While many folks think “turkey” when planning a holiday feast, roast goose is a tradition for others. At Gozzard City, Wesley Bascom and Suzanne Podhaizer raise several hundred geese on pastures in the rolling hills of Cabot, VT.
Geese are larger, more curious and need more bedding and water than chickens. Processing the birds, as well as marketing them, is more complex and the initial investment in day-old goslings costs quite a bit more.
Day-old goslings are purchased from Metzer Farms. Birds arrive in May and are about $10 per bird, which is 10 times the cost of chicken poults. Gozzard City has successful raised 300 pastured geese this season and moving 300 geese at a time is not a chore for just one person. The geese are divided into four flocks, ranging from 65-100 birds each. “Geese go through so much more bedding due to their ability to drink so much and their desire to play with water,” Bascom says. “Geese are also much more curious and willing to experiment — or tinker — with things. They’ll go after any stray bits of electrical wire. If the fence is off, they’ll find out within the day and wreck havoc on the netting.”
The majority of the geese raised thus far by Gozzard City have been Embden geese, a traditional French breed. Bascom has also experimented with a small group of a dozen American Buff geese and hopes to begin his own breeding program with these birds. “At some point I would like to breed and hatch goslings on the farm but for now we need to focus our energy towards learning the art and science of pasture management,” says Bascom.
Bascom says he turned to geese because reports suggest they can glean 90 percent of their diet from the fields. “After I started, I just became enamored with the animals and their habits and so I continue.”
Bascom strongly believes that agriculture should be based on soil health and thriving pasture ecology, he sees geese as a major component. Combining geese into a grazing system with ruminants seems promising, he says, adding that his geese love tender, young growth — most of the grasses (except orchard grass) and especially dandelions, white, ladino and dutch clovers.
Geese are rotated through 12 acres, being moved every three days. Each flock is contained in its own paddock, surrounded by sheep net fencing and is supplemented with some grains. He also grows some oats and radish for grazing. Bascom is conducting research, via a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant, on the effects of varying amounts of grain supplementation on pastured geese production. He hopes to raise the geese in a system that uses as little grain as possible, relying on pasture forages.
Water is delivered to the pasture using moveable water tanks with float valves. At night, the geese are housed in a fenced, open-air yard, crafted from cedar posts and mesh. Electric fencing lines at six inches, two feet and four feet protect the geese from predators and keep them from wandering. “I’m not sure that much would be a threat to the more mature geese, unless it was a particularly cocky fox or coyote,” Bascom says. “This year, we had very few problems with predator loss.”
Goslings are not ready for pasture for several weeks and must be kept warm and dry. Bascom uses a hoop house, 28 feet by 52 feet with an insulated tent inside, kept warm with electric lamps. Goslings can freely move from the brooder tent into the greenhouse space. At four weeks, goslings are pastured during the day and fully transitioned out of the greenhouse at five weeks of age.
Processing and Marketing
Bascom can’t find a state-inspected slaughterhouse that will process the geese so they are processed on-farm and sales are restricted to direct to consumer on-farm sales, as well as sales to restaurants.
“The reality is that all the processing plants we talked with wanted nothing to do with waterfowl and building our own plant is financially and personally non-viable at this moment,” Bascom acknowledges. “They have a lot of well-oiled, water-repellent feathers and removing them is a chore.”
They have devised a system of scalding the birds at 148 degrees and massaging the feathers vigorously. Hand plucking, a mechanical pluck and a waxing come next. The feathers are highly prized and used in bedding and clothing for insulation, but there is no real infrastructure in place to access this market. This season, Bascom washed a few hundred pounds of feathers at the local laundromat and is attempting to solar dry them in the greenhouse, with the intent of making a few blankets. Processing geese when all the feathers are mature, which occurs at specified cycles, requires less effort — and good timing — than when pin feathers are present.
Goose meat is, in many ways, a delicacy and a luxury. He markets the meat at $9.50 per pound. With birds weighing between seven and 15 pounds, so a goose for the holiday table can easily be a $100.00 expense. The market is limited but Bascom is confident that the market does exist.
“For special occasions, our prices compare very favorably to some of the other pastured meats that are on the market,” he says, adding that he is looking for customers who want the richness of flavor and value the free-range forage-intensive diet offers. “They are the people who are willing to put the time and money into creating very special meals, right now, we reach a lot of people with word-of-mouth, either testimonials from people who have tried our product at home or in a local restaurant.”
Gozzard City occupies pasture space at Provender Farms, which is a co-housing community offering leased farming space for a variety of farm businesses, including Woodbelly Pizza (farm to plate catering) and Provender Farms (organic produce).
Those wishing to inquire about a goose can contact Gozzard City at Provender Farm, 34 Langone Road, Cabot, VT, call 802-274-1420 or visit www.getyourgoose.com .