Countryside of Life: to goose or not to goose?

The French Toulouse Goose is a heritage breed it is said to have in general a placid disposition. This one is a dewlap type. Courtesy photo
The French Toulouse Goose is a heritage breed it is said to have in general a placid disposition. This one is a dewlap type. Courtesy photo

Spring has sprung and our thoughts turn to new life. Green grass is growing, flowers and trees are blooming and the leaves on the trees are coming out. It is the time to start thinking about plans for the farm, both for the garden and livestock. I have talked about some of my most favorite farm animals, experiences and not so favorite ones like geese. They are the cutest things when young, a baby goose is called a gosling, all fuzzy and flapping their little wings. They are well balanced overall and are more handsome as babies than other fowl, chickens, turkeys or even ducks, to me.

But my experience with geese as adults has never been pleasant.  I lived in what would be considered a rural town where there were quarter to full acre parcels. It was rural heaven; country living in the middle of suburbia. We had a quarter acre parcel and my neighbors’ three girls, all near my age lived on the acre next to us. Their place was planted with trees of all kinds. Mostly fruit trees planted back when World War II rationing had made an impression on people to plant what you wanted and needed to eat. By the time I came along the place was a veritable jungle.

The African is a breed of domestic goose that is not actually African at all. African breed geese are descended from the wild swan goose, just like their close cousin the Chinese goose. Courtesy photo
The African is a breed of domestic goose that is not actually African at all. African breed geese are descended from the wild swan goose, just like their close cousin the Chinese goose. Courtesy photo

As a youngster I played on this acreage and knew all of its wonderful hiding places under the many trees. An elderly gentleman owned the place when I was nine or 10.  He and I had become friends as he was an avid gardener and the place was his pride and joy.  He taught me all about the plants and trees in his yard. I think my inquisitiveness and questions entertained him. He even remembered me at graduation and when I got married with a card and present even though by then he had moved away. Caring for the place had become too much for him.

Well this new family of three girls were in 4-H, raised sheep, attended the Los Angeles Fair and other such 4-H events. We all became good friends and would spend our summers sitting in their yard on the grass talking. That all changed when their parents decided to take on a grown flock of geese that needed a home. They were African geese, this breed is part swan and meaner than a junk yard dog, great watch dogs but they do not know friend for foe. The other experience I had with geese was at my girlfriend’s house in Fallbrook. She and I had been friends since I was 12, our love of horses had brought us together. We had a long time friendship that lasted up to my late 30s when we lost touch. She had moved from near my childhood home to Fallbrook back in the mid-1970s before growth got too crazy there.  She had acquired two common grey geese and though her geese were good to her, they would hiss and act like they wanted to bite anyone else that came by, not my favorite thing to have to be so on guard. They became a problem and so my grandparents who lived up north and had a pond took them. They were better there, having the water to retreat upon when a human approached.

It is interesting to note that when my girlfriend and I first met she was much older than I. I was 12 she was 24. She raised miniature horses and was instrumental in starting one of the mini horse registrations for the breed. She bred very small minis with Arabian type heads that were pinto in color, they were unique at the time. It was a dream come true for me as a young girl as I got to help her care for these miniature beauties. I even got to show them in Norco a few times my first and only horse shows.  My girlfriend and her mini horses over the years became so well-known she was approached by an NFL team and her grey pinto stallion was chosen for the mascot for the Denver Broncos. They changed his name to TD. He served as their mascot for a few years back in the early 1980s. They wanted to buy him, but my friend wanted to maintain ownership. He was uniquely small and of fine conformation. He looked like a small grey pinto Arabian. Soon after her divorce in the 1980s she moved and the deal with the Denver Bronco’s and TD as their mascot was soon off. I do not remember what happened to TD after that.

Geese have a long and distinguished part in history. Geese portraits were found painted on the Pyramids. They were known to have been domesticated back in Ancient Rome, China and in the Bible Lands. Highly prized young geese were even given as wedding presents once in central Europe. It is said that 101 years of age is the goose longevity record.  Their meat, down features and eggs were an important part of people’s existence over the century. Goose eggs can be used for baking and the shells for decorative arts. Goose down is still an important component as it makes great stuffing from an old-fashioned feather bed to a modern lightweight jacket.

Now in my research of fowl, I ventured to study the breeds of geese offered to purchase these days. One in particular is said to be friendlier than the others like the Toulouse Goose. Geese are supposedly good weed eaters and will not eat other establish plants. Geese can be expected to breed past 30 years of age and a 40-year-old is not uncommon. They are supposed to be easy to raise and they say they are good for eating too. My daughter did cook us a store bought goose once for Thanksgiving. There were five of us. It was very tasty and we were left wanting more. Word to the wise if you are going to raise geese for dinner more goose is better.

This is the breed of geese I would probably choose to raise if I did so: The French Toulouse Goose is a heritage breed it is said to have in general a placid disposition. It is good for meat and down. The breed has two types, one with a dewlap and one without. The breed was brought to North America, where it became popular in the upper Midwest due to its ability to withstand cold winters. Geese (female) typically weigh between 10-13 pounds and the Ganders (male) 12-15 pounds though depending on the type they have been known to get up to 30 pounds.

To learn more about this interesting heritage breed and others go to www.livestockconservancy.org.

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