The African Goose
A Versatile Bird with a Little Bit of Attitude
Story and Photos By Kirsten Lie-Nielsen, Maine
A flock of African geese make a graceful sight in the barnyard. Their long necks and unique beaks lend elegance to their full, round bodies. Their noisy honking might be a nuisance to some farmers, but even this characteristic can be an asset, replacing the need for guard dogs or alarms.
These brown beauties are not originally from Africa at all, but more likely from southeastern Asia. African geese are one of the largest breeds of geese, weighing as much as 20 pounds per bird. They are one of two breeds of geese with distinct, bulbous knobs above their bills. These distinct lumps are unique to geese descended from the Asian Swan goose. Often raised for meat because of their large size, they can be loud and aggressive guard birds. Positively, these birds can make excellent weeders, using their long necks to pluck undesirable plants while leaving tender fruits and vegetables untouched.
Brown African geese have cocoa-colored bodies with creamy undersides, orange feet and black bills. There is also a white African variety, but they are scarcer. Adult geese have a fleshy waddle under their beaks as well, a flap of fat known as a dewlap. Massive birds, African geese have large, low hanging paunches and carry themselves in a more upright fashion than many of their fellow geese. Despite their large bodies, the necks of these geese are longer and more slender than other breeds.
The African breed can live up to the reputation of ornery and aggressive geese. During the spring mating season males can be especially protective of their flock. This attitude, along with a distinct and pronounced honk, make African geese one of the best breeds for guard work. Much of a goose’s attitude is determined by how they are raised, Africans raised by hand or with plenty of human contact can be sweet and docile, eagerly following their people around the farm.
These birds are very hardy and can withstand cold temperatures. However, the black knob above their bills is susceptible to the danger of frostbite. To avoid frost-bite damage, make sure they have a warm shelter for cold nights and windy days, and dab petroleum jelly on any area that shows harm. Frostbite on the knob is easily no-ticed, as it causes a bright orange spot that will gradually return to black as it heals. Because of their clamorous nature, African geese aren’t ideal for every house-hold. Be sure you’re prepared for a rowdy greeting when pulling in the drive, and don’t expect neighbors to be able to walk past without an alarm.
African geese originated in Asia. The Swan goose, a large, long-billed wild goose, is the closest ancestor of the African and Chinese breeds of domestic geese. Wild Swan geese are rare, but still roam freely in modern Mongolia, China and Russia. After its domestication around 1,000 B.C., these geese were selectively bred for certain qualities we continue to look for in domesticated geese today: heavier weight, increased egg production, and a friendlier personality. Breeding stock for African geese were also selected according to the prominence of the knob above their beaks, which led to that special feature that survives today. It is through selective breeding that African geese became distinct from their Chinese cousins. With their fatty dewlap and an average weight of 20 pounds, Af-rican geese are simply bigger, with a more round chest and fuller keel.
African geese are very versatile on the farmyard. They are aggressive and loud enough to be very effective as guard animals, and their long necks and voracious appetites make them excellent weeders. They produce plenty of lean, quality meat, and while they are not the most productive layers, the size of their eggs is exceptional.
A breed of goose with benefits across the board, African geese are talkative poultry with personalities as pronounced as their vocalizations. While these heavy and clamorous birds aren’t ideal for every farm, they can be treasured and practical assets.
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is a freelance writer and farmer from Liberty, Maine. When not cultivating a growing garden and tending her geese and other animals, she maintains Hostile Valley Living (hosti levalleyliving.com), hoping to help others learn about self reliance and simple living.