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We sat down at the park, and the geese, used to being fed by visitors, milled around our feet. Eventually they got bored with waiting for us to share our ice-cream, and they sailed off, with their bills in the air. They were not aggressive, though they may have been if we had posed a threat.
There were Africans, Chinese, Embdens, and even a couple of cute little Shetlands. They ran loose with Muscovies, Pekins, Mallards, and other assorted ducks. We even spotted some Egyptian Geese hanging around the fringes.
I resisted my urge to snag a couple and cart them off to our farm to start our flock of geese. They were high on my list of poultry to get, and I liked being around them at the park. My mother had kept geese when I was young, so I was no stranger to their behaviors. And I still wanted them. Every time I read my Poultry Breeds book, I get lost over the ducks, geese, chickens, turkeys and quail that I want to assemble in our growing flocks.
Where domesticated poultry is concerned, generally the bigger the bird, the fewer the breeds. Geese follow the rule - though I doubt anyone has tried to compile a comprehensive list. We'll do our best to list the breeds that we know though.
Geese in general make good parents, and mate in pairs for life. They will generally be biddable for fostering other geese, though some breeds only foster those that look like their own. These characteristics can vary slightly with breeds, but is not generally mentioned because of the consistency.
African - the largest geese, with distinctive coloring. They look a lot like a Chinese, but are heavier, thicker, and they have a dewlap under their chin - though some breeding lines have minimized that. They are talkative but not noisy. They are cold hardy and produce a nice table bird. They are a fairly gentle breed, only aggressive with a perceived threat.
American Buff - Looks like a gray goose or Toulouse, but is more brown in color. Considered to be more gentle, and they go broody easily. They are a medium sized breed, and make a good table bird. They are considered critically endangered.
Canada Geese - A wild breed which has been domesticated in some areas. You may need a gamebird license in your state to raise them, and you may need a federal migratory bird permit as well. Very self sufficient in the right conditions, but this may be hard to duplicate, since they are migratory, and prefer warm winters, and cool summers.
Chinese - The classic weeder geese. They look a lot like Africans, but are more graceful looking, with a distinctive upward curve to their neck. They are a lightweight goose, and do make good eating. They are one of the most prolific layers of all geese. They are talkative, and active foragers, and have been used as guard geese. They go broody easily and will perpetuate themselves well if given protection from hawks and ground predators (which go after the goslings).
Cotton Patch - This goose was traditionally used to weed cotton patches during the 1800s. There is a lot of confusion about it now, partly because the breed has never been standardized. This means that many breeders claiming to have Cotton Patch geese, really just have other mixed strains instead, or Cotton Patch geese that have been cross bred with others to the point of losing the distinctive characteristics of the breed. We are only listing them because they have been mentioned to us as a critically endangered breed, and those interested in conservation may be interested in them. They are a good utility breed, and were used to produce meat and eggs for the plantation.
Egyptian - These are illegal in most states. They are aggressive and predatory - they will destroy the nests of other birds. They are not a good utility bird either.
Embden - Probably the most popular white goose. Large, tall, and obnoxious. Ganders can be very aggressive. They are not good brooders, though they are good parents if they do produce young. Heavyweight goose.
Gray - Go tell Aunt Rhody - until the mid-20th century, the gray goose in the barnyard was a fixture on nearly every farm, large and small. The gray is so similar to the Toulouse that some people feel that it is just another name for the Production Toulouse. More likely, the gray shares roots with the Toulouse, but has older genetics, which provides distinct advantages. The gray is a good brooder, and can brood two clutches of eggs per year. Medium weight goose.
Pilgrim - No, they didn't come over on the Mayflower. Pilgrims are auto-sexing in adults, with the male being all white, and the female having gray markings. They are hardy and good foragers, and more easy-going than most goose breeds. This means if you need a goose that is not aggressive, they would be your best option. They'll reproduce well in a backyard or barnyard. Medium weight goose, critically endangered.
Pomeranian - Saddleback, dark head, mostly white body. Historically used for both meat and eggs. Can be either calm, or aggressive, depending on the individual personality. Fairly loud and noisy, so if you want a burglar alarm they'll do well at that. If you are in town though, you might want to opt for Africans instead. Pomeranians are medium weight. Critically endangered goose.
Roman - They look like Embdens, but they have a topknot that makes them look like they are wearing a floofy hat. Romans produce a lightweight carcass, just right for a family meal. They are friendly, though some males can be aggressive. They reproduce well, so you can keep a flock going. This is a critically endangered goose.
Sebastopol - A lovely goose that looks like it is dressed in a wedding gown. The feathers are three to four times longer than other goose feathers, and they fluff and curl all around the body. They've been raised mostly as ornamentals, though they are good utility geese - they are good eating, and they lay well for a goose. They'll raise a brood of young each year if you provide favorable conditions, and they make good fosters. They do require higher feed rations following molting, in order to produce the larger feather volume (requires more protein to produce their long feathers). Considered to be a threatened goose breed.
Shetland - You gotta love these little guys. Pretty much the smallest of the goose breeds listed here, they are cute and sassy. Shetlands are hardy, and can survive on poor forage. They are very good foragers, and they are good parents.Their small size means you can keep them where you cannot keep other geese. This is a critically endangered breed in the US.
Toulouse - Comes in three varieties - Production, Standard Dewlap, and Exhibition. This is confusing, because breeders often do not specify which strain they are selling. Production is the hardiest and most thrifty. They have no dewlap, and the body is heavyweight, but not overly deep in the keel, they breed naturally and are the best option for farmyard utility. Standard Dewlap has a moderate dewlap, and is heavier boned than the Production Toulouse, and is bred to gain weight rapidly when force fed to produce pate - some have lost the ability to breed naturally. Exhibition Toulouse have an exaggerated keel, and a heavy dewlap - they look ponderous and bloated. Exhibition Toulouse have mostly lost the ability to breed naturally. They all have more fluffy feathers on the rump than other geese, which makes them more prone to fly strike (maggot infestation). They have a fairly calm temperament though, and the Production Toulouse has historically been a good barnyard goose.
Tufted Buff - Generally a quiet and friendly goose, the Tufted Buff sports a poof of feathers on its head, like the Roman goose, but the Buff is more colorful. They are heavy layers, with a high fertility rate, but lower than average hatchability.
It appears that there is a larger percentage of rare and endangered geese than other poultry. This is probably because keeping geese is no longer fashionable, and there is not a large commercial market for them. We think the goose on the farm is a beneficial thing, and that every small farm should find a place for at least a pair of breeding geese. They produce good food, and when you understand them and use them correctly, they can provide other benefits as well.