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Raising Heritage Geese

The goose is held in high regard throughout the world as a culinary delicacy, particularly during the Christmas season, but keeping geese, known as the “Prince of Poultry,” has many rewards, beyond the desirable food and down products they generate.

Heritage-breed geese are particularly hardy, versatile, and can thrive in nearly any climate or landscape. Many of these heritage breeds are considered endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, a nonprofit organization working to protect more than 180 livestock breeds from extinction. Many livestock breeds, including geese, became endangered when industrialized agriculture began favoring the predictable standards that selected breeds could deliver.

Heritage poultry breeds, however, often have characteristics that small farmers value. The Pilgrim goose, for example is the only American goose breed that is autosexing, which means you can tell males from females by bill, feather, and eye color. That’s convenient for even novices to keep the correct ratio of males to females. And the Chinese goose’s smaller size, coupled with their active foraging ability, means they do not require as much food as other breeds, yet they will lay upward of 100 eggs per year.

The goose has played a variety of roles in human culture and history. Geese are superb multi-taskers and surprisingly, can earn their keep around the farm by doing small jobs, such as being a security guard. Legend has it that geese saved the city of Rome by raising the alarm about hostile Celtic hordes intent on taking the city. On today’s farms they can alert you about approaching predators or visitors. The diminutive Chinese goose and the massive African goose are the most common choices for this job and are well known as some of the more vocal members of the goose family, although most breeds will do the job nicely.

Geese are also natural lawn mowers and are most happy having access to grass and forage. This natural and highly active foraging ability enables them to work as effective weeders as well.

One of the best known is the Cotton Patch goose that was a breed traditionally found in the rural South in cotton fields to help control weeds. Ponds, vineyards, orchards, and even backyard gardens can use geese for the same purpose, provided the cultivated plants are past the soft and succulent stage and are not attractive to the goose’s palate.

When abundant and tender forages are available, geese require very little supplemental feed, so they’re very economical during warmer months.

Eggs of geese can be a real treat, especially in pastry and dessert recipes. Goose eggs, which are large and flavorful, are much richer than chicken eggs, which make them perfect for dishes such as crème brulee and thicker cake recipes.

Heritage goose breeds come in a wide variety of sizes, looks, and personalities, from the massive Dewlap Toulouse to the slight Roman and the flamboyant Sebastopol.

Do your homework to understand which breed will fit your needs, property, expectations, and experience and you are off to a winning relationship with these “royal citizens” of the poultry community.