The guide to keeping domestic breeds and ornamental geese as table geese. Suitable for both the home keeper of a goose or a few geese and for commercial producers. By Katie Thear
Cramming a goose in order to make its liver swollen for pate production is thankfully illegal in Britain, but it is still carried out in some other European countries like France although even they are beginning to reconsider the practice.
The old illustration to the right shows the dubious practice.
Queen Elizabeth 1 was not complimentary about the culinary qualities of geese. “A goose is a poor thing, too much for one, not enough for two“, she claimed.
It should be remembered, however, that this was in the days before heavy breeds had been developed as table birds in Britain.
Mrs Beeton, in the nineteenth century, was far more enthusiastic, stating that: “A large goose for 5s 6d is sufficient for eight or nine persons.”
Michaelmas or green goose
If you are raising geese for meat they can be ready in October. This is the Michaelmas or green goose. It will not be as plump as the fattened Christmas goose but still makes a very tender roast dinner. It will be less fatty than a fattened goose, which may be more desirable. If you want leaner meat, Chinese or African geese produce a leaner carcase than an Embden or Toulouse. A relatively lean goose is one that has foraged for most of its diet and had just enough supplementary grain or pellets to keep it growing and well fleshed out.
Geese can also be killed in October and frozen for Christmas. They will be smaller and leaner, but you will save the time and expense of fattening them. However, most customers are looking for plump, fresh geese that are at their maximum weight at Christmas. Heavy breeds, if they have been fed regularly on concentrates, can be killed at 8 – 10 weeks. They can weigh up to 4.5kg (10 lb). To maximise growth at this age, you need to reduce their amount of exercise and bring them inside overnight. They are ready as soon as they are fully feathered.
Beyond 12 weeks, food conversion declines as they grow much more slowly and they can moult which makes for lots of pin feathers. This can make plucking a nightmare. If you continue to feed grower or finisher rations during the summer period when there is plenty of good grass, you are incurring extra expense and your geese will finish early, perhaps as early as 13-14 weeks. This is a bad time for plucking so it is better to feed less concentrates at this time. If you use the pasture fully and restrict or stop supplementary feeding altogether, the geese will not grow as rapidly during this period, but this will not have any effect on future growth.
Geese for the Christmas Market
If the geese are to be run on for the Christmas market, they will need to be finished or fattened for three or four weeks to bring them up to maximum weight and plump condition. Do not continue to fatten longer than this as the birds will not continue to grow and you will be wasting time and money. The carcase should finish at three quarters of the live weight.
Fattening geese need quiet, unstressed conditions. Handle them quietly and slowly and avoid any sudden changes in their diet or lifestyle. Ideally, they can be left on well drained pasture during the day but with restricted space so they do not use up too much energy. The use of moveable electric fencing may be appropriate. Be sure to provide protection from wind and rain.
If the ground becomes fouled or waterlogged move them onto fresh ground straight away. If there is no fresh grass available at this time, the geese can be kept in a concrete yard, although this is not an ideal situation. At night move them into their house slowly and quietly. The yard can then be brushed and hosed down so that it is clean for the geese the next day. Again, protection from adverse weather conditions is necessary.
Geese are sociable birds so keep the flock together. If you remove some birds early, the rest may go off their food for a day or two. All breeds will fatten up except Chinese. The heavy breeds and strains will fatten best of all. There are less pin feathers between 22 – 26 weeks so you should aim to kill and pluck the birds during this period, if possible, when they are in full feather.You can check whether they are fully feathered again after the moult as the primary feathers should reach back to the tail. The plumage should look smooth and solid with no downy feathers showing. All fattened geese should be killed by 10 months at the latest as they begin to go tough after that. Geese can be finished with proprietary waterfowl finisher pellets or they can continue on grower pellets. This is straight-forward and time saving, but it is expensive. You can reduce the cost by feeding barley meal mixed with rolled barley.
Home Made Finisher Feed for Geese
Alternatively, use a combination of cooked potatoes, finely chopped vegetables and spare milk, either skimmed or whole if you have it, mixed to a crumb consistency with barley or maize meal.
Most of these foods will provide the high protein diet that the fatteners need. You can also feed mixed grains but not exclusively as their protein level is not high. If you do vary the diet, do so gradually so that the geese are not put off their food.
This article is from Starting with Geese by Katie Thear and used with permission of the publisher.
Further Articles All About Geese
- Breeds of Geese & Breeding Geese
- Geese Diseases, Parasites, Worms, Lice & Mites
- Housing Geese, Pasture, and Safety
- Introduction to Geese & Feeding Geese
- Rearing Geese for the Table from Starting with Geese