Geese That Need Attention

Craig Russell

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2012, 17(3):8

As I've often said, the SPPA needs to work on official recognition for all of the historic breeds and varieties of poultry. One group that deserves special attention are the geese. Unlike chickens, turkeys, ducks, and even guinea fowl, geese don't take well to industrial handling. Due to that fact, plus over-blown concerns about fat in the diet, geese have become less than 1/2 of one percent of poultry raised in North America.

Geese are historically important, may rival chickens for early domestication, and despite a reputation for being nasty, are, if well treated, very pleasant critters. Interestingly, geese are clearly the product of numerous independent domestications.

Examples of these various groups deserve to be preserved for historic reasons. Some of the geese that deserve recognition have important American connections from the 1600s to the early 20th Century. These include American Grays, the product of mixing various races of European Gray geese, Cotton Patch, Old English and unrecognized varieties of Pomeranian geese, all of which go back to the very early days of the Colonial Period.

Gray geese are usually considered the largest group of early American geese, but that might be a result of places like Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York generating a lot of writers. The Pomeranian certainly dominated in areas of German settlement. Also, in New England and the South, auto-sexing geese were very common and although the two groups, Cotton Patch and Old English (originally called Pilgrims, but that name has now been taken by a modern auto-sexing breed) obviously had a common origin, their separation and the way they were handled has led to two distinct populations.

Several smaller groups are connected to the American Gray population. Blue Geese and their pure Lavender, or pale, morph and Saddlebacks, like buff in the American Buff, are probably the original source of blue in American geese, coming from a German source. Although, like Buffs, blue is seen in the Pomeranian Group and its original source may well be the Steinbachers that were just accepted by the APA.

More recent geese on the American scene include American Buff Saddlebacks and normal, or smooth-headed Roman Geese. American Buff Saddlebacks date to the same time as the development of the solid American Buffs. Oscar Grow of course talked about them in his book and so did some of my old poultry friends. These geese still exist, but strangely are usually shown as Buff Saddleback Pomeranians.

Historically, the normal Romans were more numerous and reached here earlier than the now APA accepted Tufted Romans. There were several importations and this is another breed promoted by Oscar Grow. A very recent import to North America is the Shetland, another auto-sexing breed.

There are some additional, and even more recent, European importations that deserve support, however I'll leave their introduction to folks more familiar with them. If you raise any of these breeds or varieties, or would like to contact me, it is Craig Russell, 1400 Jones Hill Road, Middleburg, Pennsylvania, 17842. If you would like to lead or oversee one of the efforts, or just take part, please mention that also. Once we have a response from the membership, I'll follow up with sources for these geese. There are issues with some of these varieties that need to be resolved before we finish developing standards for the APA.

When I first wrote about the need to promote and standardize the American Gray Goose, I proposed orange feet and bills to match the American Buff. Others felt that orange bills and pink feet, as with Western Graylags, were more typical, and that varieties of the same breed were not required to match in extremities.

While the Old English and Cotton Patch obviously have a common origin, at this point they really are two distinct breeds. The Old English is larger and the males are very white with very little visible gray, and most of that is obscured by the wings. Male Cotton Patch show noticeable traces of gray over most of the body. Here, the major issue is the pattern of the females. Should they be gray or saddlebacked? The males look the same in both patterns. Bruce Lentz and Young John Kriner believed the Saddleback was historically more typical, but both types have a long history and although standards that allow more than one variant are common elsewhere, it isn't likely the APA would agree to such a proposal.

There are some issues with the German Geese also. Buff and Gray Saddlebacks have now been accepted (it took a long time), the solid Gray, White and Buff have been here just as long and need to be recognized also. One issue is that in Germany the solid Buff, while obviously part of the same group, are called Cellar Geese, not Pomeranians. Blue Geese could be an issue in this group also. In the Taunus Mountains of Germany I saw both solid and saddleback Blues of the Pomeranian type. Henry Miller and Bruce Lentz both talked about such geese in Pennsylvania. Although the only Blues I've seen were of the American type. However, as with buff, blue almost certainly came from the German group and would make an acceptable project.

Many of these historic types are only available from private breeders and in all cases such birds are to be preferred, and are more likely to retain normal parenting skills.



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