Monday, July 22, 2013

Medium Geese

This is an excerpt from the second part of a three-part series on geese published in Backyard Poultry magazine but not posted online. The five American Poultry Association recognized breeds, range from 13 to 17 pounds in weight. Many unrecognized breeds are raised by devotees of these birds, so deeply entwined in our history and hearts.

All geese are related to the wild geese that still migrate across the globe. Knobbed Chinese and African Geese are descended from the wild Asian Swan Goose. American Buff, Pomeranian, Sebastopol, Embden and Toulouse are descended from European Graylag Goose. All show some influence of the wild Bean Goose. Among medium geese, Pilgrim Geese are a modern composite developed from traditional Gray Geese and the old West of England Geese. The traditional American Gray Goose, a larger domesticated version of the Western Graylag, has never been formally recognized but was the dominant breed raised in America since Colonial days.

Many unrecognized goose breeds are attractive and useful. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has identified 96 breeds or genetic groups of geese worldwide.

Lyn Irvine says, in her 1961 book, Field with Geese, “No other creature so rapidly turns grass into flesh – the commonest weed into the most coveted food.” They can be turned out in fields after harvest to glean and clean. They are vegetarians and may look with disdain, as only a dignified goose can, on the relish with which ducks devour insects and snails. 

Medium geese are the most popular being kept today, according to waterfowl breeder and judge James Konecny, president of the International Waterfowl Breeders Association.

“The vigor is up, they are easier to manage, there are more sources to purchase them and the availability of day-olds makes them popular farm birds,” he said.

Medium geese grow and mature faster than heavy breeds. In one full year, goslings can hatch in the spring and grow to experience a complete breeding cycle by the following spring.

“You don’t need to be as patient as you need to be with heavy geese,” he said. “You can get there and see what you’ve got in the first year.”

Geese are sociable and usually enjoy going to shows. Judges enjoy them and they often do well, going to Champion Row. The best success is with geese kept on the farm for their whole lives, though. The stress of changing environmental conditions, the dangers of hot weather and exposure to disease increase the risks even for the hardiest birds.  

Goose Breeds

Recognized traditional medium goose breeds are Sebastopol, Pilgrim, American Buff, Pomeranian and Steinbacher. The Steinbacher is the most recent addition to the Standard of Perfection, being recognized in 2011. John Metzer of Metzer Farms in California finds geese very variable in personality. No single bred stands out as most calm and personable in his experience, because individuals vary so much from calm to aggressive.

“There’s no one breed that is always the best,” he said.

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. Traditionally white, their fanciers are experimenting with breeding them in buff, blue, gray, and saddleback color varieties. Konecny calls them “the Silkies of the goose world.” Dave Kozakiewicz keeps these beautiful birds in Michigan.

Despite their decorative appearance, they are an ancient utility breed, hardy and respectable egg layers of 25-35 eggs a year. The breed is associated with Eastern Europe, around the Danube River and the Black Sea.

Sebastopols’ unusual appearance attracts owners who are inclined to keep them as ornamental birds and as companion birds. Keep docile Sebastopols away from aggressive birds. They enjoy bathing those lovely feathers in clean water. They aren’t good flyers, with those long, soft feathers. Their loose feathers make them appreciate protection when it’s especially cold, wet and windy.

Those long feathers may interfere with successful breeding. Feathers around the vent can be clipped to improve nature’s chances.

Their popularity sometimes pressures breeders to misrepresent less desirable birds. Unscrupulous exhibitors may pull straight feathers, an exhibition defect, from their birds.

American Buff Geese have the colorful plumage that reflects their name. Their light feathers make them easy to dress out without dark pinfeathers. They were developed from the traditional Gray farm goose and buff geese from Germany. They are the largest of the medium geese, topping out at 18 pounds. A double paunch is required for showing.Kathy Hopkins attractive goose Harry shows those points.

The buff feathers are not as strong as white or gray feathers, prone to sunlight oxidation, according to English breeder Chris Ashton. “The buff feathers lose their sheen and fade badly,” she writes “They become brittle, lose their Velcro-like adhesion and become less weather-proof.”

Pomeranian Geese are a historic German breed, associated with the Pomorze region of eastern Germany between the rivers Oder and Vistula. Although only Gray Saddleback and Buff Saddleback varieties are recognized, they are also raised in Gray, White and Buff varieties. In Germany, the Buff Pomeranian is known as Cellar Goose.

True Pomeranians are distinguished by their pink bills and pink legs and feet, as seen on Terence Spencer's flock. They have a single lobe. Orange bills and feet or a double lobe disqualify a bird as a Pomeranian.

Steinbacher geese are a German breed of fighting goose. They have a long, graceful neck and a short head and bill, giving them what waterfowl breeder Lou Horton calls “a powerful appearance.” Its distinctive orange bill is edged with black ‘lipstick’ markings. They have no keel or dewlap. In the U.S., only the blue variety is currently raised and recognized, although gray, buff, and cream varieties are raised in Europe. Blue and gray colors breed true. Despite their reputation as fighting geese, only the males fight each other, and then only during the breeding season to establish the flock hierarchy. They are mild-mannered with people but protective of their nests.

Berndt and Mari Anne Krebs in Michigan have been leaders in bringing Steinbachers to the U.S. and getting them recognized by the APA. This hardy breed thrives on a lean diet of grass on pasture. They cannot tolerate a rich diet and can die from overfeeding.

Autosexing geese

Females and males of most breeds are so similar to each other that it’s difficult to tell them apart. More than one breeder has been disappointed in breeding pens, only to find out that the birds in them were of only one sex. Autosexing breeds solve that: the sexes have different plumage. Ganders are white and hens are solid color or saddlebacked. Saddleback means that the shoulders, back and flanks are colored, in contrast to the white body. Autosexing dates back 1,000 years or more in England and France, longer in Scandinavia. These breeds probably originated in Scandinavia and are indigenous to areas where Vikings set their anchors.

Pilgrim Geese were developed in the 1930s by Oscar Grow. They are a modern composite of American Gray and the autosexing Old English or West of England geese. Pilgrims have orange bills and legs, which distinguishes them from the Old English. They are the only autosexing breed recognized by the APA for exhibition. These are from Metzer Farms in California.

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