Geese were once the traditional Christmas meal and competitive with turkeys for other festive occasions. Today, geese have lost their place in the market. Concern about fatty foods makes goose a target, although most of the fat roasts off during cooking. As integrated family farms that used geese as weed control declined and fewer geese were supplied to markets, consumers became unfamiliar with them. I make it a point to roast a goose every now and again and invite friends over to acquaint them with cooking and eating goose.
The three heavy breeds recognized by the APA for exhibition, the African, Embden and Toulouse are impressive, stately birds. They weigh in between 18 and 26 pounds. All have long histories in America and were included in the first Standard of Excellence (now called the Standard of Perfection) in 1874.
Embdens are big white geese with blue eyes, weighing upwards of 20 pounds as adults. Their white plumage eliminates the problem of dark pinfeathers in the skin. Occasional gray feathers on young geese usually grow out white as they mature. They grow rapidly to their full size, 16 to 20 pounds for a young goose. Old geese range from 20 pounds for a female to 26 pounds for ganders. This goose feeds a large family at holiday dinners.
African Geese have the recognizable knob on their heads, between their eyes. The knob develops to its full size over several years. Although generally males are larger and have larger knobs than females, do not rely on size to sex African Geese. They vary too much, with large females growing bigger than small males. African Geese may also have a dewlap, a bag of skin hanging down under the chin. Africans weigh 18 lbs. for the goose and 22 lbs. or more for the gander.
African Geese and their smaller knobbed cousins, Chinese Geese, are descended from the wild Asian Swan Goose. Embden and Toulouse are descended from European Graylag Goose, as are medium class breeds American Buff, Pomeranian and Sebastopol. All show some influence of the wild Bean Goose.
Africans are good setters, with good fertility and hatchability, and good parents. They reliably raise their own goslings.
African Geese are recognized in the Brown color pattern and in solid White. The Brown have black knobs and the Whites have orange knobs. The Brown are abundant, but the White variety is rare. A Buff variety is also raised.
They thrive even in cold climates, although the knobs of the Brown variety may show temporary orange patches that gradually disappear if they get frostbitten.
Toulouse Geese are the dignified ladies and gentlemen of the barnyard. Their patient temperament makes them inclined to gain weight, going beyond the top exhibition weight of 26 pounds for ganders and 20 pounds for geese to 30 pounds or more. Toulouse Geese are the traditional goose used in France to make pate de foie gras. Force-feeding geese to develop the fatty livers used in making the delicacy has attracted the attention of animal advocates. Local bans remain controversial.