Geese have a bad reputation, but we find them to be very manageable, if strong willed at times. With the exception of our foundation trio, which we purchased from a local farm in 2015, all of our geese were hand raised, and are very gentle. I walk among them with ease, and some allow me to pet them as they drink water from a basin as I hold it. All our geese may be held and carried safely. The gander is aggressive during mating season, and they guard their nests and young with conviction, but they are not vicious at all, and they are easily herded across the property. Geese are our most intelligent birds (the Muscovy will argue that point) and are very patient as I move fence to provide fresh pasture.
Embden. The German Embden breed is famous for its size and flavor. Once we tasted our first goose in the fall of 2016, we decided we would not be at all sorry if we did not sell any, the bird was so delicious, we would gladly roast a goose every week. We did sell all our birds, however, so we raised quite a few more in 2017! We also favor the Embden because it loves to graze, and for its excellent parenting skills. In 2016, we noticed the geese were excellent layers, but not the best at brooding. We hatched goslings from our goose eggs in incubators, and raised them for 1-2 weeks in brooders before introducing them to their parents. The geese stood outside the door where the brooders were set up, and called for their children. They never called out when we brooded ducklings, they knew the sound of their own kind. We introduced the goslings in a spacious wire pen, where the geese could see them but not chase them. In a matter of days, the geese took over, and guarded the goslings, shepherding them over their fields and protecting them from anyone who approached. In 2017, in addition to hatching goslings from our own geese, we introduced goslings purchased from John Meter in CA to introduce new blood lines into our flock. For 2018 we selected the best females from CA to mate with the ganders from our original blood lines.
Our videos show goslings newly introduced to their parents at Stone Ridge Orchard. You will notice the gander guards the goslings closely, he is always near them, standing tall. You will notice how fast the goslings grow, differences can be seen almost daily.
French Toulouse. We added a small flock of Toulouse geese in January 2017 from a farm in MA. They integrated well into the flocks, and quickly learned to follow the Embden out to graze. The Toulouse is an old French breed most often used to prepare Fois Gras. These birds are slightly smaller, and higher in fat then the Embden. In early 2017 our geese self segregated into three families, one pair of Embden, one pair of Toulouse and a quad of one Embden gander and three Toulouse geese. In the spring of 2017 we purchased French Toulouse goslings from Metzer Farms in order to obtain new breeding stock. These French Toulouse are the progeny of birds recently imported from France and are larger than most production Toulouse lines found in the US. Among the geese we raised in 2017 was one Embden/Toulouse F1 hybrid, which are said to excellent utility meat birds with the best qualities of both breeds. Towards the end of 2017, we compared the breeds and report here on our personal favorites. We compared the French Toulouse and Embden for Thanaksgiving. We found that the Embden/Toulouse F1 hybrid is higher in fat and slightly milder in flavor that the Embden and the pure Toulouse is still higher in fat and also mild in flavor. We are partial to the Embden and the Embden/Toulouse F1 hybrid. For 2018 we have set up three family flocks, each with 1-2 ganders and 6-8 geese, from which we will raise Embden, French Toulouse and Embden/Toulouse F1 hybrids. Our experience during the breeding season, we find that the Toulouse are slightly easier to handle, are excellent setters and parents. The Embden are a little more "forward" and are better protectors of the flock. We pasture our geese with our heritage chickens, and the Embden appear to offer slightly better protection from raptors.
Geese are seasonal breeders, they mate and lay eggs in the early spring and summer only. While goslings grow very rapidly, and are typically harvested at 9 or 15 weeks in large commercial operations, pastured birds raised primarily on grass grow more slowly, and are harvested anytime between 20 - 32 weeks of age. For this reason fresh geese are available only in the fall and winter, and a limited number of frozen birds are available year round. Based on our experience we strongly suggest pre-ordering holiday geese, as we sold out quickly to our restaurant and retail clients in 2016 and 2017.
In 2018, we will take orders for Holliday geese in September and October, for delivery a few days before the major Hollidays between Thanksgiving and New Years. All orders must be submitted by October 30th, and will require a non-refundable deposit. Pick up will be at Stone Ridge Orchard and at a single location in NYC, TBD. CSA members who elect to include a Holliday Goose in their package will have a bird reserved, no further action is needed. All birds not selected as breeding stock, and not pre-ordered as Holliday birds will be harvested in early November to prepare smoked goose and goose confit.