The Toulouse Goose
Poultry Breed Profile
Story and Photos By Kirsten Lie-Nielsen, Maine
When you envision a goose, chances are that the image that appears in your head is the familiar gray shape of a Toulouse. Their unkempt gray feathers cover a full, round body, which has been entertaining and feeding farmers for more than a hundred years. Most likely this breed descended from mixed gray farmyard geese and refined and developed into the bird that brought us the delicacy known as foie gras.
There are two varieties of the Toulouse goose. The “production” variation, which is easily the most common kind, and the “dewlap” version which is much more unusual and grand in its appearance. Production Toulouse are comparatively slender, with smooth skin under their chins and stately carriage. The production variety is very common, and most backyard geese are production Toulouse or a mix of this breed.
The dewlap Toulouse is a remarkable and eye-catching creature. It is the largest breed of goose, adults sometimes weighing in at close to 30 pounds. They have unruly gray feathers and noticeable sags of loose skin under the beaks, called a “dewlap”. The dewlap Toulouse was developed from the production variety as a heavy weight breed that would produce high volumes of fat, and was used in the production of foie gras. Because of their size and imperturbable attitude, dewlap Toulouse require little space and will quickly outgrow other breeds.
Both varieties of the Toulouse are gray, with loose feathering and upward-pointing square tails. They have orange beaks and feet. Goslings are gray with black feet and beaks. The production variety is fairly unremarkable but elegant, with a stout neck and sizable wings.
Dewlap Toulouse have short, thick necks supporting the noticeable, fatty fold of skin, or “dewlap” under their chins. The full, double-lobed abdomen of this goose will usually drag upon the ground. To describe the dewlap Toulouse most accurately you need look no further than the American Poultry Journal of January 1921, where Oscar Grow remarks, “Upon viewing a typical Toulouse Goose one is immediately impressed by its massiveness (…) [T]he abdomen should be … very deep; in adult individuals, touching the ground and completely filling the space in between the legs.”
As if made lazy by their massive size, the dewlap Toulouse is one of the most docile and friendly breeds of geese. While an agitated Toulouse can run at quite a clip, they prefer not to move around too much and will spend most of their time near feed. In a stressful environment a dewlap will not be happy. They prefer their surroundings to be as placid as their temperaments.
The production Toulouse can be a more aggressive, but they are still known to be relatively quiet geese with pleasant attitudes. Since many production Toulouse have been crossbred, they may pick up traits from other breeds that can effect their temperaments.
The production Toulouse is one of the most hardy and easy to care for geese. Accustomed to free ranging in farmyards, production Toulouse are good foragers and can withstand cold winters and hot summers.
The dewlap Toulouse is very cold hardy and can survive cold Northern winters. They will eat all the crumble that they are offered and also enjoy grazing on fresh grass, though they are weak foragers not wishing to wander far. Because of their loose and unkempt feathering, the dewlap Toulouse can sometimes have trouble drying out their feathers after bathing. They need access to dry shelter, especially in winter, where they can preen themselves after a bath.
It’s not clear exactly when the production Toulouse appeared in farmyards, but there have been references to similar gray farmyard geese as far back as 1555. Popular in the United Kingdom, France and the United States because of their versatility and kind temperaments, the dewlap variety was developed from smaller sized birds.
First recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1874, the dewlap Toulouse quickly became prevalent thanks to its size, which made it popular with farmers who were growing geese for meat. Because the dewlap Toulouse has a lot of loose fat, it renders a large amount of fat, which was found to be useful for lubrication and cooking. The French delicacy foie gras is derived from the livers of the dewlap Toulouse. Also valuable before slaughter is the egg production of the dewlap. Females can be relied upon to lay 20 or so extremely large eggs every spring.
While it might seem like a bird of this size is practical only for meat production, the Toulouse goose is a dependable egg layer, with the added benefit of their placid behavior which makes them great pets for a small farm. The Toulouse goose is also an exhibition bird. At poultry fairs its signature features of dewlaps and lobes are judged against other geese for the finest form. An ideal 4-H animal, the Toulouse is sure to draw praises from all visitors to your farm.
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.