Goose Day

It looks like this, the final day of 2009, might go down as “Goose Day” on our farm.

Earlier this week, we were down to five geese: the two older Toulouse females, and three Embdens from this spring’s hatch. One very nice thing about having different breeds of geese each year is that it’s easy to determine their age; once a goose gets more than about a year old, it isn’t really worth butchering (the meat gets too tough). Anyway, I’d been meaning to butcher those final three Embdens, but Yeoman Farm Baby’s adoption interfered. That proved to be a good thing, as it gave us time to do more thinking about geese and where we want to go with them.

I took a closer look at those three Embdens, and determined we had two males and one female. The female was definitely a keeper. One of those ganders was very large, and clearly exhibited Alpha Goose qualities; the other gander was no larger than the female. Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I decided it would make most sense to butcher the Beta gander and feast on it during the Christmas Octave, and to keep Alpha as a breeder.

Although we haven’t had any success with hatching our own goslings in the past, we believe we can help the geese make more effective nests this spring. Back in Illinois, the problem was that after a goose went broody and we gave her a clutch of eggs to sit on, hens would inevitably sneak onto that nest and lay eggs of their own every time the goose got up to take a break. When Lucy Goosie would return to the nest, she’d crush the chicken eggs. This made a nasty, sticky mess and soon the goose eggs were coated with mud and straw. But here in Michigan, our barn is laid out such that we can give a broody goose a nice private area that chickens cannot violate. This spring, we’ll see if we can make that work. Goslings are so expensive (nine bucks each, at last check), there’s certainly no harm in trying. We will still buy some goslings, just to make sure we have goose to feast on next year, but hopefully our breeders will be able to add to that flock.

Anyway, this morning I went out to the barn to take care of the chores…and discovered that our Embden female had just laid her first egg! The shell was tinged with blood, and an examination of her rear end showed that she hadn’t laid it long before. Hopefully we’ll get several dozen eggs from her before she goes broody; I’m going to wait at least a couple more months before we even begin saving eggs for her to sit on. In the meantime, we will enjoy eating those goose eggs; each one is large enough to make its own omelet. (The photo is from last year, when I had a couple of goose eggs and wanted to show their size relative to a chicken egg.) When we have extras, we sell them to a Ukrainian woman who blows them out to use for crafts.

I really can’t say enough good things about geese; most breeds (other than Canadas) lay several dozen huge eggs each winter/spring, will lay for many years, can get to a good eating size on little other than grass, provide many pounds of meat, are extremely cold hardy, and are fierce enough to defend themselves against most predators. If you want to feed them grain, they will eventually reach live weights of 20# or more — but the grass-fed fall size (dressed weight of six to ten pounds) has always been plenty for our family. As long as you have a way to keep them out of the garden, and off the grass you want to let your children play on, I highly recommend them for every farmstead.

6 thoughts on “Goose Day

  1. LOL–Our 5 geese roam the yard (2 acres of it) at will. Fertilizing as they go…

    One of my girls has the unenviable job of scraping the carport off every afternoon before her father gets home. The geese like to nap and lounge on the concrete–especially in the summer time. It does make it easier to get it up and put it on the garden, though. Scrape it up, put it into a 5 gallon bucket, and haul it off when full. I just dumped two buckets worth of poo and compost on the garden this last week. And some ashes from the fireplace.

    Our geese do a pretty good job of converting grass to flesh, that is for sure, and as hardy as the things are, well, they are a good bird to have…

    We'd love to have our geese lay and set–they laid a looonnnngggg time last year, and haven't taken back up this winter. I'm hoping that they will. We don't have a separate area for them, but our hens are afraid of the geese, so they kind of try to avoid being anywhere near them…lol…plus, they have their “favorite” nesting boxes, well above the floor level.

    Good luck getting them to set/hatch…

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  2. I found your blog while browsing around, and have been reading for a few months. What do you feed your geese over the winter? Most sources I've found have said grain, but that doesn't seem right to me. I've been feeding mine soaked alfalfa pellets with a little bit of grain mixed in, and they seem to be doing fine. I'm always interested in more ideas, though!

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  3. Mel –

    Alfalfa isn't a bad idea. Ours get some of that (they swipe it from the sheep), but in the winter they mostly get grain in the form of 16% chicken layer ration. Because of the way our barn is set up, we have limited confinement areas in winter; the geese (and ducks) end up eating the same thing our laying hens eat. In the summer, we lock the geese out on pasture before we feed the hens, and feed the hens again in the evening before letting the geese back in. But all birds are basically locked up in the same space for the winter. We don't mind, though — we WANT the geese to be getting a nice layer supplement, so they can produce some good eggs for us this winter/spring. And the ducks should also begin laying soon — so, again, we don't mind their getting the layer ration.

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  4. The comment about your Ukrainian neighbor's use for the goose eggs took me back…

    When I was a lad, some friends at the local Ukrainian Catholic church (St. Joseph's on Chicago's northwest side) taught me the Ukrainian method for Easter egg decorating.

    So labor-intensive, and such slow progress… but well worthwhile. The normal American method of using crayons instead of a hot wax pen just doesn't compare.

    The goose egg idea may sound like it would make it easier, but if I know their methods, it just means five times the work and five times the beauty.

    Maybe you can post a picture of a finished one next Easter-time, so we can see one of the more attractive uses for geese?

    Cheers,
    JFD

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  5. TYF,

    Thank you for telling me about your setup. Last winter I kept the waterfowl with the chickens, but they ate so much feed and got a little too fat, I thought. So this year I have them separated. The grain that I mix in with the alfalfa is my 16% layer feed, so that's good.

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  6. I posted that…

    And then yesterday we got our first egg of the year (first goose egg in a looooong time). Got our second one this morning. 🙂 A very happy day around here, as the chickens have also started to lay again more regularly (we were getting one egg a day for months. Now we're getting 3-4, most days (with 5 hens, one chick, and one rooster, that's really not too bad. Now if I can just figure out which one of them is not laying at all….lol.

    Oh–we have ours housed together, chickens, geese, and duck. They all get released at the same time. Mostly, the geese just eat all of the grass they can get their bills on. And the occasional bit of kitchen leftovers, if the dogs don't jump on it fast enough. And dog food (ditto). But they get the usual laying mash in the feeder, like the chickens do.

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