Friday, May 18, 2012

Geese float across your pond

Ready for a bigger commitment to water fowl? Geese are loyal and hardy. Their larger size makes them more impressive. 

Knobbed geese include both African, one of the three heavy goose varieties, and China or Chinese geese, a light variety. Harvey Ussery's geese get along fine with their duck cousins. 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, illustrated by these from Metzer Farms. Writers newly acquainted with them in the 19th century occasionally classified them as swans.

Sebastopol geese look as if someone curled their feathers. Their soft, flowing ruffles give them the appearance of fantastic dream birds. Their feathers are as much as four times as long as normal feathers, with flexible shafts that spiral, draping down to the ground.

They are an ancient utility breed, hardy and respectable egg layers of 25-35 eggs a year. Goose eggs can substitute for chicken eggs in cooking and are especially valued in baking. Their albumen is heavier than that of chicken eggs, so don’t bother trying to get them to whip up light.

Sebastopols are considered medium geese, weighing 12 to 14 lbs. at maturity, making them good table birds, if you are so inclined. They are gentle and enjoy human companionship. Keep them away from aggressive birds. They enjoy bathing those lovely feathers in clean water.

All waterfowl feathers and down make the warmest insulation, both for the bird and for clothing and bedding. No man-made product is as good as goose down and feathers. Geese stay warm in the harshest winter weather, but the loose feathering of Sebastopols makes them appreciate protection when it’s especially cold, wet and windy.

Don’t worry about them flying away. Those long, curly feathers are useless for flying. Like all geese, they mate for the duration, which may well be for life. They love raising a family and will happily adopt youngsters of other species. Give them a place to nest and you will have years of happy families.

Geese are generally hardy and easy to manage. They are usually gregarious and prefer to live in flocks. They can be territorial and aggressive in the breeding season, so you may need to separate them in pens. They like water for swimming, but will do equally well without it, so long as they have adequate drinking water. A total pen area of 2,500 square feet should be adequate for a small flock of less than ten geese. If it can include a pond of 500 square feet of water, so much the better. It should include grass, as they are primarily grazers. They enjoy other greens from the garden or the local produce department. A friendly produce manager may be willing to save green trim for you.

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