The Roman Goose
Story & Photos By Kirsten Lie-Nielsen, Maine
Roman geese bring history and a unique appearance to the farm. Their carriage and plumage are swanlike, and their lineage traces back more than 2,000 years. These geese are not common on American farms, being more popular as an exhibition breed in this country. Around the world, Roman geese have been raised for a variety of uses, and they make a helpful and entertaining addition to any flock.
Roman geese come in two varieties, a tufted and a plain-headed version. The more common and distinct variety in America is the tufted Roman, which has an unusual upward plume of feathers at the top of its head. Plain-headed Roman geese have flat feathering over their heads, as well as the rest of their bodies. Roman geese are widely believed to be the oldest breed of goose still being bred today. Originally domesticated in Italy, these geese have been kept since the times of the Roman Empire, when they were crucial in defending the city against an attack by the Gauls in the fourth century B.C.
A smaller breed of goose, Romans weigh usually less than 10 pounds. Their bodies are plump with curving necks, and because of their size many are raised as ornamental additions to a farm or as show birds. The honk of a Roman goose can alert you to intruders on your farm, just as their squawking alerted sentries centuries ago.
Distinct and elegant are excellent terms for the Roman goose. Tufted Roman’s graceful necks are accented with the upright plume of feathers on their crests, and their eyes are a piercing blue. With fine white plumage and orange bills and feet, their bodies are full figured and have a round breast and full paunch.
The “tuft” on the Roman goose is not a crest like some breeds of ducks and chickens have. A tuft is smaller and points upwards, rather than creating a “beehive hairdo” appearance.
These elegant geese are capable of limited flight. While they cannot maintain height or distance, their wide and powerful wings will take them severals yards a few feet above the ground.
Romans are most famous for their abilities are guard animals, however they can be relatively docile. Their aggression tends to come out during the springtime, when the ganders are showing off for the female geese. Male Roman geese prefer a harem of three to four females during mating season.
Alert and vocal, the guarding abilities of the Roman geese are so admired because of their constant vigilance. Anything out of place will receive a honk, and their calls are especially piercing. Male geese can be feisty and certainly will not back down when threatened.
The Roman geese, having survived human domestication for centuries, are hardy and tough. They over-winter well and do not require special care. Like all geese, they appreciate bathing water to keep their plumage clean, and need fresh water to digest their food. Free access to feed will be appreciated, but geese on pasture need only nightly feeding.
Once sacred to the goddess Juno, Roman geese were kept outside her temple in Ancient Rome. In the year 387 B.C., Rome was under siege by the Gauls and a few enemy soldiers thought they would attempt a sneak attack. While the guards slept and the dogs were placated with fresh meat, the geese noticed the soldiers immediately and called out a shrill alarm. This timely call allowed the city to ready its defenses and thwart the potential attack.
Since then, Roman geese have been a popular utility goose throughout Europe. Their size and shape make them suited to many purposes, the perfect backyard fowl. Not as common in the Americas, they have gained some interest recently thanks to their docile temperaments and striking appearance.
The efficiency of Roman geese cannot be exaggerated. With plump, compact bodies, they make good table birds despite their small size, and their eggs are large and laid reliably from May through September. Constantly vigilant and vocal, they are excellent for guarding but not so aggressive enough to be a nuisance. This makes them great birds for the small farm or as a family goose.
Small in size but big in attitude, Roman geese are versatile and beautiful birds. If you are looking for a less hostile watchdog, they should be at the top of your list. If you are in search of a smaller goose with a positive attitude and appearance, the Roman goose is one to consider.
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 (hostilevalleyliving.com), hoping to help others learn about self-reliance and simple living.