Monday, December 8, 2014

Toulouse Goose

My article about Toulouse Geese is in the December2014/January 2015 issue of Backyard Poultry.

Ah, the romance of the French! The Toulouse Goose, with its whiff of French cooking and its impressive size, is the very symbol of poultry history and cuisine. “For many people goose and Toulouse are synonymous,” says Dave Holderread in his classic The Book of Geese.

Jeannette Beranger of The Livestock
Conservancy's Toulouse Goose
That massive size makes keeping them a bigger commitment than a whole flock of bantams. They need pasture and water. They live 20 years or longer. Fewer breeders are keeping these masters of the poultry world. The rewards are in knowing these wonderful birds and being part of conservation of a classic breed.

“For someone with the space, they are a breed to go with,” said Jeannette Beranger, research and technical programs manager for The Livestock Conservancy. “If you can accept the challenge, you can have an impact on conservation.”

Don’t confuse the standard Dewlap Toulouse with commercial Toulouse. Commercial or production Toulouse are developed from a market cross of Dewlap Toulouse with another breed. They grow fast and are in good supply. It’s the classic Dewlap that is waning in numbers.

The Gray Toulouse was one of the original breeds included in the first APA Standard of Excellence in 1874. A buff variety was developed and recognized more than a century later in 1977.  The Standard dictates 26 pounds for a mature gander and 20 pounds for a mature goose, but males often top 30 pounds. That makes for a hefty table bird but won’t work in a breeding flock. Breeding birds have to stay in slim shape to be successful in mating to produce next year’s flock.

Frank Reese Toulouse in Kansas
“Males need to slim down and burn off the keel,” said International Waterfowl Breeders Association president James Konecny. “The keel can get in the way when breeding.”

Keeping them on pasture helps them stay slim. Geese are herbivores, almost to the point of being picky eaters. That quality made them useful on the farm as weeders. Because they would eat only the grassy weeds, they were used to “grass” the cotton, tobacco, wheat and oat fields. 

“There’s no better food for geese than grass,” said breeder Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas. He’s raising 200 for the Christmas holiday market this year.

Reese adds fish meal and oil to their diet as winter approaches. He feeds them alfalfa hay and native prairie grass hay in the winter.

Train them to feed in their shelter, so that they will come back at night and be protected from predators. Toulouse, as large as they are, can’t waddle away to escape from predators.

Feathers on the left and center. Down on the right.
Water is important for geese, but a pond isn’t necessary. They can be happy bathing in a kiddie pool or a cattle trough. A natural or man-made pond can be an asset, though. Natural wetlands grasses and water lilies are some of their favorite foods. Make sure the pond is large enough to accommodate the number of geese using it.

Cold weather doesn’t faze geese. Their down is the warmest material known. There’s a market for it, for use in comforters and jackets. Geese can survive through a blizzard, hunkering down and letting snow cover them. Mr. Reese provides windbreaks to protect his geese from weather but otherwise lets them wander.

All that down can make hot weather more of a problem. That’s where shade and cool water can give them relief.

Konecny is rebuilding his flock after farming his 50 breeders out to colleagues for a move last year. He’s got six pairs and 11 young geese back. He finds them good layers with good fertility, hatching goslings that grow fast. Diet needs to be thoughtful, limiting protein when the wings are developing to avoid slipped wing and angel wing. He occasionally tapes a wing that’s developing poorly, to brace it to grow straight. He’s got the experience to know how and when to do that.

Toulouse geese aren’t a project for the novice. Start with a smaller breed, such as one of the medium or light geese, such as Romans or Pomeranians. They’re also on The Livestock Conservancy’s Critical List.

“Toulouse Geese are a project for somebody who is in it for the love of it,” said Mrs. Beranger

Beyond roast goose

Lucio Damiani, in his Foreword to The Goose: History, Folklore and Ancient Recipes, calls it “a walking larder… an animal that embodies the flavor of the past in every sense.” His book includes recipes that go beyond roast goose to goose ragout, goose sausage and goose salami.
“I pull his book out for the holiday season every year,” said Mrs. Beranger.

Save the goose fat! It’s one of the best parts, and can be used in cooking and baking. Mrs. Beranger pierces the skin and roasts hers on a rotisserie, collecting the fat as it cooks. Goose naturally bastes itself. She uses the fat to make confit, preserving meat in fat. “It’s liquid gold,” she said.

Mr. Reese harks back to his mother’s recipe, stuffing the goose with turnips and sauerkraut and roasting it in apple juice. His mother used the goose intestines to make German sweet sausage. To feed the large extended family of as many as 40 people, she would sometimes split open a goose and lay it over a turkey, to baste the turkey breast as both roasted.

“We use everything but the honk,” she used to say.

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