Geese aren't just useful as characters in children's nursery rhymes. From being a source of food in the forms of meat and eggs to an effective protector of the home front, geese are finding their way into the stomachs and hearts of hobby farmers. Different types of geese meet various human needs other than food, such as weed control and companionship.
The American Poultry Association recognizes 11 breeds of geese. In the association's American Standard of Perfection, these 11 breeds are divided into three classes according to weight: heavy, medium and light. Adult males and females in the heavy category can weigh as much as 26 and 20 pounds, respectively. Breeds in the medium weight class weigh 15 to 19 pounds. Lightweight geese generally weigh as least 12 pounds but rarely weigh more than 14.
While any breed of geese can be eaten, some produce higher-quality meat than others. In the United States, the embden and Toulouse breeds are the most popular for private and commercial meat production, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. Other agricultural sources add the pilgrim breed as a productive meat source -- especially for small, private flocks. The embden is a pure white goose originating from western mainland Europe. Avian Web lists it as the most common meat producer because of its fast growth rate. The Toulouse breed hails from its namesake town in France. Its color varies from gray -- its original color -- to a white and buff-colored variety developed, respectively, in 1982 and 1997, according to Avian Web. The pilgrim goose is thought to have come to North America with the English pilgrims. Sex is easily distinguished as adult males are white and females are gray. Pilgrim geese have full, plump bodies with smooth breasts, according to the American Livestock Breeders Conservancy. Cooperative Extension considers them a good choice for a medium-sized roasting bird.
The Chinese goose is by far the most efficient breed for egg production because this bird tends to keep a lean body rather than packing on pounds. This leaves more energy for egg production. A female Chinese goose can lay as many as 60 eggs during the spring and summer months, according to Living the Country Life. Collecting eggs from the nest of a Chinese female goose isn't difficult, as these geese are relatively calm and non-aggressive. Other lightweight breeds such as Sebastopol, Roman, Shetland, Steinbacher, Oregon and Egyptian are also productive egg layers. This is because males of these breeds will service more females than do males of larger goose breeds, according to Avian Web. A more "serviced" group of females lays more eggs.
Schmaltz is essentially goose fat, but its history is anything but simple. It's a Yiddish noun attributed to the culinary custom of saving goose and chicken fat for flavoring practiced by kosher European Jews who didn't have access to olive oil. All geese have fat, but the heavier geese such as embden, African and Toulouse produce more fat than their lighter counterparts. The use of schmaltz fell somewhat out of favor in the late 20th century as the heart-healthy diet movement replaced animal fats with plant fats such as margarine. Since the early 2000s, when scientific research has shown some health benefit to using fats sparingly in cooking, schmaltz is regaining favor.
Fattened liver -- or foie gras, as it is called in French -- is a controversial delicacy that some nations have outlawed as cruel. Geese are force-fed to make their livers fattier and thus tastier. The eating of fattened goose liver dates to ancient Egypt. Egyptians discovered that livers from birds getting ready to migrate were much tastier. The birds had put on weight to burn as fuel for flight. The practice was revived -- albeit with a force-feeding twist -- by the Jewish population in France where the Toulouse goose is a popular breed.
Weeder geese are highly successful at controlling and eradicating grasses and weeds, according to the University of Missouri Extension program. Geese will eat grass and young weeds as soon as they appear, but will not touch cultivated plants, according to the program's website. The Chinese or African goose breeds are preferred choices because they're more active and cover more ground than other breeds.
Geese are extraordinarily territorial animals. They have a natural instinct to protect the area they consider home. They're highly tuned to their environment and easily discern unusual sounds from normal, everyday sounds made around the home. They will attack anyone they consider strangers or outsiders. History is full of stories of geese being used by soldiers to detect enemy activity. Tufted Roman geese sounded the alarm when the Gauls tried to invade Rome. U.S. soldiers in Vietnam monitored the reaction of local geese flocks as signs of enemy movement. Geese were captured and penned around more permanent encampments during the Vietnam War as an early-warning mechanism. Tufted Roman, saddleback Pomeranian and Chinese are noisy breeds alert to changes often used in the role of guard dogs.
- University of Missouri: Weeding With Geese
- Avian Web: Toulouse Goose
- Birds of North America: Geese
- Doves Today: Cooking our Goose - Part Two: Schmaltz
- Google Books: How to Raise Poultry
- Metzer Farms: About Geese and the Breeds
- University of Minnesota Extension: Raising Geese
- Cooperative Extension: Which Goose Breed is Best for Small and Backyard Poultry Flocks?
- American Livestock Breeders Conservancy: Pilgrim Goose
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Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.