Geese are wonderful farm birds. Although goslings are fairly expensive, the finished birds get to a nice weight — and, most importantly, they can do it with relatively little grain. Our geese spend almost all of their time out in the pasture, eating little other than grass. They do swipe some grain from the egg laying hens, when they’re locked in the barn at night, but we’re fine with that. Grain helps the geese put on a little more weight — and, most importantly, develop a nice layer of fat.
A woman from Ohio writes with some questions, after having raised her first batch of geese; I sent her a personal response, but in so doing realized that her note (and my reply) would be worth sharing with all of my readers. With her permission, here is her question and my response [I have edited both a bit]:
Hello, This is my first year raising geese. I have the Pilgrim breed. Being that I am so new to this, did I wait too long to butcher them at 7 months? Would they have been OK to process at 6 months? The processor was concerned about them not having pin feathers, which they didn’t. But would they have grown out their pin feathers at 6 months or sooner? My birds have free access to pasture (in with steer) and also to free-choice mixed grains with 1/3 pellets mixed in. Do you think that I should not have offered them the grains during the peak pasture season (on unimproved, possibly less palatable, pasture)?
We did pilgrims once; they are a nice-sized bird, and have the unusual trait of being naturally sex-linked; in other words, the males and females can be distinguished by the color of their feathers. Pilgrims also have a reputation for being good natural mothers, which also appealed to us. Unfortunately, they turned out to be “too good” at mothering, and made nests out in the yard…where they got picked off by predators. In the years since, we gave up on trying to get geese to hatch their own goslings — and stuck with Embdens, because they get larger faster. And they have a nicer temperament than some other breeds (like White Chinese).
The writer’s time frame for butchering is perfectly fine. We raise them to the same age she did; I just butchered a bunch, myself. They’re delicious at this age. If she’d waited until next spring, that’s when they’d start to get tough. I wouldn’t have expected pin feathers at the age she butchered them. The geese may have been okay to eat at 6 months, but my opinion is “the bigger the better.” I have three more that we’re keeping alive, to butcher for eating fresh at Christmas. They’ll be 9 months old then, but in our experience that’s always been fine.
Our geese are mostly out in pasture with the sheep, but get some supplemental grain when they steal it from the laying hens in the barn. We keep them separate much of the time, but geese definitely have a mind of their own. As long as they’re mostly on pasture, grain is good for their development, and helps them reach a bigger size. I think it also helps them develop some fat — which is absolutely wonderful when it melts off a slow-roasted goose, and can be used for cooking potatoes or spread on bread. The only reason we don’t give them more grain is the expense of it. We have a huge pasture, and the geese love grass, so we figure we’re saving money by letting them graze it. We also have a naturally wet, semi-swampy area in the pasture that they enjoy.
The writer indicated that she had sent the geese out to a butcher for processing. In her case, that makes sense because her time is worth more to her than the cost of butchering (much like the calculation we have made about butchering lambs or goats.) But if you’re not too squeamish about it, I’d strongly encourage you try butchering your own birds. It doesn’t require much special equipment, and geese are still small enough to be manageable. (i.e. it’s not like butchering a cow or pig). We tie a cord around both legs, hang them from a nail or tree branch, then slit the throat and let them bleed to death. Geese bleed out very fast. The only problem with geese is that it’s hard to get all those feathers off. We find that dunking them in very hot water helps a lot to loosen those feathers. Still a chore, but we enjoy doing it ourselves.