. You can do this one of two ways, you can literally pin him to the ground or you can pick him up and hold him very firmly with an attitude of meaning business. Both accomplish the same thing. They immobilize the goose, with force, for an amount of time the goose has no control over. One thing to remember when doing this is the goose should be positioned to run from you when you set him down. So if you pin him on the ground, you should swing him around to face away from you.

And finally we have the victory lap stage. No matter how exhausting the fight, you will not see an alpha gander let a good beating go unacknowledged. He will spread his wings, stand tall, run to his gaggle and honk his head off about it. Now, your neighbors may find you quite amusing (and possibly insane) if you were to run around your yard honking with your arms spread out like wings. But you CAN mimic the effect by saying something aloud. I like “THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT!” in the retreating goose’s general direction for good measure. (note: I in no way guarantee this will exempt you from being seen as the neighborhood crazy. LOL!) But this is, of course, optional. Though a good touch, I must say.

So, to recap. In a goose on goose interaction, you have:

The Discipline — Can manifest in many ways.
The Challenge — Usually snaked necks and spread wings
The Dance
The Neck Grab
The Chest Bumping
The Wing Beating
The Exhaustion
The Pinning
The Retreat (for the loser)
The Victory Lap (for the winner)

For human to goose interactions, we can cut the list down:

The Discipline — Can manifest in many ways. Any unacceptable behavior by a goose should be interpreted as this step.
The Challenge — Snake your neck, spread your wings, posture over him, hiss for good measure.
The Chest Bumping — Remember: it’s a rare goose who will give up after just one. Give him 3 – 6 bumps to change his mind.
The Pinning — Grab the neck, turn the goose away from you and pin him with force. Either on the ground or in your arms. Hold.
The Retreat (for the loser) — This is why you turned him away from you. Set him up for success, give him a clear retreat path.
The Victory Lap (for the winner) — Optional. I guess.

I found her comment interesting because it perfectly describes the interactions with Uncle Waldo that I’ve had.  I’ve clearly let him get away with challenging me and winning, so he naturally believes himself to be alpha to me.  Our youngest daughter, on the other hand, chases him around whenever he comes around her snaking his neck; she just found it entertaining to chase him, but it turns out it was exactly the right thing to do.  And Phil’s “playing baby” is analogous to “the pinning,” which is why Uncle Waldo never challenges him.

Since I have only one gander, I was curious about Olive Hill’s gander-to-gander dominance interaction, and I found a short video of a gander fight which perfectly exemplifies her description:

And just for laughs:

Pilgrim Gosling Hatch-a-Long

Pilgrim geese, as I’ve mentioned before, are “sex-linked”,  which means right from hatching you can tell the males from the females based on color. Here you can see Uncle Waldo and Abigail as newly hatched goslings:

Abigail is dark gray: Uncle Waldo is lighter grey with more yellow in his fuzz.

Here is Abigail today, standing next to a Rouen duck:

She has made a good-sized nest out of straw in the duck-n-goose house:

The ducks have been sneaking into her nest to drop some of their eggs.  But ducks seem to be a lot less picky than chickens; whereas the chickens will only lay in their nesting boxes, the ducks have been dropping their eggs any old place.

We have 4 duck breeds: our light weights are Indian Runners, our medium weights are Buffs and Crested Whites, and our heavy-weights are Rouens.  You can see how much bigger Abigail’s eggs are than the ducks’:

By way of comparison, here you can see an extra large chicken egg, one of the medium weight duck eggs, and the Pilgrim goose egg:

Because we are having a cold snap with temperatures well below freezing right now, Phil has been collecting Abigail’s eggs every day and storing them in a wire basket in the basement where it is about  60°F.   If they are kept cool but not cold, out of direct sunlight, and turned over every day, the eggs will stay viable for several weeks.

We had been thinking that next week when temperatures come back up, we would return Abigail’s eggs to her nest. But now I have decided to incubate four of them all the way through hatching and let Abigail lay a new clutch of eggs to sit on.   From what I have read, Pilgrim geese are not the most skilled at hatching their own eggs

One of my co-workers had a couple of egg incubators she wasn’t planning to use anymore, so she gave them to me.  The model I am using is a Lyon Turn-X by GQF:

This model allows me to control the temperature and humidity and has an automatic turner that rolls the eggs 180 degrees every hour so I don’t have to remember to turn them myself.

In 7 days we will candle the eggs, and if this clown…

…has been doing his job, we SHOULD see this:

The dark spot is the developing embryo. Image from Backyard Chickens goose forum

If NOT, then we’ll see this:

Check back in seven days to learn how the Uncle Waldo saga ends!

Forum threads of interest: http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/658057/picture-journey-of-my-goose-egg-incubation-awesome-all-pics-in-first-post-easy-to-see

http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/472851/dewlap-exhibition-toulouse-incubation-diary-with-pics-hatch-day

Our duck and goose house and yard setup.

We’re getting lots of nice starter-sized duck eggs now, despite the shortening days:image

We also got our first goose egg:

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Ducks and geese don’t need nesting boxes like chickens do. They’ll just dig a little depression in the straw in the corner of their house.  I suspect some of them are also laying their eggs in the reeds around the pond, though I haven’t yet found any.

I thought it might interest some readers to see our current duck and goose yard setup.

In the middle of the yard is a hugelkultur herb and vegetable bed around which I’m slowly building a lashed fence made from tree branches I harvest from our woodlands:

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Spent straw bedding is used for mulch in the garden bed.

We had grand duck house dreams but ran out of time and had to settle for repurposing a Rubbermaid storage shed for now:

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We removed the plastic windows and replaced them with hardware cloth. A bungee-corded fan helps with ventilation.

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The rabbit hutch is also in the duck yard:

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The duck yard is not covered, but does have an 8-foot fence around it. The bottom four feet are hardware cloth to prevent raccoons from reaching through and grabbing sleeping ducks.

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There is a semi-dwarf peach tree that provides shade and fallen fruit for the ducks and geese. In turn, their droppings fertilize the tree.

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We took a second piece of hardware cloth and attached it to the bottom  of the fence and made a skirt on the ground that extends out several feet. We then let the grass grow up through that hardware cloth skirt. This discourages digging predators from getting into the duckyard..

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We also strung two strands of hot wire, one at four feet and one at the top to discourage climbing predators:

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We have a large earthen pond…image

…directly behind the duck yard:

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Uncle Waldo, our Pilgrim gander

The duck eggs we are currently getting are about the size of a large chicken egg:

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Three brown chicken eggs and one white duck egg

I was uncertain about how cooking duck eggs might be different, so I followed Carol Deppe’s directions:

I use a heavy pan, which is covered and off the heat for the last part of the cooking. I scramble the eggs, adding a little salt, cayenne pepper, and oregano. (You can add milk if you want. I don’t.) I start the cooking on medium-high and stir the eggs with a spatula a few times initially until they start chunking up. When I have mostly big chunks of egg dispersed in some remaining liquidy egg, I turn the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook 2–3 minutes—until the eggs are lightly brown on the bottom. Then I use a spatula to turn the eggs over in spatula-sized sections, then cover the pan, remove it from the heat, and leave it for 3–5 minutes to finish cooking the other side of the eggs. I end up with sort of hamburger-patty-like slabs of eggs. These make great leftovers, hot or cold, and make good sandwiches or finger food.

I started with two duck eggs:image

Added the seasonings:

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The whites are thicker and stickier than chicken eggs

And used my trusty cast iron skillet that we’ve had for 25 years:

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Served on a slice of fresh sourdough bread with a few remaining cherry tomatoes from the pot on the balcony:

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The duck eggs tasted richer and did not have that “chickeny” flavor. Yummy!

 

Dealing with an injured goose bill

We like to let the geese free range around the fruit trees because they eat bugs and graze on weeds, but our gander, Uncle Waldo, just loves to eat the bark off our orchard saplings.   Since this kills the trees, we put some chicken wire around the saplings. This turned out to be a mistake which we have since rectified; however, we didn’t fix it before Uncle Waldo stuffed his big bill through the chickenwire in an attempt to get at that tempting bark, freaked out when he got stuck, and yanked his head up and back:

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Geese’s bills are actually rather soft and the chickenwire sliced right to the bone:

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Off to Dexter Animal Clinic we went, with Uncle Waldo in a dog crate honking dejectedly for his mate, Abigail, who was running about the yard in a tizzy, calling for Waldo, while the quacking ducks ran along behind her.

Protip: a wire dog crate is NOT the ideal way to transport a goose, as they spray poo out of their vent like a fire hose when they are scared.  Luckily we had put a plastic tarp around him.

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We weren’t sure if the vets would be familiar with treating geese, but Dr. Anna, a charming young British veterinarian, put us at ease right away with the knowledgeable way she handled Uncle Waldo.  This clearly wasn’t her first goose rodeo.

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She had Phil hold him in a towel to prevent poo spraying:

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And then proceeded to clean his bill thoroughly with a cotton ball and iodine, soothing our worried nerves by distracting us with commentary about the kind of “gayce” they have in England:

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She used a cotton swab to clean inside the sliced portion of his beak while chatting with him softly in her charming English accent, “Alright then, old man, here we go…”

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She showed us that the slice had gone down to the bone but wasn’t as bad as other damaged bills she’s seen.  She trimmed away the dead tissue with a little scalpel and then used surgical glue to fix him up:

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Uncle Waldo is about nine weeks old and weights 9.1 pounds:image

An injection of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and pain reliever was next; good old Uncle Waldo was such a trooper!

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Dr. Anna said the bill will not regrow but that granulation tissue will form and fill in pretty well around the injury.  Until then, Uncle Waldo must remain quarantined in the duck yard, which means the whole flock must remain there as they won’t willingly leave Uncle Waldo.

We had hoped to enter Uncle Waldo and Abigail in the Chelsea Community Fair; we thought they were a shoo-in for a ribbon given how rare Pilgrim geese are (the Livestock Conservancy lists them as critically endangered).  Alas, his days as a show goose are over before they began:

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However, he’ll still make excellent breeding stock.  We plan to breed and sell Pilgrim geese so as to do our part in saving the breed from extinction.

Uncle Waldo has a ten-day course of oral antibiotics now.  Dr. Anna explained to us how to crush the pill, dissolve it in warm water, and inject the antibiotic solution down his throat with a syringe; a goose’s windpipe is right at the back of their tongue in the center, so to give an oral medication, you must open their bill and insert the syringe down the side of their mouth a few inches into the esophagus.  I haven’t been able to get any pictures of us doing this yet, but I will try to and will add them when I can.

After we got home and Uncle Waldo had reunited with the frantic Abigail and resumed his place as Head of the Flock, I treated everyone to a big bowl of blueberries and cantaloupe, which I dumped into their little swimming pool for them to enjoy rooting out:

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It was a harrowing day but all in all Uncle Waldo is one lucky gander!