People: Goose herder T.M. Weddle

October 25, 2004|HERB BROCK

LIBERTY - Honk if you hate geese. I know you can't hear it, but I'm pressing that New Year's Eve party noisemaker of a horn on my little Focus as hard as I can.

My hatred of the feathery beasts with an attitude dates back to a visit my family and I made to Natural Bridge State Resort Park more than a decade ago. In addition to the rock bridge, another big attraction is a beautiful pond in front of the lodge. The pond became the scene of an ugly confrontation early in our visit.

I was strolling around the pond when I spotted a big gray goose and a little group of goslings. I went up to take a closer look at the family. Mother goose was not pleased. In fact, she started flapping her huge wings and honking. That startled me. She then started chasing me. That frightened me.


I'm no track star, but I thought I could at least outrun the fat, mad momma. I neglected to transmit that thought to my rear end or my feet. Before I knew it, the goose had nibbled at my ankles and bitten my butt.

For more than 10 years I've harbored this hatred of geese. I have suffered from goosephobia. I even leave any room where I hear someone reading a book of Mother Goose stories to little kids. I've had to restrain myself from slapping the book out of the reader's hands and telling the little ones that those stories actually are horror tales about an animal as evil as Godzilla.

But the other day T.M. Weddle Sr. did his best to help me hear Mother Goose stories without going postal.

Weddle, 71, is a farmer in the Liberty area. He has raised 59 crops of tobacco - "the one coming up may be my last, because of that federal buyout" - and also hay and beef cattle on his own 260-acre farm and the 200-acre farm owned by his wife, Betty Lou Weddle. Both farms are on U.S. 127, south of Liberty.

Weddle raises geese for pleasure.

Since 1986, he has been caretaker of a flock on his wife's farm. The geese hang out year-round near a pond and a couple of barns.

It's clear the geese are much more than livestock and he's much more than a goose herder.

Geese greeting

The very sound of Weddle's pickup triggers an immediate response. The geese start honking and flapping their wings - yes, I winced - and then they run in frenzied fashion to the gate to greet their dad.

The flapping and honking grows more intense as Weddle scoops into a big bag of corn kernels, fills the scoop and then spreads it on the ground. Clouds of white and gray feathers swiftly swirl around him, big orange beaks pecking madly at the barely visible ground below.

"They love the corn I give them first thing every morning, and I think they kind of like me, too," said Weddle.

Their love affair with Weddle and his corn began in 1986. That's when his father-in-law, Ott Brown, died. Weddle's wife inherited Brown's farm, and Weddle inherited his geese.

"He had two or three geese who stayed here all year long. He fed 'em and took care of 'em," said Weddle. "I just picked up where he left off."

And then some.

"I now have 72 geese, but who's counting," he said with a laugh.

As Weddle attempts to extract himself from the meal-time mayhem, several geese follow.

"Look at this," he says. "Halt!"

On command, all 12 immediately plant their webbed feet in perfect unison.

"Look at 'em. They stopped like a line of soldiers responding to an officer's order," he said with a big grin and a sense of satisfaction known only to drill sergeants and obedience trainers.

Watching them is the fun part

But Weddle enjoys observing his geese a lot more than barking orders to them.

"I love to watch 'em," he said, looking at his now well-fed flock as it splits into different, smaller groups for post-breakfast activities, like preening, prancing and playing.

"What's really fun to see is them following each other like sheep. Now, they'll break into their little groups, but when one of them, for whatever reason, heads off somewhere, there the rest of them are, right behind him, heading in the same direction."

Weddle looks forward to spring when there is a lot to observe, including mating and birthing.

"Mating time in early spring is very, very active," he said. "It's a great time to be a gander (male goose). They're outnumbered by the (female) geese by a lot, and so they have a lot of ladies to choose from."

The choosing can lead to violence, however, said Weddle.

"It can happen any time, any day of the year, but ganders really go after each other, especially during mating time. And the other geese occasionally get into fights," he said. "One gander will grab another by a wing and start flinging that other gander around and around. Then the other gander goes after the one that started the fight.

"I guess they're a lot like humans. You know, men fighting over women."

The fighting has increased in recent years because, Weddle said, he may have too many male geese.

But gander-goose matches that seem to last for a long time and scores of gosling eggs in the late spring indicate there is a lot more loving than fighting.

Central Kentucky News Articles