The Useful Goose – Backyard Poultry

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A versatile, if opinionated, bird.

By Sherri Talbot

FOR MANY PEOPLE, THE SIGHT OF A GOOSE invokes childhood traumas involving being chased across a relative’s barnyard by a loud, frightening
creature that — at the time — seemed huge. Lots of farmers choose to keep geese precisely for their loud, guardian behaviors. Their intelligence and curiosity combined with the ability to distinguish between daily activities and unfamiliar people or things make them alert protectors. When geese use their loud, hissing voices and run with spread open wings, they are a frightening sight for family, visitors, and intruders alike.

Despite their sometimes intimidating personas, geese are versatile animals that are relatively easy to care for and useful to any homestead. They can be pastured in relatively small areas, have long lifespans, and are easy to tame. They are attentive parents who produce young in the spring and are ready for butchering by fall.

Tasty Grass and “Weeds”

The useful goose will primarily eat grass — and a lot of it. A flock of geese will travel around a grassy area, eating small amounts steadily and providing a built-in lawn mowing service in the process. Unlike sheep, which can easily overgraze an area in a short time, geese do an excellent job of keeping the grass at an even level over a lawn or pasture. Their green, slimy droppings, made mostly of digested grass, decompose into the ground at the first rain, providing the soil with nutrients to keep growing beautiful, healthy grass. (Your driveway, of course, might be another story.)

Geese are also easier on the soil and grass than heavier livestock, because they are less likely to trample it down. Unlike ducks, geese have little interest in soil bugs or mud and, therefore, tend to leave the ground undisturbed. They enjoy dandelions and young “weeds” and can help root out unwanted vegetation from lawns or gardens. This is especially true of young geese, which grow rapidly — hitting their adult weight in only a few months — and need a lot of food for all that growing.

Breeds have their own unique preferences for greenery. For instance, Greylag geese raised on a fish pond will have different dietary preferences than Pilgrim geese raised on the same pond. Providing a wide variety of greenery for your geese lets them pick what they need.

These distinct nutritional needs, combined with their prolific eating habits, have made the goose a subject of study in environmental circles, specifically for using them in place of common weed killers. One Tibetan study looked at whether geese are more efficient at weeding corn fields than conventional methods. The study concluded that raising geese in organic corn fields produced measurable improvements to the nutrition of both plants and geese. Another study explored how geese in Croatia benefit fish by cleaning out weedy areas in ponds and water canals.

Greylag goose, a ubiquitous and useful goose. Photo by Piotr Krzeslak.

Cultural Uses for Meat Geese

Historically, geese provided a common source of meat, because they could be grazed all summer and butchered in the fall. The European domestic goose, descended from the wild Greylag goose (Anser anser), is a large-sized and fatty bird, probably marking it an excellent treat for large families. All goose meat is considered “dark meat” and has a rich flavor often compared to red meats, rather than poultry.

The Christmas goose remains a staple in Germany and for some holidays in other parts of Europe. The meat can be canned, smoked, or dried for long term storage, and is popular in sausage as well, with a natural fattiness. Goose fat is also used in cooking and baking. Foie gras — fatty goose liver — is considered a delicacy in some places but has been banned in several countries, California, and New York City because of the practice of caging and force-feeding the geese (the New York City ban is currently being challenged in court).

The Goose That Laid the Tasty Egg

Geese lay eggs only seasonally, and each clutch can have 2 to 10 eggs, depending on the breed. The average goose egg is equal to three chicken
eggs in size. Goose eggshells are thicker than chicken eggshells — a necessary evolution to deal with the weight of heavy mothers stepping on
them, moving them, and knocking them together.

Baking with goose eggs is unparalleled, leading to light and fluffy baked goods and custards. Each (cooked) goose egg has around 2 grams of carbs, 19 grams of fat, and 20 grams of protein. While there is still concern about the cholesterol levels in many eggs, geese, who live on all or mostly vegetation, are thought to produce eggs that actually reduce arterial thickening and, therefore, the risk of heart disease.

They may also contain nutrients that reduce age-related vision loss. For artists interested in carving eggshells, goose eggs can make an excellent
canvas for stunning designs. For those less artistically inclined, they can also be great projects for small children. The larger eggs and thicker shells are more likely to survive small fingers and clumsy grips, while the larger surface gives more room for painting or coloring.

Goslings make a lovely subject for photography. Photo by Angie’s Art.

Goose Down and Feathers

Of course, one cannot forget the lovely down that geese produce. Nothing quite beats the feel of down comforters and feather pillows. Quill pens made from the long, stiff feathers of geese’s wings and tails were used as writing instruments by the 7th century or earlier. Goose feathers were also used in upholstery stuffing and to fletch arrows.

Geese are often overlooked for use on farms. They are intelligent, curious, and bond easily with “their” people if handled when young. For those looking to add a wonderful multi-purpose animal to their homestead, consider the magnificent goose.

Sources

• Ashton, Chris. (2012.) Keeping Geese: Breeds and Management. The
Crowood Press, Ltd. Marlborough.
• Honka J, Heino MT, Kvist L, Askeyev IV, Shaymuratova DN, Askeyev OV,
Askeyev AO, Heikkinen ME, Searle JB Aspi J. (2018) Over a Thousand Years
of Evolutionary History of Domestic Geese from Russian Archaeological Sites,
Analysed Using Ancient DNA. Genes 9(7):367. doi: 10.3390/genes9070367
• Zhipeng Sha, Fachun Guan, Junfeng Wang, Yuyang Zhang, Heman Liu,
Chao Wang. (2015) Evaluation of raising geese in cornfields based on
energy analysis: A case study in southeastern Tibet, China, Ecological
Engineering. 84:485-491. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2015.09.025
• Zvonko Stojević, Lana Vranković, Jasna Aladrović, Zdravko Petrinec, Boris
Župan, Milan Božić. (2017) Geese Raising on Fish Ponds, abstract only.
Veterinarska Stanica. 48/1 https://hrcak.srce.hr/221506
FOIE GRAS
• https://web.archive.org/web/20070507175956/http://ec.europa.eu/food/
fs/sc/scah/out17_en.pdf
• Mark Caro The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired
the World’s Fiercest Food Fight 2009, Simon & Schuster.
NEW YORK CITY FOIE GRAS
• https://www.politico.com/news/2023/08/27/nyc-foie-gras-ban-
00113106#:~:text=The%20New%20York%20City%20Council,the%20
city%20to%20foie%20greddaboudit
QUILLS
• http://www.historyofpencils.com/writing-instruments-history/history-of-quill-pens/
GOOSE FEATHERS
• https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6070935/#:~:text=The%20
feathers%20of%20geese%20were,their%20loud%20cackling%20%5B2%5D

SHERRI TALBOT is the co-owner and operator of Saffron and Honey Homestead in Windsor, Maine. She raises endangered, heritage-breed livestock and hopes someday to make education and writing on conservation breeding her full-time job. Details can be found at SaffronAndHoneyHomestead.com or on Facebook at
https://www.Facebook.com/SaffronandHoneyHomestead


Originally published in the Feb/Mar 2024 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine, and regularly vetted for accuracy.



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