There are twelve breeds of geese currently recognized by the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection, and many more are bred around the world. Some varieties have been specifically developed for certain tasks, such as long necked breeds for weeding and extra heavy breeds for meat. Others are, for all intents, decorative birds.
Between the various breeds there are many personality differences and selecting the right breed for your farm will make a big difference in your enjoyment of your geese. Here are just a few of the types you can find on farms today.
Long and lean, Chinese geese are one of two varieties that are easily recognizable by the sizable knob on the upper side of their bills. They are one of the lightest weight goose breeds, and carry themselves in a distinct, upright posture. Chinese geese are some of the best egg layers in the goose family, sometimes laying upwards of 100 eggs in a year. Because of their long, slender necks and voracious appetites, Chinese geese are the breed most commonly used for weeding. The adult male weighs about 12lbs and both males and females are notoriously noisy. They will honk piercingly at the sight of strangers or unusual activity on the farm, and enjoy conversing with their owners and fellow geese in constant, guttural mutters. Because of this they are ideal watch dogs, and they can be aggressive towards newcomers. Chinese geese are one of the most practical breeds for a working farm, laying plenty of eggs and keeping crops weed-free as well as providing an alarm system. Since they are one of the noisier varieties, they are not ideal for an urban homestead.
Closely related to Chinese geese, the so-called African actually traces its lineage more to Asia than any other continent. African geese have the same distinctive knob as Chinese, but are much heavier. Adults are close to 20lbs with a loose dewlap under their beaks and a full, smooth abdomen. African geese lay about fifty eggs a year and are good foragers but less active than their Chinese cousins. Males tend to be aggressive, a fact that makes them excellent guarding birds. The knob on the African goose is susceptible to frostbite and they require shelter in cold weather.
An increasingly popular farmyard bird, Embdens are one of the larger breeds of goose and are enjoyed because of their wide range of talents. Heavy and fast growing, they are good for meat production but can also lay around sixty eggs a year. A full-bodied goose with more horizontal carriage than the African or Chinese, Embdens are white with orange bills and feet. Embdens are noisy enough to be effective watchdogs, but are not constant talkers. Being friendly and hardy has helped Embdens become a common sight on a lot of hobby farms.
There are two varieties of Toulouse, a "production" version which is light-weight, moderately aggressive and a fair egglayer, and the Dewlap Toulouse. Dewlaps are the largest breed of goose, often topping thirty pounds and appearing heavier due to their loose feathers. Originally bred for the production of foie gras, these geese prize food and water over activity. They are not effective foragers or weeders, nor are they noisy or aggressive. Their temperaments are exceptionally docile and calm, and their full-figured appearance is striking. They are an ideal goose for a home with children because of their personalities, and if you are not raising them for meat they are prize winners at exhibitions. This variety is harder to find because they have low fertility rates and few farms specialize in breeding them. A well bred Dewlap Toulouse will have a large dewlap hanging from under their beak and a broad body with round breast and sagging abdomen.
A backyard favorite, Buff geese are a beautiful yellow-brown color not found in any other goose variety. They are medium weight and friendly. These apricot colored birds are not the most effective guard animals, but are fair weeders and are known to be docile, curious, and great parents to their goslings. They are a perfect breed for a smaller farm, being both eye catching and amiable.
Roman Tufted geese were used in ancient Rome to guard temples and, legend has it, thwarted an attempted ambush by the Gauls in 365 BC. Today they are small, striking white goose breed with a tuft of feathers growing upright on the tops of their heads. Only an average egg producer, they are loud and alert, excellent watch animals. Males can be aggressive, however the breed is generally calm. For a smaller bird they are quite plump and can be good eating.
Pilgrim geese are one of the few varieties that are auto-sexing, differing in color by gender. Male goslings are cream colored with pink bills, and female goslings are gray with black bills. As adults the females remain gray, and the males are white with orange bills. A versatile bird they can lay around forty eggs a year and are medium weight. They are good foragers and can be used effectively for weeding. They can be quiet and are usually calm and friendly.
Possibly the most unique breed of goose, Sebastopols can be immediately recognized by their curly-queued feathers. These small geese are largely decorative and have unusual fluffy feathers with flexible quills that often spiral down to the ground. They are very quiet and friendly, and make great pets. Sebastopols are too light weight to be good eating and only average egg layers, but their charming personalities and striking appearance make them a farm favorite. They do require more regular water access than other birds to keep their feathers in good condition.
There are many other breeds of geese and all of them have their own charms and skills. You can learn about more details about some of the above breeds, and more, through the Livestock Conservancy or by contacting a hatchery. While some geese make great watch dogs, others are curious and personable, and can be great backyard pets.
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen farms about 2 acres of a suburban homestead using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Recently she has begun work restoring an old farm in hopes of farming full time in the future. Find her online at Days Ferry Organics Blog.
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