Raising American Buff Geese for Holiday Dinners
Raising Geese for Meat is Not for the Tender-Hearted
By Jeannette Beranger – ALBC Research & Technical Program Manager: Our family has always had a taste for something different on the holiday table and the Christmas goose is among one of our favorites. As our family farm continues to grow, we thought that perhaps adding geese to our property would be a boon for our holiday festivities. Because we didn’t want to dive head first into any major geese farming production, we started slowly with only three goslings and chose American Buff goose breed based on its reputation for being an amicable bird. They arrived on our farm in the steamy month of July. We thought long and hard about what to call the youngsters since they were very likable creatures whose ultimate fate was for the table. We decided upon Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year as a constant reminder of their purpose on the farm.
Even as newly hatched goslings, their natural curiosity made them want to know everything that was happening around them and add commentary as they saw fit. When the time came to introduce them to the outdoors, we had first carried them from their enclosure to the pasture so they could forage under the watchful eyes of the family (and the nearby Great Horned owls.) It became apparent very quickly that we were approaching this task all wrong since the normally calm and tame birds seemed to be very put out when handled and moved. It was then that my husband, who was born and raised in France, remembered how his grandfather would herd geese on his farm with a couple of sticks and some patience. Et voilá! This method worked beautifully and the birds were very content to be guided to take a walk to the field. When the time came where they were no longer the size of an easy meal for the owls, the birds stayed full time on pasture and were locked in a “goose tractor” in the evening. They lavished the green grass and to supplement they were fed free choice a waterfowl grower feed accompanied by an ample supply of water next to their feed pan so they can dabble the food directly in it.
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For wading opportunities, we came up with the idea of using a bed liner from a pick-up truck that we placed on a small hill to create a pool with a shallow end on one side and a deep end for the birds to wade in and out of easily. The birds loved the pool and water consumption was minimal compared to larger baby pools that are often used by folks. Also, it is important to make sure the food is far away from the wading pool so that the birds don’t dabble food in it and foul the water twice as quickly as they would otherwise. Incidentally, much to our annoyance, the pool also served as a great evening perch for the Great Horned owl that would come down at night to take a drink and peek at the geese in their tractor.
Time passed quickly and soon the holiday season approached. The plan was to keep the birds until the weather got cold and they put on extra fat for the winter. This is the optimal time for processing the holiday bird so that it has ample fat and will cook properly. The birds were carefully crated and brought to our local processor who thankfully, handled the birds humanely and with great care.
As farmers, we are always mindful of an animal’s purpose on our farm and each one is respected and well cared for up until the end. We eat them knowing they had a great life that few animals in the poultry industry would have, and we go above and beyond to provide a good quality of life that expresses itself in the bounty on the table. Raising geese for meat is not for the soft-hearted as they are such likable creatures. But for those interested in holiday tradition and an extraordinary dining experience, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn first hand why the goose was aptly named by chefs as the “prince of poultry.”As we ate our delicious holiday birds we reminisced about our goose experience and the months-long effort that brought these fine birds to our table to share with family and friends.
American Buff Geese
The American Buff goose was developed in North America from the wild Greylag goose of Europe and Northern Asia. There are two theories about the early development of the breed. One is that the breed could have come from buff mutations within flocks of gray geese and the other is that it may have been a refined version of already existing buff colored geese imported from Europe. The complete story of its origin may never be known, however. The American Buff goose was accepted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 1947.
As the name implies, this breed of goose is dark buff in color throughout most of the body. The buff color grows lighter as it approaches the abdomen, where it is almost white. The moderately broad head has lovely dark hazel eyes and a light orange bill with the hard end of it, the “nail,” pale pink in color. The stout legs and feet are a darker shade of orange than the bill although the leg color may fade to pink during the breeding season or when there is no grass available for forage. This breed is the largest of the medium class geese, with ganders weighing 18 lbs. and the geese weighing 16 lbs. They make a wonderful table bird that dresses nicely due to their light-colored feathers.
American Buff geese are known for their excellent parenting skills, attending to their goslings with great care. The goose will lay 10 to 20 eggs and incubate them for 28 to 34 days. These geese are very broody mothers and may make good surrogates for the eggs of other breeds of geese. They can be loyal and even affectionate towards their owners. They are typically docile and make a great addition to the family farm. American Buff geese are very curious creatures, so care must be taken to ensure they don’t wander off to explore unfamiliar areas outside of the farm.
ALBC Conservation Priority List Status: Critical
Originally published in Backyard Poultry August / September 2011 and regularly vetted for accuracy.