Shetland Geese and Steinbacher Geese

Steinbacher and Shetland geese are both listed "critical" with the Livestock Conservancy.

Shetland Geese and Steinbacher Geese

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As discussed in previous articles, domestic animals can also be considered critical or threatened just like wild animals. The Shetland geese and Steinbacher geese are both listed as critical — the most severe listing from The Livestock Conservancy. This means that there are fewer than 500 birds in the U.S., with five or fewer primary breeding flocks (50 birds or more), and less than 1,000 around the world. In order to keep these breeds around, dedicated poultry enthusiasts are needed.

Shetland Geese

Jonathan Loftin has been raising Shetland geese for about a dozen years in Springfield Oregon. With five geese in his flock currently, he is noticing that they are not super fertile, with a lot of eggs laid but not a lot hatching. He wonders if other breeders experience the same problem. With Shetland geese being so rare, he doesn’t know how to find other flocks and breeders. This is a shame because they are an excellent addition to a homestead.

“They are very good foragers and not particularly friendly which makes them good watch geese,” Loftin says. “They are lovely little geese and very active.” He adds that the cull Shetland geese make a very tasty roast goose.

Last year two geese set on a dozen eggs between them and only three goslings hatched. While he has used artificial incubators in the past, the geese do a good job or better than the incubator, so he lets them set.

Shetland geese are sexually dimorphic; the males have white plumage as adults and are yellow as goslings. Females are gray and white and goslings are golden yellow with a dark gray back.

“Traditionally in Shetland, they were depended on to follow the sheep to help keep the parasites burden down,” Loftin explains. “They have a funny way of grazing when the grass is tall. They skim the top of the grass like they are getting the parasites.”

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Loftin’s Shetland geese.
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shetland-geese

He supplements their foraging with a high-protein mash. He tells me that they do a great job at keeping about 100 x 100 feet of grass in check.

Loftin’s flock started when a friend wanted to rehome a pair and generously donated them to him. With a flock of Shetland sheep, the addition of Shetland geese was on point. His homestead, at just under five acres, also includes hybrid chickens and honey bees.

These geese are very uncommon. With the main breeder, Dave Holderread, retiring a few years ago and selling off most of the birds to a Canadian farm, they are even rarer in the U.S. Loftin says that Holderread was generous with his time, very friendly, and a lovely man. But without someone whose main focus is to breed rare waterfowl, what will their future look like?

Loftin has been frustrated with the situation. Delays in USPS shipping have possibly exacerbated the already low fertile eggs he has shipped.

Loftin concludes, “I wish it wasn’t a far-flung interest.”

To collaborate with Loftin contact him at jonathanloftin@hotmail.com.

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Shetland geese. Photo courtesy of The Livestock Conservancy.

Steinbacher Geese 

In a mountainous and forested region of Germany, in the early 20th century, the Steinbacher geese were developed. Known as the Steinbacher Kampfgänse (Steinbacher Fighting Goose), pairs are territorial but can be friendly to humans when hand-reared.

Bernd and Mari Krebs first imported the geese to the U.S. from Germany in 2004. Mari tells me it was a lengthy process of paperwork with a 30-day quarantine in Lockport, New York. Their initial import was two pairs of blue and two pairs of gray, which totaled a little over $1,000 per bird.

This lofty adventure of saving rare geese started with their eldest son exhibiting feedstore goslings at local fairs and poultry shows. With no ribbons due to them not meeting the standard, he did some research to find purebreds. He found the blue Steinbacher geese of Germany stunning.

“You know how kids are, they like to win,” Mrs. Krebs says.

Her dad and sister, who reside in Germany, did further research on the breed. Mrs. Krebs’ sister lives near a blue breeder, so they decided to get these purebred geese to raise and show in the United States.

With their initial eight birds, they bred them until they had over 50 blue Steinbacher birds to show at a 2011 exhibition. This allowed the blue variety to be added to the APA standard.  

“There are certain hallmarks of the breed that you have to watch for,” Mrs. Krebs explains. “Black-lined lips on the serration of the beak and bean should have a stark contrast to the orange bill. They look a little bit fierce like that.”

After much experimenting and breeding, the Krebs have discovered that the black lining comes more from the father. When they sell show-quality birds, at $900 a pair, the hand-picked birds will produce award-winning offspring. The father needs to have a perfect line of black or even too much to offset a female that doesn’t display enough.

“You can’t go the other way around, where the gander has a little, but the female has a lot,” Mrs. Krebs has learned.

While the geese can become very broody, and display good mothering and fathering abilities, the Krebs have found that they have higher fertility, when kept in pairs compared to a flock.

“Ganders are so interested in fighting off evil, they don’t do a good job of breeding if other males are around,” Mrs. Krebs says. “They were bred to fight.”

On their 15-acre farm, which the geese have access to the front five acres with a pond, the Krebs also raise another German breed of geese — Emdens. With a barn that includes inside pens with outside access, most birds are paired up and the remaining birds are in a flock situation until they are sold, paired up, or butchered. Pairs are visually blocked from one another with boards to keep the aggression to a minimum.  

While some people think they have low infertility, the Krebs believe this is due to the environments that they are being raised in.

“They get easily excited,” Mrs. Krebs says. “Fighting wears them out, with them fighting with their wings and bills. They can get bruised up. To have good breeding success, separate them and provide breeding pans.”

While the geese are great at hatching their own eggs, the Krebs sometimes pull eggs to get two broods.

“They are such good parents,” Mrs. Krebs says. “They are really sweet to watch. If you raise them in the incubators, it’s good to hand raise them for at least a few weeks so they are used to people and friendly.”

“Steinbacher have a denser shell than Emdens, so don’t put any water in the incubator,” Mrs. Krebs suggests. “The eggs have to lose 16% or more of the original weight, and if they can’t lose that they will have a big egg yolk sack attached. While they may pip they won’t be successful.”

Currently, they have about 40 Steinbacher geese. Most of them are blue but still have a few gray. They have sold birds to many hobbyists in different states and in parts of Canada. Right before COVID-19, they imported a few more pairs to add to the bloodlines.

They still raise these rare geese, after nearly 18 years, to honor their son’s memory.

“Our son was a poultry whiz. Every year we would go through the flock in the fall see who is a roasted goose, or who would be good for breeding.”

Their young son died a few years ago in an accident.

If you are interested in obtaining your own pair, you may contact them at Steinbachers4ever@gmail.com.

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Steinbacher pair. Photo credit: The Livestock Conservancy.
 Status:  Use:  Egg Color:  Egg Size:  Market Weight:  Temperament:  
Shetland GeeseCritical  Meat, Weeding  White  Large  8 – 10 lbs  Active, Self-Sufficient  
SteinbacherCriticalMeatWhiteLarge11 – 15 lbsConfident

Originally published in the October/November 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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