Selecting the right breed of geese can make all the difference, from docile to temperamental knowing distinct traits proves useful.
The Modern Homesteaders Guide to Keeping Geese (New Society) is a must have practical guide for the kitchen table of homesteaders, small farmers, permaculturists, and professional farmers looking to add the power of geese to their land.
Like cats, dogs, horses, and chickens, geese come in many different shapes, sizes, and temperaments. While a goose’s behaviorcan be greatly shaped by how it is raised, each breed has distinct traits. Selecting the right breed for your farm will help you be sure you’ll get the most from your bird. Some breeds are loud, excellent guardians and not suited to an urban farm. Others are docile, perfect for families with children, and some are showy, with crowd-pleasing feather patterns.
You can get farmyard mix geese from local farms, which have uncertain heritage and are often all gray or white and gray. Mixed stock farmyard birds like this can make the perfect family pet, but if you have any intentions of breeding or showing geese, it is important to start with strong, purebred stock. After researching your options, select breeds that will suit your type of farm and are predisposed to behavior you think you can handle.
Most domesticated geese trace their lineage back to a common ancestor, the Greylag Goose (Anser anser), but this is not the case for the distinctive African and Chinese geese. These birds have Asiatic heritage and descend from the wild Swan Goose (Anser cygnoides), a breed still found in north-ern China and southern Russia. The actual continental origins of these two geographically named breeds are uncertain, but it is thought that they are called African and Chinese simply because they were introduced to Europe by those who had traveled to exotic locales.
Elegant and graceful, both the African and Chinese geese were intro-duced to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 1874 (source: Livestock Conservancy). Since that time, different color variations have emerged, and the apparent distinctions between the two breeds have grown more clear. Always popular on the homestead, both breeds are known for their versatility as egg layers and meat birds, but they are most prized for their vocality and weeding abilities.
What’s the difference between African and Chinese geese? Their size. Africans are bigger, weighing up to 20 pounds, while the more petite Chinese average only 10 pounds. Both are most commonly found in the brown va-riety, with black bills, pink feet, and a cream underbelly. White Chinese are solid white birds with orange bills and feet. For that matter, there is a white variety of the African, but these are highly unusual.
The most distinctive feature of these Asiatic geese is the large knob at the top of their beaks. This fleshy bulb is solid and proud, and while its evolution is unknown, a prominent knob is now a sign of well-bred African or Chinese geese. The only disadvan-tage of this remarkable characteristic is that it can be prone to frostbite.
Both birds have a pronounced upright carriage and long, slender necks. African geese should have a fleshy dewlap under their chin and a noticeably full abdomen. They are keelless, having no large deposit of flesh in the chest area, and carry their tailsin a rigid, upright manner. Chinese geese are more slender, with longer necks that make them perfect for weeding. With erect tails, no keel, and a tighter abdomen than their heavier cousin, they have the lithe appearance of well-conditioned athletes.
Chinese geese are the variety most commonly used for weeding tasks. They are high-energy, making them excellent foragers, and their long necks are able to reach in and pluck their favorite weeds from hard to reach spaces.
Both African and Chinese geese are known to be quite vocal. They make excellent guard animals, sounding an alarm at any new activity on the farm, and their piercing vocalizations can be heard across the barnyard. They also can tend towards aggression, though hand-raised birds remain friendly. African geese can be more laid back, but they are still known for their loud voices.
There is not another goose with more distinct feathering than the Sebastopol. Its ragged, unkempt looks could not be mistaken for any other breed, and it is certain they created quite a stir when first introduced to European poultry fanciers in 1860. While the exact origins of the Sebastopol, alsocalled the Danubian, are unknown, it is thought to have originated in the Black Sea region. Known in German as Lockengans or “curl gooses,” the Sebastopol has remained a popular exhibit bird that continues to impress farmers around the world.
The feathers of Sebastopol geese have unique soft quills that allow them to bend and curl. Their chest and back feathers are soft and light. These small birds only grow up to around 10 pounds. Their bright blue eyes are deep and thoughtful, and their beaks and feet are bright orange. Their loose, cloud-like feathers toss about in the breeze. Sebastopols are not as cold hardy as other geese, requiring a warm space out of the wind to avoid a chill.
Sebastopols are soft-spoken geese, not prone to honking when it isn’t nec-essary. They are shy and pleasant, and rarely aggressive. As average egg layers, female Sebastopols can lay 20 to 30 eggs in a season, but these birds struggle with low fertility rates. When provided with plenty of deep swimming water in which to breed, a pair can be successful at hatching a clutch of fuzzy offspring.
Thanks to their kind temperaments and spectacular feathers, Sebastopols are a family farm favorite. They are gentle with children, especially when raised by hand, relatively quiet, and sure to draw the neighbor’s compli-ments with their remarkable feathers.
Pilgrim geese, which likely descended from a variety of farmyard mix gos-lings, are prized thanks to their unusual auto-sexing feathers. Auto-sexing is a quality almost unique to Pilgrim geese (a few European breeds also have this feature). This means that the different sexes can be easily distin-guished by the color of their feathers.
While Pilgrim geese get their name from a myth that they were brought to America by the first European settlers, in fact this goose was cultivat-ed by Midwestern farmers during the Great Depression and finally won admittance to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 1939. Oscar Grow, a waterfowl breeder in the 1930s, was the first es-tablished breeder of Pilgrim geese and named them for his wife’s family’s frontier journey.
Male and female Pilgrim geese have singularly different feathers. Male goslings are yellow with some gray tinting and pink beaks and feet and grow into white or piebald adults with orange beaks and feathers. Females are hatched mostly gray with gray beaks and feathers, and as they ma-ture, become almost solid gray with some white feathering on their underbellies.Pilgrims are a medium-weight goose and solid egg layers, one of the reasons they were so prized by Depression-era farmers. A goose could be kept for a few years for eggs, and then butchered for the family dinner table.
Pilgrims are even-tempered, not prone to big displays of aggression. Males can be protective, so it is important to hand raise them if you want a docile bird. They are not loud inpiduals, but a flock can cause quite a cacoph-ony. Developed out of a need for a goose that could do everything for the destitute farmers of the 1920s and 30s, Pilgrims are versatile backyard birds and sweet-tempered enough to serve as family pets.
Developed in the early 1800s, Embden geese trace their heritage and name to Northern Germany. By 1820, the breed was imported to America and soon admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1874. A large, full-bodied goose, Embdens were bred primarily for the dinner table and prized for their fast rate of growth. Above average egg layers, they became popular alongside Pilgrim geese as an all-around bird perfect for the family farm.
Embden geese stand tall with rounded bodies and full abdomens, their girth accentuated by their short necks, legs, and tails. Solid-bodied, displaying snowy-white feathering with orange beaks and feet, they have steely blue eyes. They are the second-largest breed, behind only the Dewlap Toulouse; adult males can weigh up to 30 pounds.
Like many larger breeds, Embdens are fairly laid-back and even-tempered. They are not known for their loud voices, but they are renowned as ex-cellent egg layers and will often go broody to raise their own clutch of goslings. Unlike some breeds, Embdens have no trouble with fertility, andthis combined with their parenting instincts makes them one of the more prolific breeds on the modern American farm.
Toulouse geese come in two distinct types, a common production variety and a more unusual, heavy-weight breed known as the Dewlap Toulouse. The origins of the latter were most likely of one moderate-weight goose, but as some farmers started to develop heavy birds, the distinction be-tween production and Dewlap became clear.
While production Toulouses have been excellent utility birds and a very common sight on farms for the past century, Dewlaps are much lesscommon and singular in appearance. They were developed out of a desire for heavier and heartier birds. Before they became synonymous with foie gras, the French delicacy, Dewlaps were already prized for their high fat content at a time when goose fat was valued as a general lubricant. While some farmers raising Dewlap Toulouses specifically for foie gras keep them caged and force-feed them large quantities of grain, when given access to open pasture, these geese will still put on a great amount of weight quickly, making them an ideal table bird.
Production and Dewlap Toulouses have similar gray feathers, with white undersides and orange legs and bills. The former have elegantly curved, smooth necks and tight abdomens, making them easily distinguishable from the Dewlap.
Dewlap Toulouses, meanwhile, could never be confused with any other breed of goose. With a deep, full abdomen, they will develop full lobes (the fleshy area between the legs) that often drag on the ground. Their keels are heavy and round. Adults develop their namesake dewlap, a full paunch of heavy skin hanging beneath their stately beaks.
Adult Dewlap Toulouses can weigh upwards of 30 pounds, while pro-duction birds rarely top 20. Both are moderate egg layers, but Dewlaps lay eggs to match their massive girth, often considerably larger than other goose eggs.
Production Toulouses have become so common in farmyards that they are almost always a feature of a farmyard mix gosling. These birds can be ag-gressive if not handled regularly. Because of their well-established presence across America, it is easy to find them or a bird that traces its heritage to them.
Dewlap Toulouses, however, seem to feel that food is more important than attitude. These mostly gentle giants have a placid disposition and will always be the first ones at the food trough when grain is offered. While their size and rarity might indicate that they are an exclusively special-purposebird for meat production, in my experience Dewlap Toulouse geese make excellent pets. They are not overly vocal, though when they do honk, their call can be deafening. Their Mother Goose appearance is charming, but it is their laissez-faire temperament that will win over any farmer.
American Buff geese have feather colors not found in any other North American breed. Developed from the Brecon Buff, a British breed stillpopular in the UK, they were refined in the United States and admitted to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 1947. Since then, they have remained rel-atively rare, but an enthusiastic favorite of the farmers who raise them.
The apricot-colored feathers of the Buffs give them their name. Medium-weight, with deep brown eyes, orange bills and feet, they have a chunky body with a full abdomen. Their necks are short but arched, giving them a pleasantly swanlike appearance as they glide across the yard. They are decent layers and prized as exhibition birds, thanks to those fawn-like feathers.
Buffs, not much for shows of aggression, are sometimes described as curious; they will nib-ble around a stranger’s feet in a display that can seem intimidating. But they are friend-ly with the people who raise them and are mostly calm, quiet birds. Buffs can go broodyeasily and make excellent parents, though reproducing their striking colors requires careful selection of breeding stock.
Perhaps the oldest breed of goose still being farmed today, Roman geese trace their lineage back to the Great Roman Empire. It’s said that these small birds protected the Temple of Juno during an attack by the Gauls in 390 BC. Since then they have remained great guarding geese. Their stature make them easy to raise on a smaller farm.
Roman geese come in classic and tufted varieties. Classic Romans are sol-id white, with orange beaks and feet, and a small plump body. Tufted Romans have the same stocky, full-bodied appearance, but their feathers point upright in a crown-like tuft at the crest of their head.
Romans are one of the smallest type of geese, adult males weighing in at 10 pounds or less. Though their necks are short, they are elegantly curved, and their eyes are a deep, stunning blue. Their small bodies are tasty eating, and they produce an average number of 20 to 30 eggs every spring.
Despite being vocal birds and excellent watchdogs, Roman geese are not overly aggressive. They tend to be curious and become easily attached to the people who raise them. You can find a wide variety when it comes to the quality of stock of Roman geese. Look for well-behaved birds with straight tails and prominent tufts, recommended attributes if you want show-quality birds.
Many more breeds of geese can be found on small farms across America. Each has its own special quality and personality. Some hard-to-find breeds in the United States are well-known in Europe.
Cotton Patch geese, like Pilgrims, are sex-linking geese. Adults often have more mottled feathers than Pilgrims, with a slender build and up-right stance more like that of a wild goose. Cotton Patch geese, unlike most domesticated breeds, are excellent fliers, thanks in part to their light weight.
Pomeranian geese are remarkable piebald birds with white and gray feathering. Originally from Germany, they are a very ancient type of me-dium-weight goose. Ideally marked Pomeranian geese have dark heads, white necks and cheeks, dark wings, and white under their tails.
Steinbacher geese are very rare in the United States, but can be found on European farms, especially in Germany. Not a typical gray goose, they are remarkable lavender-steel color. These elegant birds are about 15 to 20pounds and have long, slender necks. Steinbachers are especially calm and docile, making them wonderful pets.
There are even more unusual breeds of geese to be found traveling the world, such as the West of England goose, a piebald sex-linked bird; the Czech goose, a very small and stocky white goose; and the Egyptian goose, whose rainbow feathers are unmatched. Some intrepid farmers have even cultivated the iconic Canadian goose, though their flight feathers must be trimmed to keep them from migrating.
Your farm’s needs can be matched by many goose breeds, but the perfect one will fit into your homestead’s rhythms without a catch. For example, the Chinese goose is not a good match for the urban farm, but weeding several acres of orchards could be its ideal home. The Dewlap or the Sebastopol make wonderful pets. And in between, such versatile utility birds as the Pilgrim and the Embden are ready to offer your farm fresh food and plenty of charming attitude. When you choose the breed with the characteristics you’re looking for, you can find years of satisfying companionship and service.