An Unconventional Easter


It would be fair to say that I didn’t have a typical Christian Easter weekend.

Now, my neo-pagan self and my proud atheist partner saw great value in four days off, whatever the reason, and we had a heap of stuff to get done. We started off with a Good Friday family barbecue, complete with plenty of meat. We spent Saturday moving furniture. Then came Sunday…

I don’t think it mentions slaughtering geese anywhere in the Bible. I don’t know for sure, because I’ve never read it. But that was what I did on Easter Sunday. No chocolate eggs, or buns. Just a feather-plucking extravaganza that involved my whole hand inside a goose.

Killing does not agree with me. I can’t really bring myself to eat on a day where I have butchered poultry. And the smell of bird gets in my nostrils and won’t leave. But after a couple of days when I was able to try it, the goose soup was really good. We’ve got a nice 1.8kg bird in the freezer to roast at some point too.

It’s the time between catching the bird and it being definitely dead that I find the hardest. In those short minutes, restraining, positioning and dispatching the bird, it is an animal welfare issue. You must not hesitate, you must keep going until the bird is properly dead. Do it quickly and cleanly. This is most difficult when you haven’t done many, and you don’t know what it will feel like, or how badly your hands will shake. But once that bird is dead I can relax.

The geese ideally should have been done a couple of weeks earlier. One was full of pin feathers (beginnings of new feathers, still forming inside the skin) and impossible to pluck cleanly. So with some help from a YouTube video, I skinned him instead. Later I filleted him and made him into soup. The other goose was easier to pluck, with very few pin feathers, and looked very nice with his skin still on. A quick going-over with the chef’s blowtorch (usually used for the tops of creme brulee) got rid of the last of the down and the strange hairs that they also have.

So two excess ganders became a nice big roast and 1kg of lean meat. The frame of the filleted bird became stock. They turned out to be surprisingly lean. The meat is slightly gamey, somewhere between free-range chicken and beef. You can’t buy that stuff in the shops.

Geese 'before' - with feathers but without heads

Geese ‘before’ – with feathers but without heads

Geese 'after' - a neat roasting bird and bowl of meat.

Geese ‘after’ – a neat roasting bird and bowl of meat.

Onto Easter Monday, when I found my dear Lucy goat looking pretty sad. I had been nursing her for just over a week with what started off as scours and changed into something else. She was off her food, hardly pooping and generally not her boisterous self. When the others went off down the paddock she would park herself in the shed. I treated her with a course of antibiotics and some pain meds, but when she began to pass the lining of her digestive tract, I knew it was game over. Intestinal accident, impaction, one of those things.

I made the call to the vet clinic and arranged to meet the vets there later in the day. My big, stoic girl stood up all the way there in the float and didn’t flinch when the vet clipped her neck. I brought her home to bury her. A giant doe needs a very big hole, and we were digging until well after dark. But Monday finally ended with Lucy neatly buried and her purple collar passed onto her daughter Meredith. Oh, how the farmyard is empty without my great spotty girl. And how I miss her big head appearing under my arm, her neck stretching up and eyes half closed in anticipation of the scratches she so politely demanded from anybody who stood still long enough. Safe journey, Tarra Bulga Lucinda, and thank you for your milk, your lovely daughter and granddaughter, and your kind and gentle presence over the past four years.

Lucy in her trademark position, asking for scratches

Lucy in her trademark position, asking for scratches

On Tuesday, with all of these events still pretty raw, I walked into what would be another fairly crappy day at work. My New Forest Pony mare, Starbelle, was close to foaling and I was trying not to think about that too much. I sold my stallion last year and my two younger mares who I bred to him both lost their foals. Starbelle had run with him in the off-season, leading to what felt like the longest equine pregnancy ever, but which I couldn’t attach a due date to. I have never had a foal born this late in the season. Until now Rusty was the latest, born on January 11th.

I wasn’t worried about Starbelle foaling while I was at work. She has had eight foals before this one, all born in the dark except for Zanzibharr who was born at dusk in November, so about 8pm. I left work at 4pm, made a couple of stops on the way home, and pulled up to the house to find a mare whose water had just broken…

I had just enough time to change into farm clothes and grab my phone. When I got back to the foaling yard there were front feet and a head clearly visible. I gave a little bit of assistance with the shoulders, as these babies do tend to get their front ends jammed up on the way out. Out came a bay foal with not a white hair on it. The pretty face suggested filly, but I had to be sure. Once the mare had got up I checked and found… girl parts! A nuggety plain bay filly, the image of her sire, right down to the whorl of hair on her neck. Being Easter (or at least close enough) I chose Ostara for her registered name, to be known as Zara. She follows siblings Tess, Ziggy, Zena, Zebadee, Zev and Zanzibharr. And Lola the hermaphrodite. My five remaining pure Forest ponies are Starbelle and four of her offspring. I need to get them out there doing something.

Elcarim Ostara, with mum River Valley Starbelle

Elcarim Ostara, with mum River Valley Starbelle

After losing the other two foals, it was such a relief to see this little one come out as she should. She will most likely be the last foal I breed, and will hopefully find a home where she can contribute to the breed in the future. She is the filly foal I always wanted from my best mare, and has cemented within me the fact that I am no longer dedicated to ponies.

That was my Easter 2013.