PHOTO: Kirsten Lie-Nielsen
Geese are entertaining and useful farmyard companions. Some goose breeds are great for guarding property or other livestock, while others will keep an orchard or vineyard closely weeded. And believe it or not, geese make amazing pets thanks to their dedicated “imprinting,” closely bonding with the people who raise them.
Here are a few breeds to consider if you are thinking about adding geese to your flock.
Contrary to their geographical name, African geese probably originated in China or another Asian country. One of the largest goose breeds, Africans are distinguished by the prominent black knob at the top of their beaks, and they often have heavy bodies with pendulous dewlaps and full abdomens. They carry themselves very upright and can be loud and occasionally aggressive.
African geese have been kept for a variety of purposes, but because of their heavy weight they are often kept for meat. Adult male African geese can reach 20 pounds, and they also are reliable egg layers. While they are occasionally aggressive, most Africans raised by hand are friendly and calm.
The Embden is a large white goose with orange feet and bill. They’re heavy weight and originated in Germany in the 1800s. Raised largely for meat, Embdens were popular in early American settlements where their versatility was prized.
The Embden gander can reach 28 pounds, making it a desirable meat bird among goose breeds. Embdens are laid back and not as loud as other goose varieties, making them a great pet for a hobby farm.
The comparatively diminutive Roman Tufted goose is an ancient breed that once guarded the temples of Rome. Today, they guard chicken flocks and property and delight farmers with their beautiful white plumage and top-hat of tufted white feathers.
Currently critically endangered and hard to find on American farms, Roman Tufted geese are good egg layers and mature at around 10 pounds. Their loud voices make them excellent guards, but most are docile around the people that they know.
The French Toulouse is a classic farmyard icon, with its rumbled gray feathers and orange legs and bill. The heavier variety, known as the Dewlap Toulouse, is a behemoth of the farm and the largest breed of domesticated goose. Both goose breeds are plain gray birds, but the Dewlap Toulouse is massive with a large “dewlap” under its bill and heavy keel and abdomen.
The Dewlap Toulouse was developed specifically for the production of foie gras, and even without a special diet it will grow quickly into a mature 20- or 30-pound bird. French Toulouse are slimmer, but still solid animals that lay large white eggs through the spring and summer months. Both varieties are known for their calm, docile personalities so make great farm pets.
Perhaps the most distinctive of the goose breeds, the Sebastopol is easily recognized by its unkempt white feathers. Looking like a bird that was put through a washing machine, the Sebastopol is usually raised for show, maturing at a light 10 to 15 pounds.
Originally bred in Eastern Europe, Sebastopols were popular with poultry fanciers in the early part of the 20th century before becoming more unusual on today’s farms. They need a warm space for winter and plenty of clean swimming water to keep their feathers in order, but with those considerations you can keep a happy, talkative flock of these very friendly and curious birds.
The American Buff goose was developed from a similar breed in the UK. It boasts unusual apricot feathers. Medium weight, these birds are a versatile, making for good eating and producing a reliable number of eggs each year.
Buff geese are usually very friendly and they will fit in well on a family farm. Their lovely coloring makes them particularly striking in a large flock, gliding across a pond or enjoying the greens of a large field.
Perhaps the most versatile of goose breeds, the Chinese goose is loud and active, making it a perfect weeder or guardian. Most commonly a solid white, Chinese geese have a prominent knob on their bills just like African geese. They are much lighter weight than Africans, only about 10 pounds, and carry their heads high and their chests upright.
Because of their piercing voices, Chinese geese are not ideal for an urban farm. In the country, however, a flock of Chinese geese can sound an alarm at any intruder, and their foraging nature means they’ll keep a field closely mowed.
Whichever goose breed feels right for your farm, hopefully you will enjoy the unusual personalities and charming nature of geese.