Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Why geese?

 On the Farm

After learning that geese can grow to full size on grass only, I was fascinated and knew that we just had to get some.  Talk about a pasture raised animal!  We have about 4 acres of grass and geese seem like they might be good little lawn mowers!  Geese are herbivores which means that they only eat plants.  They don't really care to eat insects like chickens and ducks.  They even have little teeth on their tongues to help them bite off blades of grass.  Let me back up and explain our journey to get goslings...as with most everything else, it has taken a few years...
Before we even moved to the farm, I did some research about using geese for guard animals.  I had followed a farm on YouTube and they had a goose with their chickens.  The idea is that when a predator approaches the chicken yard, the goose would squawk loudly and scare them away.  To do this, it is best that the goose is raised with the chickens so it accepts the group of chickens as its own flock to defend.  If you have 2 geese with the chickens, they will just stick together and not really develop the guarding instinct.  I didn't think this idea would work for us because geese can live for many years and we would be rotating out the older laying hens on a regular basis.  I was unsure of how it would work to put a goose with a new group of chickens, especially young chickens.  Also, I found out that you can really only purchase goslings in the spring and we were getting our chicks in the fall so they would not have the opportunity to grow up together.  We decided to go with the guard dogs for guarding the chickens, ducks and farm!
In December 2019, I started to research about geese.  I knew that I wanted some but I didn't know what breed might be a good fit for our farm.  Some geese are louder and more aggressive than others and different breeds lay differing amounts of eggs.  Here is a link to a great chart that compares the different breeds.  I did a lot of reading and, after weeks, finally decided to get some American Buff geese.  Now, this gets a little confusing because Buff is actually a color of feathers and the breed is called American.  For some reason, on a lot of websites and books, they are often just referred to as "Buff."  I started looking for a goose breeder.  One of the books I was reading was called The Book of Geese A Complete Guide to Raising the Home Flock by Dave Holderread.  It just so happens that Holderread Farm is in Oregon.  I looked onto their website and found that they had American geese in Blue and Lavender colors!  These are more rare colors and I thought they would be so interesting to get some of those.  

I contacted them and they only sell adult birds.  See, geese only lay up to about 20-40 eggs each year in the spring.  The Holderread Farm sells show quality geese.  They raise up the geese through the summer and then sell the lower quality geese as "utility" geese and the show quality geese for a much higher price.  They actually ship full size geese through the mail but it can cost up to $300 for the shipping for one goose!  I looked it up and the Holderread Farm is about 7 hours from our house.  I decided that we would drive there one day, spend the night, then get the geese in the morning and drive the 7 hours back home.  I asked if they had any geese available and they were already sold out for 2020.  I waited and then inquired again in fall 2020 and got on the list for some geese the next year (fall 2021)!

We waited and waited.  In October 2021, I finally contacted them and they said that they would be going through the geese in early November to separate the utility and show quality geese.  Finally a few weeks after that, I got an email.  It said that they did not have any utility grade Blue or Lavender American geese but they had some show quality geese available for sale.  I wanted a male (gander) and 2 females (goose).  The price for the utility geese was $75 each.  The show quality geese were $250 each.  I was like...no thank you...I wasn't going to spend hundreds of dollars on an animal that I have never raised before.  It almost felt like a bait and switch situation.  I am sure it was not but it was so disappointing to wait for months and months and then not get the geese.  Back to the internet for goose breeders...

Since it was fall, 2021 at this point, I was just in time to place an order for spring goslings.  If you want goslings, you pretty much HAVE to order them in the fall for a spring delivery.  Almost all hatcheries will sell out over the winter.  Since I was going to have to put in an order for geese with a hatchery, I decided to take another look at different breeds and switched to the Pilgrim breed.  This is an auto sexing breed.  See, geese are not like chickens where the rooster is bigger and showier than the hen.  OR the ducks where the drake has a different quack and a curly tail.  Male and female geese look identical.  There are only 2 breeds that are auto sexed which which means that you can sex the goslings when they hatch.  Pilgrim geese are one breed that autosexes.  The male goslings are light yellow colored and the females are gray.  As they grow, the males develop white feathers and the females stay gray colored.  They are good for meat and may lay up to 40 eggs a year.  They are a medium sized breed and fairly docile.  Don't worry, if you come to the farm, they will be kept in a fenced area and not allowed to roam all over the farm and attack people!  Here is a pic of a male Pilgrim goose and a female Pilgrim goose...super easy to see the difference!

Why geese?

As I mentioned earlier, when I found out that geese can eat grass and grow to produce a large amount of meat, I just found it very intriguing.  To be fair, I have never eaten goose.  Maybe we won't even like it.  Also, I hear that it is challenging to pluck the feathers clean on the carcass on waterfowl because of all the down feathers.  It is recommended to not let geese raise goslings the first year they lay eggs.  So, we won't even have any of our own goslings for 2 more years.  If you think about it, geese seem like an amazing animal for the homestead.  They lay eggs in the spring and then graze on grass all summer and fall and then you can harvest them in early winter before it gets super cold and you have a Christmas goose!  Easy peasy!  We would like to get some turkeys at some point.  The downside of the turkeys is that they have to mostly eat grain and it gets very expensive to feed them but they will probably be easier to clean.  We plan on feeding the geese grain also, but we really want to be able to move them around the farm and take advantage of their lawn mowing capabilities.  Also, geese can live up to 20 years and turkeys live about 10 years.  

I think most people probably know that geese are pretty territorial and can honk and make a lot of noise when strangers come onto the property.  This makes them great guard animals for the farm.  Now, a goose is no match for a coyote and I heard on a podcast about a lady that watched as an eagle carried one of her geese off (so sad) but they are quite noisy and make keep small predators away.  They are mostly aggressive in the spring when it is mating season.  
If you didn't know, as with ducks, most domestic geese cannot fly well.  They have been bred to produce meat so they are too heavy to really get off the ground.  At one point, I was looking at a different breed of geese called Cotton Patch geese.  They are actually a landrace so there is some variability among different strains and they are the other breed of geese that autosex.  Cotton Patch geese were used to weed cotton fields in the south.  For this reason, they had to be able to get away from predators so they have retained the ability to fly and they are a smaller goose.  I really was interested in the Cotton Patch geese but I didn't want to worry about them flying away.  

To be clear, the geese are mine (Denise) and not part of Mark's flock.  I have been working for the past 3 years to get Mark's egg business going and it was time for something fun and different.  We may have goose eggs for sale next spring but they are mostly for our family to enjoy.  

So...we have one gander (male) and 2 geese (females)...and they need names!  Let me know if you have suggestions to name them!


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