Knobbed geese include both African, one of the three heavy goose varieties, and China or Chinese geese, a light variety. The size difference is significant, Africans weighing 18 lbs. for the goose and 22 lbs. or more for the gander, and China 10 and 12 lbs. equivalents, in the 2010 Standard. Really, as Samuel Cushman says in the article included in the 1912 edition of Harrison Weir’s The Poultry Book’s chapter on The Domestic Goose, the Chinese are “more on the bantam order.” Both have a more upright stance than other geese, and long, swan-like necks. Writers newly acquainted with them in the 19th century occasionally classified them as swans. These African geese happily range on Harvey Ussery's farm in Virginia.
Both were separately recognized in the first Standard of Excellence in 1874, but with different weights, separated by only four pounds between African and China geese, according to Willis Grant Johnson’s 1912 edition of The Poultry Book, p. 1103, which gives weights of twenty pounds for the African gander and eighteen for the goose, sixteen for a Chinese gander, fourteen for a goose.
Other names applied to both include Guinea (dating back to the Willoughby, 1635-1672, a time when ‘Guinea’ was used to describe anything foreign), Indian (which took on a similar role in the 19th century), Hong Kong, Spanish, Swan, Polish, Muscovy, Siberian, Russian. The first description of African geese in America is attributed to Caleb Bement’s 1845 American Poulterer’s Companion. I have not located a copy of the 1845 version to check, but the 1856 version, a copy of which is housed at Harvard’s Graduate School of Business Baker Library, is posted at Google Books.
The band of white now favored by such authorities as Dave Holderread of Holderread’s Waterfowl Farm and Preservation Center in Corvallis, Oregon to separate the satin-black bill and brown knob of mature Africans is disdained by Theodore F. Jager of Connecticut, who edited The Poultry Book’s chapter on The Domestic Goose. He states that the Standard requires an all-gray head, and he ascribes any white to “impurity of breeding.” Samuel Cushman is quoted from his article in Reliable Poultry Journal in the section admiring it: “A line of white feathers clean cut and distinct, close to the base of the bill, is considered a desirable feature in show birds.”
They were known as prolific egg producers, as many as 60 or more annually. William Rankin, noted goose breeder of the early 20th century, claims one of his laid 68 eggs in one year. He also claimed he knew a goose who lived to be 101 years old and died as a result of being kicked by a horse. She had left the nest of 15 eggs she had laid to defend it against the horse, grabbed his tail and sustained her fatal injury.
Tracking such changes over time is challenging. Today, African and China Geese have that recognizable knob on their heads, between their eyes. The knob develops to its full size over several years. Although generally males are larger and have larger knobs than females, this is not a reliable way to sex African or China Geese. Both sexes vary too much in size. African Geese also have a dewlap, a bag of skin hanging down under the chin. Neither should have a lobe, although the large Africans may get a bit of a paunch.
Both make excellent meat birds as well as egg layers. China Geese are the most prolific layers of all geese today. Both also are good setters, with good fertility and hatchability, and good parents. They reliably raise their own goslings.
African Geese are recognized in the Brown color pattern and in solid White. The Brown have black knobs and the Whites have orange knobs. The Brown are abundant, but the White variety is rare. A Buff variety is also raised. China Geese are recognized in Brown and White varieties.
They thrive even in cold climates, although the knobs of the Brown variety may show temporary orange patches that gradually disappear if they get frostbitten.