Excerpt: The goose is a water-fowl raised for its meat and feathers, and also to some extent for ornamental purposes. The breeding and rearing of domesticated and wild varieties of geese is an industry that is not only interesting in many ways, but of value from a commercial standpoint.
By Charles McClave.
The goose is a water-fowl raised for its meat and feathers, and also to some extent for ornamental purposes. The breeding and rearing of domesticated and wild varieties of geese is an industry that is not only interesting in many ways, but of value from a commercial standpoint.
The goose may be said to be midway in general appearance and size between the swan and the duck. It is much smaller, with shorter body, wing and neck than the swan, and much larger than any known variety of ducks. The beak of the goose is different in form from that of the duck, being narrower and deeper and more like that of the swan. The tarsus or shank--that is, the part of the leg not covered by feathers--in the goose is covered by naked skin, marked with small lines, enclosing sections like meshes of a net. In the duck family this is very different; the front of the shank or tarsus is covered with scales or scutellae, one overlapping another and forming a perfect covering just as the scales cover a fish. In the goose the tarsus is said to be reticulate, while in the duck it is said to be scutellate.
The origin of all our domestic and standard varieties of geese, except the wild or Canadian, is said to be the European gray-lag variety (Anser einereus). By careful selection and breeding for a great number of years, man has wrought many changes in color, type, and general characteristics of the domestic varieties. The geese that excited the attention of the guard by their loud noise and saved the Roman capitol from destruction by the enemy, were of a very different type from our improved varieties of the present day.
The varieties of geese recognized by the American Standard of Perfection are the African, Embden, Toulouse, White Chinese, Brown Chinese, Wild or Canadian and Egyptian. All are natives of the eastern hemisphere except the Wild or Canadian. The first three varieties are generally designated by breeders and specialists as the "heavy weight" or "market" varieties of the goose family. Mature geese, when fattened for market, weigh seventeen to twenty pounds each; single specimens have been known to reach more than twenty-five pounds, but the latter figure is an extreme weight.
The following notes on African, Embden and Toulouse geese, not prepared by the writer of this article, are inserted by the Editor to complete the discussion.
African geese rank with the Embden and Toulouse in size, and are considered more prolific than either. They are strong, vigorous and active birds. They are characterized by a large head, bearing a pronounced black knob, and a heavy gray dewlap under the throat. The neck is long, back broad and flat, breast full and round, body large and upright. The thighs are short and plump, and the shanks medium long and dark orange colored. The wings are of good size, and fit close to the body. The plumage of the neck is rather light gray in color, traversed from the head to the body by a stripe of dark gray color. The breast is gray, the under part of the body and thighs a lighter gray, and the back dark gray. The wings and tail are dark gray. The standard weights are given as follows: Mature gander, 20 pounds; mature goose, 18 pounds; young gander, 16 pounds; young goose, 14 pounds.
African geese are most profitable because of their prolificacy and early maturity. Nine-pound market birds are ready in ten weeks. Their dark bill and skin is against them, and they are considered
Fig. 586. Embden.
difficult to pick. But the flesh is fine-flavored, and esteemed for the table. The ganders are sure breeders, and mate readily with any geese and with large numbers. The females are splendid mothers, and fairly good layers.
African geese are an old variety and were brought to America at an early date, variously known as African, India and Guinea geese. They have not been much shown, and consequently are not so well known as some other breeds, but are highly prized by a few breeders.
The beautiful white plumage, square, compact body, and tall, erect carriage of the Embden make it a very attractive bird. It is not so prolific, perhaps, as the Toulouse, averaging only about twenty eggs in a season, but it is highly esteemed as a practical bird. The neck is long and massive appearing, carrying rather a large head and a medium-sized, orange-colored bill. The back is slightly arched, the breast round, deep and full, shanks short, stout, and deep orange in color, the thighs strong and well-proportioned, toes straight. The wings are large and strong and the tail short. The eyes are bright blue, indicating vigor and attention. The standard weights are given as follows: Mature gander, 20 pounds; mature goose, 18 pounds; young gander, 18 pounds; young goose, 16 pounds.
Embden geese were originated by the north Germans, and especially those living in or near the province of Westphalia.
For breeding, it is well to choose a bright, active gander of good parentage, that is two to five years old. The goose should have similar qualities, and be clean and compact. Fall or early winter is the best time to mate. The gander and geese, one to three in number, should be put together and isolated until they become acquainted. Embden geese will breed profitably until ten to twelve years of age, but they are not generally allowed to do so. They like to hide their nests, and it is well to place the nests in out-of-the-way places, free from disturbance. A few nest-eggs should be provided so that the eggs may be removed each day, and stored at a temperature of 45° to 60°, until enough for a sitting have been secured. By that time the goose will be broody. Incubation takes thirty days. If the eggs are hatched under a hen, she will need attention at hatching time, until she gets familiar with her strange brood.
Toulouse geese are an old French breed, and have long been popular in France for their superior fattening qualities and hardiness, making them very profitable. They derive their name from the city of Toulouse in France. They are bred largely on farms in America, and are in demand on the market. They are less esteemed for table purposes than some other breeds, owing to the coarse and flabby nature of the flesh. They are late maturing and prolific, averaging about forty eggs in a season.
Toulouse geese are blue-gray in color, marked with brown; the head is gray, the neck dark blue gray, the back dark gray, the breast a light gray or steel-blue, the belly and under surface of the tail white; the shanks and feet are deep orange-red colored, and the bill is orange colored. The primaries of the wings are brown, the secondaries a darker brown, edged with lighter gray, the coverts dark gray. The head is rather large but short, the bill short and stout, neck medium long and well carried; body compact, medium length, deep, the belly almost touching the ground; back broad, moderately long, slightly arched; breast broad and
deep; wings large, strong, folded close to the body; tail short; thighs and shanks stout. The standard weights are given as follows: Adult gander, 20 pounds; adult goose, 18 pounds; young gander, 18 pounds; young goose, 15 pounds.
The comparative value of the different breeds for market purposes is a matter of opinion. African geese are hardy, good breeders and prolific; other wise they are not so good for market purposes as either the Embden or the Toulouse. African ganders are frequently used to cross on other breeds, but they are pugnacious, quarrelsome and hard to handle. The Embden is preeminently the market goose for family trade; especially is this so where producer and consumer deal direct.
Young geese are often as good or better breeders than old. Breeding qualities are to be judged by results rather than by age. It is well to keep the good breeders as long as they produce satisfactorily. Geese that have been good breeders should not be condemned on one season's failure. All breeding geese have their "ups and downs," and results are not always good. It is better to set all but the last eggs under hens; the latter are easier to handle, and the goose will usually lay two litters.
The White and the Brown Chinese (Cygnopsis cygnoides) have the same general characteristics, but are entirely different in color. The original Chinese were colored and the White has been bred from sports. It is thought that no entirely white variety of geese existed among any known wild species of the goose family. These two varieties are native of China, and are bred in Europe and America in large numbers.
The Chinese are the most ornamental of all domestic varieties of geese. For ornamenting the lakes and lagoons of public and private parks they rank high, even rivaling the European swan in this respect. They are also a practical variety. In egg production they out-rival even the famous Toulouse. As a market goose, the Chinese are of very superior quality. The bodies are plump and round and the meat is of excellent quality. As feather-producers they are also valuable, being covered with a good coat of soft feathers and fine down. They are of medium size, mature specimens weighing ten to fourteen pounds each according to flesh. In general appearance, the Chinese have long arch necks, carried very upright, with a large round knob or protuberance at the base of the beak--the larger the knob the better. They display
a short erect body and carriage, giving them a novel appearance. They are especially valuable on farms on which marshy or broken land by stream or brook abounds, for this is their natural home. During the spring and warm months they gain nearly their entire living from pasture and water. During the winter, they need the protection of an open shed, and if supplied with clover hay and other rough fodder require only a small amount of grain each day. The breeding geese should be fed sparingly on corn or other grain, as fattened specimens are poor egg producers and eggs from them hatch few goslings.
Experience has taught that it is best to mate two geese with one gander, although some ganders will mate with three geese. When large flocks are kept together, they usually mate in pairs and trios, and at laying time the ganders become pugnacious among themselves and fight viciously. It is advisable to allow the goose to sit and hatch her young, but the eggs can be hatched by chicken hens and reared by hand with good success. Should the latter method be adopted, the goose should be removed to new quarters as soon as she begins to be broody, and in a few days she will lay again. After the second laying it is well to allow the goose to hatch and grow the young. The young grow rapidly from the shell, and at four months of age are nearly mature. The gander will always care for and protect the young as well as the goose. The young hatched and cared for by the chicken hens can be turned over at any age to the flock, as the ganders will fight for the young at any age, and every old gander in the flock will endeavor to father the young goslings.
The American wild or Canadian goose (Branta Canadensis) is a native of North America from the gulf of Mexico to the Hudson bay country and even Alaska. It is a migratory bird, spending the winters in southern United States and in Mexico and California. In the early spring great flocks are seen passing northward, beyond the eye and habitation of man to the silent desolations of unknown countries. It seeks the wild solitudes uninhabited by man, on the shores of lakes and marshes. It usually nests near the water on elevated patches of ground, and frequently on muskrat houses made of reeds in the water. The nest is carefully made and protected with diligent care by both gander and goose. The goose does not begin to lay until three years of age, and produces five to eight eggs of large and uniform size. Invariably all are fertile and each brings forth a strong, vigorous gosling. As soon as all are hatched, the young are taken to the water by the parent birds, where they feed mostly on vegetable matter and water insects. The young are very rapid growers and come to maturity in about twelve weeks, while other varieties of our domestic geese require four to five months to reach maturity. The Canadian Wild geese mate only in pairs.
Wild geese were domesticated and bred on farms at an early period with varied success. No change in appearance or color has been wrought by man; their appearance and habits are the same. The writer has had many years of experience in breeding and handling these wild fowls, and finds their wild instincts always foremost. Birds reared with our domestic geese will rise and fly if an opportunity presents itself. The only means of controlling them is to remove the last joint of one wing when the goslings are only a few days old so that they cannot fly.
The standard weight of Wild geese is ten to twelve pounds. They are of medium size, with long arched neck, small, well-elevated head, with black beak and an ever-watchful eye; head black, with a triangular white patch or cheek piece meeting under the throat; neck black, shading to gray at base; the back dark gray, breast light gray, shading to white on under part of the body; wings long, large and powerful, and in color dark gray approaching black. The young are similar in color to the adult, except that they are a little duller in shade and the white cheek piece is marked with black. This disappears at maturity, however, and at one year old the young have precisely the same color as the adults.
This variety is entirely different from all other standard or domestic varieties of the goose family. It produces only a small number of eggs and is of little value except for ornamental purposes. Its native home is north and central Africa and the shores of the Mediterranean sea. Historians and naturalists allude to the Egyptian as the oldest and most ancient variety of pure-bred geese. At present it is common over southern Europe and occasionally fine specimens can be found in America. It is the native wild goose of the River Nile country. Because of its small size and peculiar shape, some naturalists place the Egyptian as much in the duck family as in the goose family. It is the smallest standard or domesticated variety, weighing six to ten pounds, the latter weight being the extreme for mature males.
The male and female are alike both in shape and in color, and it is frequently difficult to distinguish the sexes under ordinary circumstances. It is necessary to "wing" both mature and young birds to prevent their flying away. They care little for other domestic varieties of geese and ducks, and prefer to remain by themselves near the pond or marsh. They are sought principally for parks and public exhibitions. While small in stature, the old males are very pugnacious and quarrelsome with all other aquatic fowls, and especially with males of their own species. With better domestication this troublesome characteristic will no doubt be overcome to a great extent.
In color, the Egyptian goose is the most varied and gaudy of the goose tribe. The head is small and rather long, a little inclined to duck shape; the bill of medium length and rather flat, and in color purple or shaded red; the eyes orange color, prominent and bold; the neck medium length, small, gray and black in color; the back narrow and arched or egg-shaped from base of neck to tail, color grayish black; the breast round and deep, with a chestnut-colored middle, the lower part dark gray. The same chestnut color extends around the eye, covering the side of the head in both male and female. The wings are large and powerful, and underneath the wing joints are provided with a strong, horny spur five-eighths of an inch long, being entirely different in this respect from other varieties of geese. The surface of the wing is white, with a narrow black stripe or bar of clear metallic luster, wing flights clear black, tail medium size and metallic black, thighs pale buff or gray, feet reddish yellow. Altogether the Egyptian is a most interesting variety and worthy of more than passing attention. It breeds well in confinement under favorable conditions, the goose producing six to eight eggs, making a nest and hatching her young. If it has access to a pond or waterway, it requires very little attention or grain food.
The Sebastapool goose is a native of eastern Europe and western Asia and the Black sea, and was imported to America as early as 1860. It is a
pure-bred, but not a standard variety, pure white in color, of medium size, mature specimens weighing ten to eleven pounds each. The peculiarity of this most novel variety is its plumage, the back and wing surface feathers being long, inclining forward and downward, without shaft and curling as though fanned by the breezes. The irregular ribbon-like plumage attracts attention wherever exhibited. Very few good specimens are to be found in America.
Brant found some twenty distinct types or varieties of wild geese in North America. We here mention only a few of the more prominent. All North American varieties are birds of rapid and powerful flight, non-divers except when wounded, and nest on the ground in high latitude; but nests have occasionally been found in the forks of a low tree a few feet from the ground.
(Chen caerulescens) The wild Blue goose is a distinct variety found in the interior in the Mississippi valley and north to the Hudson bay country. It is rarely seen on the Pacific or Atlantic coasts. It winters along the gulf of Mexico and nests in the interior of Labrador. It is somewhat smaller than the Canadian Wild goose and much shorter in neck. The head and the upper part of the neck are white, the breast, back and wings brown and blue tinged with gray, the tail brown edged with white, the bill pale pink with a black mark along each mandible, and the shanks and feet bright pink in color.
(Chen hyperborea). This variety is native from Alaska to Texas and Cuba. It feeds largely on the land from growing vegetables, and returns to the water for resting and drink. The adult specimen is white in color, except the primaries of the flights, which are black, shading to gray at the base. The bill and feet are bright red.
The color and general characteristics of the Small Snow goose are the same as those of the Large Snow goose except as to size. It is found from the Mississippi valley to California, and from as far south as Lower California to as far north as Hudson bay.
This goose is the same in color as the Snow goose, but very small in size,--in fact, it is the smallest of all wild varieties, mature specimens weighing only about three pounds. It is without doubt the bantam of the wild goose family. It is not numerous. In summer it occupies the country about the Arctic ocean and in winter is found along the Pacific coast and in southern California.
(Anser albifrons) is of medium size and grayish brown in color. The first short feathers from the beak toward the eye are white bordered by dark brown, and hence the name, White-fronted goose. The bill, legs and feet are pink or red. It inhabits the entire western part of North America from Mexico to the Arctic ocean. It feeds almost entirely on grass and other vegetable matter, and occupies the water only at night
and during the molting period. The nest is made on the low ground near fresh-water marshes and small lakes. The goose produces five to seven eggs of a cream color.
These varieties of wild geese are all similar in characteristics and color to the Canadian Wild goose except in size, and are less numerous.
(Bernicla cucopsis) The Bernacle goose is said to be a straggler from Europe, where it is common. It is very scarce in America, and is found only along the Atlantic coast. It is a small bird about the size of the Brant. The head is white except the top, which is black; the neck, back and wings are white, the under part of the body dull white, ending in clear white at the rear end; the tail, bill and feet are black.
The Emperor is a rare variety, found principally about the Bering sea, and said by some writers to be the handsomest of all American varieties. In color, the head and back of the neck are white, the front and sides of the neck are brownish black checked with white, the tail is dark gray at the base and white at the end. The wing and body plumage is of a bluish shade, each feather ending with a band of white and laced by crescent-shaped black markings; the primaries of the wings are black, and the secondaries slaty black laced with white. It nests on the low marshy islands of Alaska, near the water mark.
(Branta bernicla.) This goose is of medium size, nearly black in color except the under rear part of the body. It inhabits nearly all of North America as far east as Greenland, and north to the Arctic ocean. The nest is made on the ground on small islands in fresh water in Franklin bay. The nest usually contains four or five eggs.
Of the wild varieties of Europe, there are three distinct types: the Gray-lag goose, the Pink-footed goose and the Bean goose. The common domestic, or English variety, is no doubt a descendant of the wild Gray-lag.
(Anser cinereus) The wild Gray-lag goose, alone among wild varieties, will cross with domestic geese and produce fertile progeny. Very few Gray-lags are to be found in Europe except in the Shetland islands and on the coast of Norway. As a variety it has become almost extinct.
(Anser segetum) The Bean goose closely resembles the Gray-lag in many respects, but is shorter in beak and has greater length of wings or flight feathers.
Very little can be said regarding the Pink-footed goose except that it resembles the Gray-lag and Bean varieties in color and general type, and is very difficult to distinguish from them.
The Gambian or Spur-winged goose is a native of the eastern hemisphere, and is very rare in America. The plumage is black and white, the former predominating. The goose is of medium size, erect in carriage, with a knob on the head similar to that in the Chinese variety. The eyes are bright brown, the beak and shanks dull red. Because of its wild nature it is rarely bred in confinement.
The Cereopsis is a native of New Holland and is becoming very scarce even in Europe. It is a handsome variety. It is very pugnacious in disposition, and cannot be kept successfully with any other variety of water-fowl.
For judging geese, the American Standard of Perfection provides a standard weight for each standard variety--adult male, adult female, young male and young female. In competition with others of the same kind, the specimen nearest the required weight, other conditions of color and form being equal,shall be the winner. However, in the large market varieties, such as the Toulouse, the Embden and the African, the writer thinks that, all other conditions being equal, the largest specimen should be the winner.
Geo. E. Howard, Ducks and Geese: Standard Varieties and Management, Farmers' Bulletin No. 64, United States Department of Agriculture (1906). [For further references, see page 527.]