Ingeniero Agrónomo, M. Sc.
P. Universidad Católica de Chile
Facultad de Agronomía e Ingeniería Forestal
Departamento de Zootecnia
Geese were the earliest bird to be domesticated. Their domestication started during the Neolithic period approximately 20 000 years ago so man has been using geese for thousands of years and their use has increased over time.
The goose is a unique bird with very special characteristics, very different from other domestic birds. One of these differences is due to its digestive system which allows it to eat and survive exclusively on grass. Unlike other domestic birds but similar to sheep, geese have been used from the start as a multi-purpose animal: for their meat as food and for their high quality feathers as insulation against the cold. Geese can also be used to produce another very high quality product, fatty liver or Foie Gras. However, the production of this product requires a specialised feeding technique called force feeding or cramming.
In spite of the above, geese have not been commercially developed as a domestic bird of worldwide importance as, for instance, chickens have been. This is due to three main considerations:
historical and cultural factors;
the multi-purpose nature of geese which requires the processing of a number of products;
local economic and agrarian conditions.
As will be discussed later in this paper, these factors played a decisive role in the introduction of geese to North and South America.
With the colonization of North America came English, French and Dutch settlers, who in addition to bringing genetically superior animals, also brought geese who participated significantly in the establishment of the settlements. Keeping geese became a tradition on farms and it is still maintained today in Canada and the northern parts of the United States of America.
However, geese were not introduced into South America during its colonization. At first glance, this would appear to be due to the climatic difference between North and South America but this is not the case. South America is a vast continent and it includes a wide variety of climatic conditions, from the very hot tropical, humid jungle to the ice fields of Patagonia. With this great variety of climatic conditions, the Spanish conquerors had no lack of appropriate environments for goose production. It was only after the South American countries achieved their independence and other European immigrants, mainly German, English and French settlers arrived, that the goose was brought to the South American continent.
Contrary to popular opinion, these new settlers did not encounter any difficulty in introducing geese to South America. In Chile today it is possible to find small flocks of geese, raised under family farm conditions, extending over the vast area from the Aconcagua valley (32-33 latitude south) to the plains of Magallanes (53-56 latitude south).
It was in this way and basically due to personal preferences, that geese began to arrive in Chile during the second half of the nineteenth century. The Emden geese came from the city of the same name in Germany (in Holland they were known as Embden geese and both spellings are used for the breed today), the Toulouse geese from Toulouse in France and the small Pilgrim geese came from England and Ireland. German settlers, invited by the Chilean government to colonize parts of the south of the country, brought the Emden goose in 1845. Toulouse geese apparently arrived in 1891 in larger numbers and became very popular because it was a favourite of the French, the French-Basques and the French-Belgians settlers who established themselves in Chile in the south-central region during this time. Today, descendants of the Toulouse goose are present in the majority of the flocks in the Chilean countryside.
Pilgrim geese arrived in Chile in smaller numbers, probably from Ireland. Pilgrim geese have a more rounded and refined body conformation and, since their meat has a milder flavour, they were probably more suitable for the culinary traditions of the Anglo-Saxon and Irish settlers in the southern parts of Chile and Argentina and so more appreciated by them.
Unfortunately, these original settlers did not pass on their knowledge of goose breeding and management to their descendants and subsequently information on many important aspects of goose production, such as feeding and breeding, was lost. In addition, they allowed the various breeds to interbreed freely and it is from this interbreeding that the rustic "Chilean goose" originated. Furthermore, keeping small flocks over a long period of time without the introduction of new genetic material and the continual mating of closely-related individuals, led to inbreeding which resulted in low egg production and poor reproductive performance.
During the years 1989-1993, the Catholic University of Chile developed a project that had two main objectives:
to study the management requirements of the Chilean goose and to transfer this knowledge to the farmers;
to incorporate better genetic material into the local population of Chilian geese with the introduction of French breeds superior in meat and fatty liver production.
As a result, these new importations were made but to date they have been of little commercial importance.
As in Chile, goose production in other Latin American countries has not reached a level of commercial importance. The few exceptions have resulted in medium size enterprises. Nevertheless, the need for creating new production initiatives in animal husbandry may help in the future to generate new goose production ventures with clear commercial objectives, perhaps in combination with other agricultural activities.
The objective of this paper is to provide information on the management of geese in Chile including data compiled in Chile on their reproductive performance, meat production and feather production. The specialized production of fatty liver will not be included here because of the level of sophistication required to produce this product and the difficulty of adapting it to the farming sector, to whom this report is aimed.
The goose is characterized by its unique ability to use food with a high fibre content and this is particularly important as the goose is able to use forages and weeds not utilized by other species. In addition, the goose lives harmoniously with humans as both a productive animal and a good watch animal which immediately gives warning of any intruders.
There has been great interest in geese during recent years perhaps because the unique products that they produce can provide a good income when exported. But although goose produce is greatly appreciated in various countries, production costs must be kept reasonable if the producer is to make a profit. Primary products such as meat, fatty livers and feathers do not generate a very good income. From an economic and social point of view, the processed products such as pillows, duvets, parkas, smoked meat and any other typical or regional products are much more profitable.
In Chile, improved breeds of geese have not been introduced except for isolated cases, most of which has been done by the Research and Reproduction Centre of the Catholic University. Since its creation in 1989, this Centre has imported about 4 000 day-old goslings of improved breeds. This represents one percent of the total geese existing in the country. It has been estimated that in Chile approximately 16 000 farmers raise geese, on average 20-30 geese each, giving a total population of about 400 000 geese. The high demand for day-old goslings reported by the Reproduction Centre indicates a growing interest in producing these birds and in learning about their management.
Reproductive parameters and general management
In general, the reproductive processes of all domestic animals are very important in defining their management requirements. Geese have a reasonable egg production which takes place over a prolonged period of many years and is very seasonal, unlike chickens which produce at a higher rate but are generally only kept for one laying year. In other words, geese lay fewer eggs in a season but their production can be maintained at a good level for three to four years, after which egg production begins to decline. Because of this, with the most prolific strains it is posssible to develop programmes in which the geese produce 20-35 eggs in their first year of lay, 40-50 eggs in their second and third years, 50 eggs in their fourth, after which egg production starts to decline and at which time it is recommended that, if intensive production is being practiced, the breeders be replaced. In extensive production systems, with lower input costs, it may be possible to keep the breeders for one or two more years.
The poorest reproductive parameter is percent hatch which, with artificial incubation, generally does not exceed 70 percent. Consequently, it is possible to produce an average of 25-28 goslings per reproductive female per year, over four years of production. Under natural incubation it is difficult to achieve more than 8-9 goslings per female per year.
With respect to sexual maturity, the females are more precocious than males and generally start producing eggs at six months of age. The sexual activity of the males generally starts 2-3 weeks later and the percent fertility tends to be better the second year.
Breeders must be selected and managed according to their future use, i.e. to serve as reproductive flock. The following are some practical management rules:
a general rule for the management of breeders of any strain is to avoid the mating of related individuals because this will result in inbreeding which can have very damaging effects, especially on percent egg production and percent hatch;
in order to achieve a good percent hatch, a male to female ratio of 1|3 is recommended. The breeding group should be established about two months before the begining of egg production. If the birds are young, it is advisable to raise the males and females together, in the same groupings that they will be kept as adults;
whenever possible, eggs should be collected twice a day, especially if they are to be incubated artificially which is the recommended practice;
breeders should not have their feathers plucked during egg production (August to December in the southern hemisphere). If they are plucked at this time both percent egg production and the number of goslings produced per female will be severely reduced. They can be plucked at all other times of the year;
if the main objective is to produce feathers of good quality, white breeds or strains should be used. In Chile, as in Europe, coloured feathers are downgraded up to 30 percent of their value, although the quality of the feathers is the same;
for meat production it is also recommended that white breeds or strains are used because the coloured feathers leave dark spots on the skin as a result of the dark pin feathers which are impossible to remove. This gives a poor appearance to the carcass. White feathers do not present this problem. If the meat is going to be used for processed products such as sausages and hams or if it is to be cut up into parts, coloured breeds can be used because in these cases the skin is not used;
for the production of fatty livers only specialized breeds or strains which have been genetically selected for this purpose should be used. If other breeds are used, the liver will not reach an adequate size and fat level no matter how well the force-feeding is done;
the presence of water in the form of a pond, stream or other similar source is not essential for mating but it will provide a natural stimulant. When the breeder flock is kept in confinement, the use of water baths is recommended. A total lack of water could result in necrosis of the male copulatory organ and subsequently, infertility.
Facilities for Breeders
In intensive production systems, breeders can be kept confined in pens at a stocking rate of 2.5 birds per m2 in groups of 25-30 breeders, and to ensure a good fertility rate, a female to male ratio of 3:1 is recommended.
The yard or pen must have sloping floors because they are continuously washed by rain. A slatted floor must cover about one third of the area (wood or bamboo are adequate). This floor must be easily removable to clean underneath on a weekly base since this is where the geese droppings and any spilt feed fall because feeders are placed in this area (Figure 1). A thorough cleaning must be done regularly (e.g. every six months) and the feeders must be removed, and well-washed using a 10 percent solution of copper sulphate as a disinfectant. Care must be taken to avoid the geese coming into direct contact with the copper sulphate because of its toxicity.
FIGURE 1 - A) Pens for Breeders
FIGURE 1 - B) Slatted floor made of wood or bamboo
As mentioned before, water baths are recommended for birds in confinement, not for mating to take place under water but so that the birds can get wet to prevent necrosis of the male copulatory organ.
Pens should be provided with enough feeders and drinkers, especially when feed restriction is practised, to avoid excessive competition for access to the feed. Round, semi-automatic feeders are recommended because they do not obstruct the movement of the birds and they are more space-efficient than linear ones. For adult geese the feeding space requirements are about 16 cm per bird using round feeders and 20 cm per bird using linear feeders. However, these values should be adjusted after observing the behaviour of the birds.
For the drinkers (Figure 3), a similar or a slightly larger space per bird is required than for the feeders and the drinkers should be at least 15 cm deep to allow the birds to wet their head and eyes. This will help prevent conjunctivitis and other eye irritations, particularly if the birds are fed a concentrate that produces dust. Drinking water should always be available.
FIGURE 2. Semi-automatic round feeder
FIGURE 3. Hanging linear drinker
Nests 70 cm long, 50 cm wide and 25 cm high (Figure 4) should be installed at a ratio of one nest for every four females. Clean litter should be used inside the nests. Straw works well and it should be changed and/or added often enough to ensure that the eggs are clean. This is the first step to good sanitation during incubation and a subsequent high yield of healthy goslings.
FIGURE 4. Nests
If an extensive production system is used, small yards or pastures can be used which provide the birds 8-10 m2 per bird. In this case, some shade should be provided to protect the birds from the sun. In addition, there must be another isolated facility to provide an area for the nests. The floor of this nesting facility must be kept dry by using wood shavings or straw as litter. It can also be used to provide a good place for the birds during the night to protect them from attack by dogs or other predators. If artificial incubation is being used it is important to keep the nests supplied with clean, fresh straw and to collect the eggs frequently. This practice helps to keep the eggs clean and prevents the females from staying in the nest too long, which can decrease egg production. If the breeders are to be supplemented with a concentrate feed, it is recommended that the nesting facility is supplied with feeders, as well as drinkers for the night. Geese normally drink large amounts of water during the night.
The incubation of goose eggs takes about 30 days and is regarded as difficult due to the large size of the eggs, the hardness of their shells, and the need to cool them regularly. All these factors make the artificial incubation of goose eggs a much more complicated task than the incubation of chicken eggs. However, incubation equipment especially adapted for goose eggs is available and will produce good results.
Forced air incubators have a larger capacity and although they cost more, they give better results than simple still air incubators. The higher cost of the forced air incubators is due to the advantage of their greater automation. Hygiene during incubation is a determining factor in obtaining a high percent hatch.
Management of the eggs
The success of an artificial incubation programme depends not only on keeping the eggs under optimal environmental conditions but also on how they are handled from the moment they are laid.
Egg collection. This should be done as often as possible to avoid damage to the eggs caused by changes in temperature, dirty nests and trampling on the eggs which causes cracking etc. Collecting the eggs at least twice a day can prevent these problems. The collection and transport of the eggs must also be practised with care to avoid shell damages. Cracked eggs have no chance of hatching. Before going to the hatchery, the eggs should be stored in a cool and clean place.
Egg disinfecting. Hygiene of the eggs starts with clean nests and frequent egg collection. It is not recommended that dirty eggs be washed because if preventive measures are not taken, they can become more contaminated than they originally were. This is because if the water temperature is lower than that of the egg, as the egg cools due to the cooler washwater, a suction occurs and the washwater is pulled into the eggs through the pores in the shell carrying dirt from the washwater and micro-organisms from the faeces on the egg surface. It is better that any dirt adhering to the shell surface is carefully removed by using a dry soft brush.
The purpose of disinfecting the eggs is to kill any micro-organisms that exist on the surface of the shell. The most popular method is to fumigate the eggs with formaldehyde. This is a gas with a wide anti-microbial action that is effective for bacteria, fungi and even some viruses. The fumigation is performed in sealed chambers where eggs are exposed on trays. The formaldehyde gas is produced by mixing formalin (a 30 percent solution of formaldehyde) with potassium permanganate. This is done in a rust-proof container (enamelware is often recommended) with a capacity 5-10 times larger than the volume of formalin being used because when the chemicals react, a foam is produced and the volume increases. A good mixture for disinfecting eggs is 40 ml of formalin and 20 g of potassium permanganate per cubic meter of the fumigation chamber for a half an hour. Care must be taken to avoid inhaling the formaldehyde gas because it is a strong irritant. The disinfecting should be done twice: once at the breeder facilities and again just before the eggs are put into the incubators.
Egg storage. Before putting the eggs in the incubators, it is usually necessary to store the eggs until there are enough ready to be incubated together. This storage should take place in an enclosed, cool, slightly humid and clean facility. During storage the eggs should be kept in a horizontal position (laying down) or upright with the wider end up. If the eggs are stored for more than three days, it is advisable to turn them once a day. They can be stored up to ten days but only if the temperature is not higher than 20° C and the relative humidity is 75-80 percent. In many cases it is not recommended that the eggs be incubated before six days after being laid. This allows for the albumen to become a little more watery and has no detrimental effect on the embryo development.
If the eggs have been stored prior to incubation at a low temperature, i.e. 15-20°C, it is recommended that they are pre-warmed to room temperature (approximately 25°C) before putting them into the incubator. In this way, contamination of the interior of the egg through dirt dissolving in the condensation water on the shell surface and entering the egg, can be avoided.
In order to obtain a good percent hatch, it is important to set the eggs in a horizontal position or with the air cell slightly up. If the air cell is placed downwards, there is no possibility of the egg hatching. It is not recommended to put the eggs one on top of the other or to leave spaces between the eggs as this can cause cracking when the eggs are turned.
In general, conditions for the incubation of goose eggs are similar to those for chicken eggs. As with chickens, one incubator is used as a setting unit at the beginning and another as a hatching unit for the last three days. However, goose eggs must be regularly cooled during incubation to avoid damage to the embryo. This practice is one that makes the hatching of goose eggs more complicated.
Temperature. The recommended incubation temperature is 37.7°C. It is important to have a good internal system for air circulation in the incubator to maintain a uniform temperature for all the eggs. In most cases one should use the temperature recommended by the manufacturer of the incubator, which would usually not be very different from the 37.7°C indicated here.
Humidity. This is another very important environmental factor that must be controlled. Usually, a relative humidity of 65 percent is recommended. It should be kept in mind that the high incubator temperature tends to result in dehydration of the eggs and it is necessary to maintain a high level of humidity to counteract this. Low humidity in the incubator can result in weak embryos that will have difficulty hatching. Humidity in the incubator is measured by means of two thermometers, a dry one, to measure the direct air temperature in the incubator, and a wet one, to measure the rate of evaporation. It is from the relationship between these two temperatures that the relative humidity can be calculated (charts with relative humidity values are available). For example, if the dry thermometer shows 37.5°C and the wet one shows 30.7°C, the relative humidity is 60 percent.
Cooling the eggs. The best percent hatch is obtained when the eggs are cooled daily from the seventh day of incubation to day 27. Although there are several recommendations for this, the most practical one is to remove the eggs from the incubator daily from the seventh day and to thoroughly shower them with water for a couple of minutes. Once the eggs have dried, they are returned to the incubator. This cooling of the eggs strengthens the embryos and facilitates the hatching of the goslings.
During hatching, i.e. during the last three days of incubation, the egg cooling should be stopped but it is advisable to raise the humidity inside the hatching unit up to 75 percent to help with the hatching process.
Turning the eggs. During the setting period or the first 27 days of incubation, the position of the eggs should be changed frequently but this should be done with care. The turning is to prevent the embryo from remaining in a static position and to keep it from moving too close to the shell as this can result in dehydration and embryo death. French researchers have shown that if the eggs are set in a horizontal position, turning them to 90° gives very good results. This avoids the turning of the eggs to 180°, like others have proposed, and makes the turning less complicated since, if the eggs are turned to 180°, the egg trays must be closed to support the eggs during turning. Turning the eggs 1-2 times per hour is sufficient. The eggs should not be turned during the last three days of incubation.
Hatching. Goslings usually start pecking at the shell two days before they hatch. This takes a lot of energy and makes them weak when they hatch. To ensure that they have sufficient energy, it is important to follow the incubation management practices described above. In addition, high humidity in the hatching unit facilitates the hatching of the goslings by preventing the down from sticking to the shell.
Once the goslings have hatched, they must be kept in the incubator for a few hours until they are completely dry and have recovered their strength. Removing the goslings from the hatching units prematurely, when they are still wet, may result in chilling and death. A good practice to facilitate hatching, especially for slow or late-hatching goslings, is to remove the surrounding empty shells that may restrict their free movement while they are trying to hatch.
ALTERNATIVE TYPES OF GOOSE PRODUCTION
Among the alternative types of production that are possible with this species are: meat, fatty livers and feathers. In addition, geese can be used to weed a number of crops. As indicated at the beginning of this paper, the production of fatty liver will not be discussed.
In South America in general and in Chile in particular, there is no tradition of goose meat consumption, except in a few small villages where there are still some descendants of the European immigrants. However, the goose is of course well-known.
As with other meat-producing avian species, goose meat can be sold as whole carcasses, in parts or processed. For this last use, preservation by smoking of either the whole bird or various parts is the most common. It is also possible to use the meat for the preparation of sausages, hams and other processed meats. Because goose meat is red in colour, it can be processed very easily with salts (nitrites) to yield an attractive product. In addition, goose fat is of a high quality and provides processed products with the special flavour that is unique to this avian species.
For commercial objectives, meat production is the easiest form of goose production to implement. However, in order to obtain good quality carcasses and/or a good yield of smaller cuts, it is necessary to have good breeding stock, ideally of a specialised meat breed or strain. In addition, there must be an economical feeding programme.
Birds with white feathers are preferred for meat production because the carcasses have a better appearance. As explained before, this is due to the fact that the dark pin feathers of coloured birds remain in the feather follicles after plucking, while in the case of white birds these pin feathers are not visible.
For meat production the use of a good quality feed is necessary to obtain both a good growth rate and meat with a good flavour. If only grass is fed to geese being grown for meat production, the meat will not have a good flavour therefore good quality concentrates are needed, especially during the final fattening period. On the other hand, the use of forage is a good and economical resource, especially for breeders not in egg production.
It is a well-known fact that goslings, especially during the first four weeks of their life, must receive a nutritionally balanced diet based on cereals, wheat by-products, protein sources (oilseed meals and fish-meal) and vitamin and mineral supplements including calcium and phosphorous. For modern strains with a high growth rate, an adequate feeding programme during the peak of the growth period is critical in order to achieve maximum growth. To save on concentrates, the use of forage is possible when the birds are five weeks old but the growth of the geese will be slower than for birds fed with concentrates only.
Similar to other domestic avian species, the production period for geese is defined primarily by their nutritional and physiological needs. When producing geese for meat, two production phases can be distinguished by the age of the birds: the growing phase and the fattening phase.
Within the growing phase it is usually possible to distinguish two sub-phases: the first is characterised by the high growth rate and consequently the high nutritional requirements from day one to the fourth week of age and the second is from the fifth to the eighth week of age.
During their first four weeks, geese have their highest nutrient requirements because at this time they achieve their highest growth rate. It is a very critical period for geese and special care must be taken in providing supplemental heat, appropriate space per bird (density) and good hygiene. Heating can be provided with gas brooders that perform with high efficiency and are easy to manage. Some of the general management guidelines are presented in Table 1.
TABLE 1. Density and temperature recommendations for goslings during the growing period
* If the natural external temperature reaches approximately 20°C, additional heating is not necessary.
During the growing phase goslings can be placed on the floor with a litter of straw or wood shavings, on a raised floor of wooden slates or in battery cages. The most economic alternative is to put the birds on litter. However, special care must be taken to ensure that the litter is dry to prevent the possibility of aspergillosis infection that can result in high mortality. Good ventilation of the building can help to maintain good litter conditions and a satisfactory interior environment but draughts at the level of the birds must be avoided at all times. The alternatives of either slatted floors or batteries represent a major investment but allow a greater number of birds to be maintained per square metre of building space, as well as a better use of the building space. When the birds are five weeks old they do not need supplemental heating and can either be transferred to a productive pasture with a good yield of grass or stay in the barn on litter. In this latter case, it is advisable to provide fresh grass or hay to prevent feather pecking that can result in high mortality.
During this period it is very important to provide abundant water to the goslings with drinker and feeder spaces similar to those recommended for the breeders.
The nutrient requirements of goslings during this growing phase are shown in Table 2, based on information compiled from both published material and the author's personal experience. Nutrient requirements of geese are not as well established as they are for chickens, but experience has shown that chicken data can be used as a good approximation of the requirements of geese for meat production.
It is important to provide the geese with feed of good quality, free of fungi and/or toxins (aflatoxins) because geese are very susceptible to a number of toxins. A good feeding practice, especially with birds in confinement, is to make sure that the birds have enough feeders with enough space to prevent competition and the resultant uneven growth among the birds.
TABLE 2.Nutritional requirements of geese for meat production during the growing period
TABLE 3. Performance during the growing period of Native X Embden crossbred goslings
It can be observed in Table 3 that the average daily body weight gain from weeks 1-5 was higher than from weeks 5-8. This emphasises the importance of providing a good and well-balanced diet during the first four weeks.
Table 4 shows the results of another feeding trial in which Rhine and Guinea geese were compared. Both breeds were imported from France.
TABLE 4. Performance of White Rhine and Guinea goslings during the growing period
The significant reduction in the average daily weight gain of both breeds after the fifth week of age seems to be more related to the change in diet that took place at the fifth week than to an age response. Indeed, it has been observed that goslings fed diets with 18-21 percent crude protein (CP) after the fifth week had a faster growth rate than birds receiving only 14 percent CP. In other words, this decline in growth rate could be due more to the problem of adjusting the diet to meet the true requirements of the birds than to their age.
This phase represents the finishing period of geese raised for meat production. Usually, the duration of this period is long because after the growing phrase the geese are often placed on a pasture where they consume only grass. However, it is recommended to confine them before slaughtering and to feed them a complete ration to increase their body weight and to induce a moderate degree of fatness. When the geese are on pasture, they require minimum attention and if the grass is sufficient and of good quality, the terminal fattening period can be postponed. In addition, this period on grass promotes a subsequent greater capacity for feed consumption, because their digestive tracts have been distended from the large volume of high-fibre forage that they have consumed.
The nutritional requirements for meat-type geese during the fattening period are shown in Table 5. Two feeding programmes are proposed: the first is an intensive fattening programme using a complete feed, and the second is an alternative maintenance diet which includes forage.
TABLE 5. Nutritional requirement of geese during the fattening period
* Fattening diet
** Maintenance diet (values include forage)
It has been shown that under intensive fattening conditions, geese should not be slaughtered after 10-12 weeks of age. Beyond this age their growth rate is slow, and although their feed consumption remains high, their feed efficiency is very poor and consequently the cost per unit of weight gain is high.
Table 6 shows the results obtained fattening three strains of geese under intensive conditions according to the nutritional requirements as indicated in Table 5.
TABLE 6. Performance of three commercial goose breeds fattened under an intensive feeding programme
* Carcass not cooled in water, ready to cook without giblets
(liver, gizzard, heart) or neck
Commercial meat production alternatives
In Chile it is not usual to find goose meat on the market, but when it is available, it is sold as whole carcasses only. However, there are other attractive alternatives to offer the consumers, such as smaller and de-boned pieces of carcass, and smoked or processed meat products.
As mentioned, goose meat has particular properties that allow for the production of very attractive and tasty products. The subcutaneous fat on the breast gives the meat its characteristic flavour and also prevents the breast from having a "dry look". In France, the markets offer a special cut of goose breast (and duck): the meat is cut into very thin slices which include the subcutaneous fat. This high quality product is known as "magret" and has a high market value.
On the other hand, the dark red colour of goose meat - quite different from turkey and other poultry, which have white breast meat - allows for the combining of meat from different parts of the carcass into one product. In addition, because the dark colour of the meat is ideal for salting with nitrite, meat with a very good colour and appearance, similar to pork, can be produced. It is for this reason that smoked goose meat, either in pieces or as whole carcasses, also has such a good appearance, colour and flavour. It is important to point out that processing these cuts or products, by whatever procedure, brings a significant increase in profitability to any goose meat producing operation.
Whatever the primary commercial objective of the goose production operation, goose feathers are a significant commercial product. The small feathers of geese, better known as "down", are regarded as the ideal natural insulating fibre and are used for manufacturing a number of products which insulate against the cold. These include feather bedding products and clothes for winter, mountaineering and skiing. The larger or covert feathers are of a lower quality and are used to make sleeping bags, furniture and other similar products (Figure 5).
FIGURE 5. Goose down and covert feathers - Down
FIGURE 5. Goose down and covert feathers - Covert feathers
Another characteristic of goose feathers is their smoothness, and the way they move together easily. This is due to the light film of natural fat that covers them. When the feathers are washed, it is important to use soft detergents and specially selected concentrates in order to avoid removing this fatty layer.
The lightness of goose feathers and their unique ability to trap air (which gives them their high insulating property), makes them ideal for the manufacture of clothing. White feathers are again more valuable than coloured ones because they are not visible under light fabrics. This can be a problem with the coloured feathers, particularly when the fabric gets wet.
The goose, like other waterfowl, has two very different kinds of feathers. The majority are covert feathers which have a central rachis or shaft from which the barbs and barbules grow. These are the most common feathers and are found in several sizes. Unlike those of chicken, covert feathers in the goose are curved and behave like "springs", i.e. they easily go back to their initial shape after being folded or compressed. The second type of feather, very different from the coverts, are the down feathers which do not have a central shaft. They consist of thin branches, are spherical in shape and have a diameter of 2-2.5cm when mature. Down from ducks is very similar to that of geese except that their diameter is less. Down feathers have the highest commercial value because of their smoothness, lightness and their unique insulating properties. Down feathers grow under the bird's wings and at the base of the neck but the majority are found on the chest and abdomen under the covert feathers.
Feather Production and Plucking
As shown in Table 7, an adult goose of a medium to heavy breed produces a total of 150-230 grams of valuable feathers (the large feathers of the wings and the tail are not included). There are various criteria for classifying feathers, one of which is length. For covert feathers two commercial classes have been established: smaller than 4 cm and from 4-8 cm.
For down the only criterion is colour, with white down bringing a price up to 30 percent higher than coloured down.
TABLE 7. Goose feather production of White Rhine geese at slaughter
Feathers can also be harvested by plucking the geese while they are alive. Although this practice is sometimes criticized because of its apparent cruelty, this is not the case since almost all birds have a natural cycle of growth, maturation, and moulting. When the feathers are plucked, they are being removed at the time that they would naturally be lost by moulting. A good way to determine the appropriate time for plucking is to test the bird by pulling out a few feathers. If there are no blood marks, it is the natural moulting period and the right time to pluck.
The plucking of live birds can be done with different degrees of completeness - from a partial plucking, done in some areas of the body, to a total plucking. The total plucking excludes the feathers of the tail, the wings and the back. A common practice is to remove only the breast area. The frequency of plucking varies but an interval of two months between pluckings is regarded as the minimum.
With regard to plucking frequency, Figure 6 shows the results of one trial conducted in order to measure the growth rate of the feathers on various parts of the body in two breeds of geese: the White Native and the Embden. All geese were plucked initially and thereafter the length of their feathers was recorded weekly. The results indicate that the growth rate of feathers is similar or almost identical for the two breeds. It is noticeable that the growth from 49-56 days was negligible and this may be an indication that this is the right time for plucking. This was confirmed by the absence of blood after pulling some feathers at this age. Another observation from this trial was that the feather growth rate in different parts of the body is similar, an important consideration when plucking.
Another important aspect of feather production is the fact that it apparently does not depend on the feeding level of the birds. To examine this point, a study was carried out with three feeding treatments consisting of three levels:
1) Pasture only (maintenance)
2) Pasture plus 50 percent of maintenance requirements as concentrate
3) Pasture plus 100 percent of maintenance requirements as concentrate
Feather production was monitored over three plucking periods done at two month intervals. The results are shown in Table 8.
TABLE 8. Effect of the feeding level of geese on weight gain and down production.
It can be seen from the results presented in Table 8 that, in spite of the difference in body weight gain observed in the three levels of feeding, the total production of feathers at each plucking was similar and the total accumulated yields were identical.
These results suggest that sustainable feather production is possible with birds placed on pasture without additional feed, as long as body weight is maintained. In fact, the production of feathers can be compared to wool production by sheep. Accordingly, geese can be kept on various types of land with the dual objective of:
controlling weeds and scrub plants;
producing feathers without any additional input costs.
On this basis, a study was conducted in Chile to assess the implementation of an Agroindustry producing and processing goose feathers under semi-extensive conditions. This study used forage as the main feed and Pannon geese of the White Kolos strain, specifically selected in Hungary for down production. Initial results have been promising but he capital investment in these geese is high.
As mentioned before, goose feathers are covered by a thin layer of fat which makes their plumage waterproof. However, this does not prevent some moisture from remaining on the feathers if the geese get wet before plucking. For this reason, it is recommended that the geese are kept in a clean and dry area before the harvesting of the feathers. It is very important to collect feathers that are clean and dry to avoid any fungi and moulds developing in the feathers before marketing. Under humid conditions, feathers, being organic, can be damaged by moulds and fungi and the resulting changes in colour and odour cannot be washed out. Feathers must be packed in special containers which will prevent condensation, keep moisture out and to which the feathers, especially the down, will not stick. Polyethylene bags cannot be used as they create condensation, and neither can canvas bags because the feathers tend to stick to them. Paper bags seem the best choice because they do not have the problems.
It is also advisable to carry out the plucking and harvesting of the feathers in an enclosed building because feathers, especially down feathers, are so light that they tend to be easily blown about in the air.
Camiruaga, L.M. 1989. Producción de plumas, hígado graso y carne de ganso con diferentes sistemas de alimentación. Informe final. Proyecto DIUC 67/86. P. Universidad Católica de Chile.
Camiruaga, L.M. 1989. Implementación de un centro de reproducción e investigación en gansos. Informe de avance I. Proyecto FONDECYT 290/88.
Camiruaga, L.M. & Lecaros, J. 1989. Producción de hígado graso de ganso. Efecto de la suplementación con colina antes del cebado. Cienc. Inv. Agr. 16(3):187-192.
Camiruaga, L.M. 1990. Implementación de un centro de reproducción e investigación en gansos. Informe de avance II. Proyecto FONDECYT 290/88.
Camiruaga, L.M. 1991. Producción Intensiva de Gansos. Colección en Agricultura, Primera Edic., Fac. Agronomía e Ingeniería Forestal, P. Universidad Católica de Chile.
Donoso, R.J.P. 1998. Evaluación de una empresa agroindustrial basada en un sistema semiextensivo para la producción de pluma de ganso. Proyecto de Título, grado Ing. Agrónomo. Depto. Zootecnia, Fac. Agronomía, P. Universidad Católica de Chile.
Huss, D.L. 1983. Animales menores para granjas pequeñas. El ganso y su posible utilización para controlar malezas. FAO, RLAT/83/5, GAN-1.
Huss, D.L. 1984. Con unos pocos gansos usted puede controlar malezas en sus cultivos. Chile Agrícola, Marzo.
Iturralde, M. 1988. Producción de carne de ganso (Anser domesticus). Tesis de Grado. Departamento de Zootecnia, P. Universidad Católica de Chile.
Rousselot-Pailley, D. 1974. L'élevage de l'oie. Son évolution grâce a la recherche. I.N.R.A. Station expérimentale de l'Oie, Artiguères, Benquet.
Rousselot-Pailley, D. 1985. L'élevage et le gavage des oies. I.N.R.A. Station Expérimentale de l'Oie Artiguéres, Benquet.
Sauveur B. & Rousselot-Pailley, D. 1982. Suppression de l'apport de verdure dans l'alimentation des oies reproductrices In: Fertilité et alimentation des volailles I.N.R.A. Edit., Versailles, p. 81-100.
Sauveur B., Rousselot-Pailley, D. & Larrue, P. 1988. Alimentation énergétique de l'oie reproductrice. INRA Prod. Anim., 1 (3): 209-214.
Scott, M.L., Nesheim, M.C. & Young, R.J. 1982. Nutrition of the chicken. Publ. M.L. Scott & Associates, Ithaca, New York.
Soames, B. 1986. Producción de gansos. Traducido por Blanca Mas Alvarez. Editorial Acribia S.A., Zaragoza, España.
Villaume, A. 1987. Réflexions sur les dominantes pathologiques chez l'oie. The World Poultry Sc. Group Francais de la W.P.S.A. Bulletin N° 24, Junio.
Faculty of Animal Science
Gadjah Mada University
Yogyakarta 55281 Indonesia
Geese are an important livestock commodity for Asian villagers since most of them are small farmers. The purpose of raising geese in Asian countries is not only to produce eggs and meat but also to use them as guard animals and to help control the growth of wild grass and weeds. For Indonesian farmers, for example, keeping geese is more than just a way of increasing family income.
The genetic capacity of Asian geese as either meat or egg producers is generally accepted as less than that of most modern breeds found in Europe. In addition, since most farmers cannot afford to buy commercial complete rations for their geese, goose raising is frequently done as a backyard farming activity using cheap and locally available feedstuffs, including grass. Traditionally, geese in Asia are fed rice bran, or mixture of rice bran and sago which is produced from the rumbia tree (a kind of palm tree) which grows around the homes.
Even though Asian goose production technology is not well developed, goose production in Asia is increasingly popular and has become accepted as a recognized type of livestock production.
Asian geese came from central Asia, Japan and China. The term 'Asian geese', or 'Swan geese', including the geese in Indonesia, originated from Anser cygnoides ferus domestica but the size of goose populations in Asia have not been accurately determined because of the difficulty of collecting data. This is largely due to the goose production systems utilized and the problems created by the distances involved. There are, however, two main varieties of Asian geese (Anser Cygenoides): a brown-gray variety and the white variety. Each type of goose has specific characteristics.
Asian geese have a lighter body weight than European geese (Anser anser) and they require wet areas for feeding as they often find their food at the base of water plants or in their roots (Figure 1). They also have a characteristic knob at the base of their bill. Male Asian geese have a larger knob (Figure 2) than females (Figure 3) and older males have a larger knob than younger males. This distinctive knob starts to develop at 4-6 months of age. In addition, the cry of the Asian goose is loud and resembles a trumpet, with the female having a harder and hoarser cry than the male. They like to swim and dive for insects in the water. Asian geese are also temperamental and will attack their enemies, a characteristic that sometimes makes them difficult to raise together with European geese.
FIGURE 1. Asian geese grazing on weeds
(Source: Yuwanta, 1999)
FIGURE 2. A male Asian goose (Anser cygenoides)
(Source: Yuwanta, 1999)
FIGURE 3. A female Asian goose (Anser cygenoide)
(Source: Yuwanta, 1999)
In most of the developing countries in Asia, goose raising technology is not very well-developed and only a few farmers in Taiwan, Japan and China are raising geese intensively.
Developing geese husbandry is advantageous because geese have:
a fast growth rate during the starting and growing periods;
a high feed efficiency during the fattening period;
a low feed conversion ratio;
the capacity to effectively utilize rations with low levels of crude protein;
an ability to digest forages and to obtain them by grazing on pasture;
a strong flocking tendency;
minimum shelter requirements and only at night;
a high resistance to disease.
The disadvantages of raising geese are:
their low reproductive rate;
their season-dependent reproduction;
the fact that breeding couples are not stable within a group;
their tendency to form groups within a flock.
The Asian goose is a prolific species but with a relatively small body size. Its main characteristics are its plump, compact body and its active behaviour. Its back is reasonably short, broad, flat and sloping to give its characteristic upright carriage with a well-rounded and plump breast, which is carried high. The wings are large, strong, held high, and carried closely to the body. Its stern is well-rounded, with a well-developed paunch and the tail is closely feathered and carried well out.
Its medium sized head is well-proportioned and the bill, stout at its base, is symmetrical and also of medium size. The knob is large, rounded and prominent and the eyes are bold. It has a long neck, carried upright and gracefully arched. Its legs are relatively short, the shanks are strong and of medium length, and the toes are straight, well spread and webbed.
The white Asian goose has blue eyes with orange-yellow bill, knob, legs, and feet. The Asian brown-gray goose has a dark russet brown head with a fawn face up to the demarcation line above the eyes. The face has a well-defined white band or line from the top of the head down to the face. The neck is fawn with a prominent dark russet brown stripe running down the middle of back of the neck for its entire length. The back is russet brown. The breast is grayish fawn except for the lower abdomen where it becomes lighter. The thigh is russet in colour and each feather is edged with a lighter shade of grayish fawn, almost white. The wing bow and coverts are a medium russet brown, and each feather is laced with a lighter grayish fawn edging, approaching white. The flight feathers are a russet brown. The stern, paunch and tail are a lighter shade of grayish fawn, almost white while the tail feathers have a broad band of russet brown and a light edging. In both sexes the bill is black or dark slate, the knob is dark slate, the eyes are brown and the legs and feet are orange.
Body weight of the Asian goose varies between 5.5 kg for males and 4.5 kg for females. Egg production varies from 15-87 eggs per female per year. Percent fertility and percent hatch are approximately 86 percent and 72 percent respectively. A female Asian goose produces on average 28 goslings per year. For breeding a sex ratio of one male to 5-8 females is recommended.
MANAGEMENT OF ASIAN GEESE
Asian geese are usually raised under poor management conditions using a backyard scavenging system with a basin or pool for swimming. Little care is given to either their feed or their feeding system. Consequently, stress related problems such as low levels of production and reproduction are often encountered, especially since birds are more easily stressed in tropical countries. Good management and husbandry are therefore very important.
Housing design plays an important role not only in the reduction of stress but also in improving both the level of production and reproduction. Traditional housing for geese is very simple and is often built in a fenced back yard. Such housing can be built using bamboo and other inexpensive materials. It normally consists of a roof with ridge ventilation and a narrow timber framed construction with low side walls. This design, used by many farmers, allows for the practice of naturally integrated waterfowl-fish production systems. Borders of irises are sometimes planted and these grow into permanent fences. The fenced backyards are divided into several compartments so that the young growing geese can be separated from the adults. Each compartment is provided with feeders, drinkers, shelter and an open space in which the geese can scavenge.
The raising of Asian geese can be divided into three phases:
starter (one day old to 4 weeks of age);
grower (from 4-36 weeks of age);
layer (from 36 weeks to 4 years of age).
During the brooding or starter phase the young goslings need artificial heating until four weeks of age. With natural brooding one female is able to raise 20 goslings.
Under the traditional management system, the type of housing and its construction determines the ease with which the geese can be managed, especially when raising goslings. They must be grown with a heat source for brooding and provided with the essential requirements for growing goslings. They can be raised either in pens with litter floors, pens with slatted floors or in battery cages. In Asia, the heat supply for the brooding period is provided from a variety of sources such as kerosene lamps, kerosene heaters or electric bulbs. Other fuel sources can include wood, coal and rice hulls.
After the brooding stage, the goslings are transferred to a larger area with more floor space per bird without an additional heat source. In general, Asian farmers use the same poultry house for both brooding and growing.
Geese can be grown in a wide variety of houses. When geese are grown in a system using both a poultry house and a yard, they need more land and a water basin or pool. For good results with this system, the poultry house must provide at least one square metre for every eight geese. It must also be remembered that under tropical conditions the litter floor can become very warm during certain seasons of the year.
Like the growing house, a laying house for geese can have either litter floors, slatted floors or a combination of both. In addition, the geese should be able to scavenge in a yard or pasture and have access to a pool or river. The recommended interior floor space is 0.5 m2 per goose, 1 m2 for the pool, 10 m2 for the yard and 250 m2 of pasture per goose. The type of feeders provided will depend on the feeding system. The feeder space requirement is 3 cm per head when the geese are fed ad libitum and 10cm per head when the geese are on a restricted feeding system. The provision of nests is very important for laying geese in the litter floor system, the slatted floor system or when a combination of the two is used. Four to seven geese can share one nest which should be 60 cm deep, 60 cm wide and 75 cm high. Trapnests are generally required for genetic selection programmes.
EGG COMPOSITION AND CARCASS QUALITY
In Asian countries goose eggs are used as a source of animal protein for human consumption but this is limited by the goose's low level of egg production. Egg weight varies from 140-170 g, depending on the variety and the age of the geese.
TABLE 1. Physical composition of Asian geese egg
(Source: Sasongko, 1990)
The proportion of yolk in goose eggs is much higher than that of chicken eggs: approximately 39 percent versus 30 percent. This characteristic of goose eggs means that they are higher in energy and that the feed requirements for the production of goose eggs are also higher than those for chicken eggs in terms of both protein and energy.
TABLE 2. Carcass composition and nutrient value for goose meat and eggs
(Source: Leskanich and Noble, 1997 and Peterson, 1998 cit. Sidadolog, 1999)
As can be seen from Table 2, the carcass represents 73-74 percent of live body weight. When compared with chicken carcasses, the carcasses of geese have a higher content of saturated fatty acids but a lower content of unsaturated fatty acids.
THE FEEDING AND NUTRITION OF GEESE
Like chickens, geese have complex nutritional needs. There are at least 40 essential compounds that must be present in their diet. These must be present in adequate amounts, optimal proportions and in a form that is readily available if the geese are to realize a rapid growth rate, optimal egg production, a high reproductive performance and, at the same time, achieve maximum feed efficiency.
The essential nutrients for geese are energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Energy for geese is generally expressed as kilocalories of metabolizable energy per kilogram of feed. Proper energy levels are important. Too much or too little can make a difference in the performance of geese. Protein is also an important factor in poultry feeding. The quality of the protein is determined by the balance of its amino acids. In formulating goose rations, the first nutrient to be considered is the protein level in order to be sure that the bird's requirements are met. The levels of energy, vitamins and minerals in the ration are then adjusted by modifying the proportion of the other ingredients and adding various nutrients in a synthetic form. Vitamins are usually added to the diet in excess of the minimum requirements. For proper nutrition, the practical mineral requirements include at least 12 inorganic minerals.
Various factors determine which ingredients are used in goose rations. Cost and availability, as well as the presence of toxic substances, limit the use of some ingredients. In Asian countries, rice and corn, and especially their byproducts, are often the main ingredients used as energy sources in goose rations. Sometimes in specific regions, farmers use sago and cassava meal (manihot) as the main energy source and, as a protein source, they use copra meal (coconut meal), soybean meal or fishmeal, either singly or as a mixture. In Asia grass is fed as a supplement as it is seen as a necessary food for geese. The amount fed varies, depending on the age of the geese, their stage of production and the level of the other nutrients being fed. In traditional goose raising, kitchen byproducts are also sometimes used to formulate goose rations (Figure 5).
The scavenging management system is the main type of goose husbandry practiced in Asia. Under this system a flock of geese will consist of 4-20 birds and they will be allowed to range freely over part of the village area. The geese are kept in backyards around the farmers' homes but are allowed access to canals, lakes and rice fields. They are fed mainly kitchen waste and other feed found in the farmyard. Their average egg production varies from 20-45 percent. Goose eggs are sold unwashed, directly from the nests by the individual farmers in traditional markets (Figure 5). This system is typical of that used by small producers. It is based on family tradition and there is usually insufficient practical and technical knowledge of nutrition with the geese being fed mainly rice grain. Such a nutritionally limited rice-based diet, together with the practice of using female geese and Muscovy ducks to hatch the eggs, invariably results in a very low reproductive rate.
Goslings are usually raised for the first 2-3 weeks in a closed building with heat provided by hurricane lamps or electric light bulbs at night. Feed and water are available at all times. The goslings are fed either a duck or broiler chicken starter diet, as a mash or as crumbles. After this brooding period, the goslings are allowed outdoors and will usually be fed diets mixed by the owners. Such diets usually consist of cooked trash fish, rice bran, broken rice, corn, soybean meal or soy sauce waste. In some areas, dry trash fish and sago meal are also used. The crude protein of such a feed is 16-18 percent.
The ingredients for layer geese rations are similar to those described above except that seashell powder is added to supply calcium during the egg laying period. In most of Asia, modern reproductive practices for the breeder flocks have not yet been developed and genetic selection programmes are needed to improve all egg production traits, percent fertility, percent hatch, feed efficiency and percent livability if maximum profitability is to be reached. In reproduction flocks, farmers usually keep one male for every 5-8 females in order to obtain the optimal number of day old geese. For genetic selection, pedigree breeding is done by using pen matings as it needs a minimum of extra labour.
FIGURE 4. A ration based on kitchen waste and bran
(Source: Yuwanta, 1999)
FIGURE 5. Goose eggs destined for market
(Source: Yuwanta, 1999)
INCUBATION OF GOOSE EGGS
Goose eggs are known to be more difficult to incubate than chicken eggs, partly because goose eggs take 30-34 days to hatch and chicken eggs only take 21 days and so there is more time for things to go wrong. But there is more to the problem than just the length of the incubation period. Incubation of waterfowl eggs, including goose eggs, require a higher percent humidity than chicken eggs need. Also, the pores of goose eggs are much larger than the pores of chicken eggs. This, combined with the fact that geese dirty their eggs more easily because of their large webbed, often wet, feet, can result in increased bacterial contamination on the outside of the egg which, because of the egg's large pores, also enters the egg more easily. This is particularly a problem when there is a high concentration of birds that can contaminate the surrounding area.
In Asian countries the incubation practices for goose eggs are also much less developed than for chicken eggs. Two traditional incubation practices are still used by many farmers to produce goslings. The first is natural incubation by a female goose where one female usually produces only 5-7 goslings since the percent fertility and percent hatch are relatively low. The second system is artificial incubation which has two methods: traditional artificial incubation and modern artificial incubation.
Traditional artificial incubation (or the parched rice incubation technique) was developed in south China more than 2 000 years ago and spread to Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia where it is still used today. For modern artificial incubation, Asian farmers use a simple modern incubator. Farmers modify these artificial incubators to meet the requirements of each type of poultry production. There are several different makes of modern incubators and each differs in design, size, type of fuel used, humidity and temperature controls as well as various other features. They range from simple box-like incubators of cheap design and construction to large, room-sized incubators with the latest design and control features. Petroleum is frequently used to heat the small incubators since, for the traditional Asian farmer, electricity and coal are more expensive. Modern incubators are primarily used for intensive goose raising in countries such as Taiwan and Japan.
GEESE FEATHER PRODUCTION
Another important reason for raising geese and ducks in Asian countries, especially in China, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia, is to make badminton shuttlecocks from selected goose feathers and to use the down feathers to produce duvets and insulated clothing for export.
Good quality feathers are obtained from geese 100-110 days of age. These geese produce good, mature, strong down and nicely curved body feathers which can both be processed without damage. Both the age of the geese and the production method used influence the quality of feathers, especially those used to make shuttlecocks. Slaughtering at an older age markedly influences the quality of the feathers as well as the cleaning and processing required. To obtain feathers for shuttlecocks, the goose carcasses are dipped into hot water prior to hand plucking and then the selected feathers are dried on a concrete pad. Some varieties of geese produce good feathers at 50 days of age. At this age, however, the down feathers are not mature and both their filling power and their resilience (the ability of the down to retain its original shape) is reduced and consequently their insulating value. Feathers from the rapid-growing meat varieties lose their insulating value much more quickly than those from the older, slower-growing traditional varieties.
Feather production is an important aspect of the goose industry in Asia and more attention should be given to this commodity. Table 3 shows that feather production depends on the age of the geese and the frequency of plucking.
TABLE 3. Geese feather production (g/head)
DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION
There are four classes of goose disease found in Asia: those that have a genetic base, those caused by stress, those caused by infectious organisms and those due to poor management and/or malnutrition. Poor management diseases include ailments caused by physical injuries, trauma, chemicals/poisons, nutritional deficiencies and some metabolic disorders
Infectious diseases and leg inflammations are currently a problem with Asian geese. Under either intensive or extensive management systems, the high production costs and the small profit margins make it essential that profit conscious poultry producers carry out routine health and sanitation programmes geared for the prevention and control of disease. A goose producer can lose about five percent of his young stock during the brooding and growing period and up to one percent of his mature stock can die monthly in the first year of production. This can severely affect the producers' profit. Apart from obvious outright losses due to death, the effects of morbidity such as decreased egg production, stunting of growth, delayed sexual maturity, low percent fertility and poor percent hatch, can also cause severe economic losses.
Another problem associated with livestock production in many Asian countries is that rainy weather, flooding, high temperatures and high humidity can cause diseases to spread very rapidly.
Infectious diseases (contagious) as opposed to non-infectious diseases (non-contagious) are those diseases caused by micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa and metazoan parasites. To prevent and control infectious diseases, goose farmers should take two main precautions: the first is to prevent the entry and re-entry of pathogens onto the farm. This is best accomplished by strict quarantine and isolation, together with the use of both disinfectants and prophylactic medications. The second method is to increase resistance to disease by selecting the geese carefully, providing adequate nutrition, ensuring that they have clean and comfortable housing and by following a recommended vaccination programme.
Hepatic and enteritic viruses cause the most common viral diseases in Asian geese. They are most often found in areas of high goose populations and intensive goose production. Outbreaks of bacterial diseases have become both more frequent and more serious due to the increased use of confinement housing for goose production with a decline in the use of yards and pasture. Pasturella or Avian Cholera is the most difficult bacterial disease to control and presents the biggest problem in Asia.
In Asian countries feed ingredients are often badly stored and this can contribute to mycotoxin contamination as fungi then grow in the feed ingredients and produce mycotoxins. It is difficult to prevent this as the production of mycotoxins is not only due to the handling and storage of the grains but also to agronomic practices, the composition of the ration and condition and stage of harvesting the grains. Fungi, especially the genus Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus paracitus, produce aflatoxins that can affect the liver and the heart. Goslings are highly sensitive to aflatoxin B1 and mortality can reach 95 percent.
In general, good management practices can greatly help to reduce disease problems but where there is a risk of the birds contracting an infectious disease, the farmer should not hesitate to follow a recommended vaccination programme.
Sasongko, H. 1990. Comparison of the physical characteristics of eggs of different birds. Report research No. GMU/PT/654/UM/01/30. Faculty of Animal Science, Gadjah Mad University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Sarwono, B. 1988. Angsa: penjaga Keamanan yang tidak rewel, Trubus 219(XIX): 70-80.
Sidadolog, J.H.P. 1999. Handout of Poultry Husbandry, Faculty of Animal Sciences, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Yuwanta, T. 1999. Personal Communication, Faculty of Animal Science, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, 55281, Indonesia
Agricultural University of Poznan
Department of Poultry Science
60-637 Poznan, Poland
Research Institute of Animal Production
Koluda Wielka Experimental Station
88-160 Janikowo, Poland
Although goose production is particularly popular in the Eastern European countries, it does not comprise more than 4-7 percent of the total production of live poultry. The largest producers of geese in Eastern Europe are Hungary, Poland and Romania. Geese are also produced on a commercial scale in the Czech and Slovakian Republics. Depending on the country and the production system, geese are produced for meat, fine feathers and down, as well as for fatty livers (Foie Gras).
Geese are produced primarily on commercial specialised farms that deliver the birds at slaughter age to poultry processing plants. For large producers, the relationships between the goose production farms and the slaughterhouses are based on long-term contracts. Geese are also kept on a small scale as backyard farm flocks for the farmers' own needs and for sale, mainly as live birds at nearby markets.
These smaller scale farm flocks deliver good quality meat, fat, feathers and down at a relatively low cost. They demonstrate that geese are highly adaptable to various environmental conditions, resistant to climatic changes and efficient in their feed utilisation since they can utilise green feeds from both pasture and non-cultivated land. Depending on the size of the production unit and various other factors, geese can be produced under both a relatively semi-intensive management system or an extensive management system.
Fatty liver production in Hungary is approximately 920 tons per year while in Bulgaria it is about 65 tons per year and recently Lithuania has produced about eight tons per year. In the 1990s, approximately 30 tons of fatty liver was also produced in Poland using Landes geese imported from France for this purpose. About 2 000 parent flock geese were maintained to produce 50-60 thousand goslings annually for this purpose. Since the beginning of 1999, however, force feeding (cramming) of geese has been prohibited by law in Poland.
Poland and Hungary are the largest exporters of goose meat from Eastern Europe. Goose meat from both countries is exported primarily to western European countries, mainly to Germany. These exports meet nearly 100 percent of the demand for goose meat in Germany. Export sales to Germany are of a seasonal nature and take place primarily from October to the beginning of December. The highest demand for goose meat in Germany is during the Christmas and New Year holiday periods.
For decades, goose production for export has been considered one of the main activities of the Polish agriculture. Between 5.5 and 6.0 million day-old goslings are hatched each year for this purpose and the country's live goose production amounts to 27-28 thousand tons per year.
During the years 1995-1998 a substantial increase (47 percent) in goose meat production was observed. During this same period exports of goose meat (mainly of whole carcasses, breasts and legs) increased by 44 percent, from 11.5 thousand to 16.6 thousand tons. In 1998 the ratio, based on weight, of whole carcasses to breast and legs being exported from Poland was 60:40.
The economic importance of Polish goose meat export is confirmed by the fact that it accounts for 50-52 percent of the total poultry products exported from Poland although, at the present time, geese production is only 5-6 percent of the total amount of live poultry produced in Poland.
Goose production has a long tradition in Poland and was developed in the nineteenth century when, at the Warsaw Livestock Exchange, approximately three million geese were sold annually to Germany. At that time Russia was the largest producer of geese in Europe. Because the birds had to walk to get to market, before the journey they were herded through melted pitch and then through fine sand. In this way a fine layer of pitch and sand protected their feet during the long journey.
Both the intensification of farming and the World Wars reduced the goose population in Poland and in other Eastern European countries. The number of the goose varieties and breeds has also diminished.
Today the main goose breed being grown on a commercial scale in Poland is the White Italian goose which was imported from Denmark in 1962. The birds adapted well to Polish management conditions and with their good egg production, meat yield and carcass quality, they soon superseded the popular Pomeranian and other indigenous breeds of geese.
Among the native breeds found in southern Poland are the Lubelska, Kielecka, Podkarpacka, Garbonosa, Bilgorajska and Zatorska; whereas in northern Poland the Kartuzka, Rypinska, Suwalska and Pomorska are found. Even though at one time they were popular throughout Poland, these breeds are now only kept in small backyard flocks as they are of marginal importance to commercial goose meat production. However, for the purposes of genetic conservation and cultural reasons they are also kept at three research stations in Poland as it is recognised that they could, in the future, be a source of certain genes that may have been removed from existing commercial populations due to intensive genetic selection. The performance traits of the regional goose breeds demonstrate great variability although their performance level is, in general, lower than the White Italian goose. They lay from 15-41 eggs per layer per year, with an average egg production intensity from 12-31 percent, an egg weight of 145-156 g and a percent fertility of 61-72 percent. Percent hatch of fertile eggs has been found to be between 32-53 percent. Body weight at 12 weeks of age varies from 4.2-4.9 kg for males and from 3.6-4.3 kg for females. The indigenous breeds demonstrate numerous valuable characteristics such as resistance to diseases, good egg shell quality, docility, adaptability to poor environmental conditions and an ability to utilise low quality feeds. These indigenous varieties and breeds are also seen by the inhabitants of certain regions of Poland as important elements of culture and tradition.
At the present time, the semi-intensive system of goose management predominates in Poland. Only in the small backyard flocks, primarily for the needs of the farm owners, are geese being kept under predominantly extensive production systems.
GENETICS AND BREEDING
Over the past 35 years the Polish selection and breeding programme has developed two valuable strains of White Italian geese. Management, nutrition and disease control programmes have been designed for both the parent and commercial stocks and incubation procedures have also been improved. Development of goose production in Poland has been stimulated by the introduction into commercial practice of research findings and technological developments. Research programmes on goose production are being conducted by the Research Institute of Animal Production under the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Institute of Animal Physiology and Nutrition and five agricultural universities.
The genetic improvement of the goose in Poland is being conducted by the Research Institute of Animal Production on a pedigree farm at Koluda Wielka called the Koluda Wielka Experimental Station. Two pedigree strains of the White Koluda goose, the W33, a male line, and the W11, a female line, are being selected. In the male line (Figure 1), among the primary selection objectives are increased body weight and meat yield, combined with a lower fat content in the carcass. In the female line, selection criteria relate to higher reproduction performance. Egg production per female for the W11 strain ranges from 65-73 eggs, percent fertility from 85-90 percent and percent hatch of fertile eggs from 81-84 percent. Feed consumption for the W11 strain is 990 g per egg, lower than that for the W33 strain which is 1130g per egg. Body weight for birds of the W33 strain (6 800 g) is 400-500 g higher than that of the birds of the W11 strain (6 300 g) and their breast muscle weight at 17 weeks of age is also greater (750 g and 650 g respectively), but their fertility and hatch percent is up to ten percent lower. The yield of breast and leg muscles is similar in both strains and ranges from 35.1-36.2 percent.
FIGURE 1. The strong body conformation of a goose of the W33 line
(Source: Rosinski, 1999)
The majority of commercial hatching eggs are produced from a crossing programme using males of the W33 strain as the male parent and females of the W11 strain as the female parent. The pure strain mating of a W11 male with a W11 female is only used to a limited extent to produce commercial hatching eggs (goslings) i.e. 16-18 percent of reproduction flocks in Poland.
In 1998 the parent stock population of breeder geese in Poland was about 230 000 layers. The average size of the parent stock farms ranged from 450-500 layers; however, there are also some parent stock farms that have from 3-4 thousand layers each. The smallest parent stock farms have from 100-150 layers although these are rare. The breeding geese in parent stock flocks are kept for four years i.e. four reproductive seasons.
The lay season is from the end of January or beginning of February until June and lasting on average about 20 weeks. Its duration depends on the number of hours of light the birds receive per day and whether the lighting programme is natural daylight or an artificial lighting programme that can be applied in windowless poultry houses. Only natural mating is used and one gander is required for every 4-5 geese. After four reproductive seasons the geese are sent to a slaughterhouse and a new parent flock is established.
In Poland goose hatching eggs are incubated in about 50 commercial hatcheries equipped with walk-in incubators which are either produced in Poland on PAS REFORM (NL) licence, or of foreign manufacture. In a few small hatcheries the old type of incubators (holding 100-150 eggs) are still in use. Goslings are produced by artificial incubation only. Even goslings for backyard flocks are purchased from hatcheries. Before the Second World War natural incubation was popular for Polish backyard flocks and either older female geese or turkeys were used, with each covering 13-15 or 11-13 goose eggs respectively.
Goslings to be used as parent stock for the following year need to be hatched between March and the end of May because the birds should start laying eggs in their first season at the age of 8-9 months. The greatest demand for goslings in Poland is in the spring (April to May) since rearing birds is easier at this time when temperatures can reach 20-250C, lessening the need to heat poultry houses. Also, the goslings can have access to yards and pasture when they are younger and have new grass available for grazing. Up to six weeks of age the goslings are kept in a poultry house with access to a yard.
Either poultry houses specifically designed for this purpose are used or, more frequently, buildings which housed adult parent stock already marketed. Before re-use, the used deep litter must be removed from the poultry house, and the house thoroughly washed and disinfected, and a treatment applied to get rid of rats and other vermin. To reduce heating costs when a poultry house is too large, it can be divided into sections with plastic film curtains. The goslings are housed on deep-litter in lots of between 100-200 birds. Stocking density during the first week of age is 8-10 birds per m2 of floor area and the density of birds is then reduced gradually with age and reaches 2-3 birds per m2 of floor area by 11 weeks of age.
During the initial rearing period the poultry house can be heated with oil, gas or electric heaters, or with central heating. Air temperature must be maintained at 24-260C during the goslings' first week and can gradually be reduced to 180C by the fourth or fifth week. During the first three weeks when additional heat sources are often needed, electric or gas brooders can be used (infrared lamps are the most popular). One infrared lamp is sufficient to produce heat for 25-30 goslings. Usually three infrared lamps are installed on a single wooden triangle frame hung from the ceiling. Air temperature under the additional heat source is initially 6-100C higher than the room temperature but, after the first week, can be changed to 4-60C higher than the room temperature. During the first days, the infrared lamps are hung about 40-50 cm above the litter and are lifted to 60-70 cm or higher as the birds get older. If infrared lamps are used, they are also a light source and provide a 24 hour lighting programme in the poultry house until the goslings are approximately three weeks of age. If normal electric, gas or oil brooders are used, the rearing room should have a lighting programme of 24 hours of light until the goslings are two or three days of age and then 14-16 hours of light per 24 hours. From the fourth week, the goslings are generally under natural daylight. When lighting programmes are changed, it is important that the birds are introduced to darkness gradually since they can react to darkness by crowding and this can lead to suffocation.
The deep litter must be kept dry, in good condition and free from fungi. High moisture content in the litter at a high air temperature can stimulate the growth of fungi, causing Aspergillosis which can kill as many as 80 percent of the goslings. For deep litter, rye, wheat or barley straw cut into 5-8 cm pieces is recommended.
In small rearing houses natural ventilation via an exhaust chimney is used. In large houses, however, mechanical ventilation must be employed. When outside temperatures are about 200C and until the goslings are three to four days old, ventilation of the rearing house can be achieved by opening the windows.
Various types of feeders and drinkers are used for goslings. Large goose rearing houses have automatic feeding and drinking installations, whereas smaller ones have simple non-automated feeders and drinkers. Their size is in accordance with the age of the birds. Very popular are bell shaped plastic drinkers that are used during the first two weeks of the rearing period (one drinker for 30 goslings). Trough drinkers made of sheet aluminium are also used and are of the following dimensions: 100 × 4 × 6 cm (for birds up to two weeks of age), 100 × 15 × 12 cm (for birds from 2-4 weeks of age) and 100 × 20 × 25 cm (for birds older than four weeks). The number of drinkers and their length is adjusted to provide the following linear drinking space per bird: 2 cm per bird up to two weeks of age; 3-4 cm from 2-4 weeks of age and 5 cm for birds over four weeks of age.
Feeders are also made of sheet aluminium or dry wood and have the following dimensions: 100 × 15 × 7 cm for birds up to two weeks of age; 150 × 30 × 15 cm for birds from 2-4 weeks and 170 × 30 × 25 cm for older birds. The linear feeder space per bird is as follows: 4 cm up to two weeks of age; 8 cm from 3-4 weeks of age; 10-15 cm from 5-7 weeks of age and 20-25 cm for older birds.
Goslings of 7-10 days of age are given access to a yard during mild weather, but only for 20-30 minutes per day. This time is extended gradually as the birds get older. From 0.5 to 2.0 m2 of yard area is required per gosling, depending on age. The grass or solid surface yard is located near the rearing house. The yard can be equipped with feeders and drinkers and a shelter is required to protect birds from excessive sunshine if there are no trees.
Up to 5-6 weeks of age or until the oil glands of the birds have developed, the goslings are not allowed to graze on wet grass or during a rainfall. From six weeks of age onwards the birds are put on the nearby yard or pasture for the whole daylight period, but come back to the poultry house at night. From 12 weeks of age onwards geese may be on pasture for 24 hours a day.
In such cases the birds are generally maintained on a distant pasture and are kept there in a pen overnight. Goslings in open yards and on pastures are susceptible to attack by predators, including predatory birds like the goshawk; whereas older birds are subject to attack by predators such as foxes and martens.
Goslings to be used in parent flocks are fed intensively until four weeks of age on a complete ration of 19-20 percent crude protein, 2.60-2.75 Mcal metabolizable energy per kg and 4-5 percent crude fibre. Birds are fed ad libitum up to three weeks of age.
From the fourth week they are fed 210 g per bird per day. The complete ration contains ground wheat, barley, triticale or maize and a protein supplement such as soybean meal or canola (rapeseed) meal. Other ingredients are also used, e.g. dried grass, feed grade yeast and sometimes the seeds of lupins, peas, faba beans or field peas. The complete ration is supplemented by adding a mineral-vitamin premix. These complete rations are manufactured by commercial feed mills and sold to goose producers. Currently the feeds provided to the goslings during this initial rearing period are seldom prepared by the farmers themselves.
From days 3-4 onwards the goslings are introduced to small amounts of green forage on a regular basis and the quantity is increased as they get older. Birds are given finely-cut, young fresh green forages like nettles, dandelions or grass. Early hatched goslings, i.e. in March or April, are given carrot puree if no green forage is available. From the fourth week of age, when the amount of complete ration is reduced, the green forage is given ad libitum. Up to the end of the fourth week of age the total consumption of the complete ration per bird is 3.7-4.0 kg and of green forage about 3.5 kg. At this time the average body weight is about 2.1 kg.
FIGURE 2. Young goslings ready for their first trip outside
(Source: Rosinski, 1999)
FIGURE 3. Young goslings during their first trip outside
(Source: Rosinski, 1999)
FIGURE 4. Goslings which have not yet been plucked on pasture
(Source: Rosinski, 1999)
From the fifth week of age onwards the amount of complete ration is reduced to 200-230 g per bird per day depending on the quality of the green forage and pasture. The initial nutritive value of the complete ration is: 17-18 percent crude protein, 2.6-2.7 Mcal of metabolizable energy per kg and 5-6 percent crude fibre. From the eighth or ninth week to the twelfth or fourteenth week of age the birds are fed mainly on ground grain (90 percent) with added canola meal as a protein supplement. The nutritive value of this mixture is as follows: 13-13.5 percent crude protein, 2.68-2.75 Mcal of metabolizable energy per kg and 6-7 percent crude fibre. During this period the birds are given green forage ad libitum. Apart from pasture, geese are often given cut grass and consumption of it increases from 600 g per day at six weeks of age to around 1 500 g per day at 12 weeks of age. Consumption of the complete ration over the period from 5-12 weeks of age amounts to 11-13 kg per bird and about 50-60 kg of green forage per bird. Average body weight at 12 weeks is about 4.5 kg for males and 4.0 kg for females.
From 13 weeks of age until autumn, the main feed source for young geese is pasture. About 100-120 birds may be kept on one hectare of pasture. During that time geese are given 100-170 g per bird per day of ground grain (oats, barley and wheat) depending on pasture quality.
The best goose pasture contains a mixture of grasses, leguminous plants and herbs. The following grass species are used for goose pasture:
short grass species - Lollium perenne L., Festuca ovina L., Festuca rubra L., and Poa pratensis L.;
grass species resistant to both overgrazing and trampling: Phleum pratense L, Festuca pratensis Huds. and Lolium italicum A.Por..
Fine stemmed palatable legumes account for 10-20 percent of the pasture mix. If there is shortage of natural pasture, geese can be kept in orchards, stubble fields and green wastelands of various types but in such cases they are also given freshly cut forage. In spring the earliest fresh forage is obtained from nettles, winter rape, and rye together with leguminous plants e.g. Vicia villosa Roth and then later from winter wheat and spring cereals (oats and barley). In summer, green forage from the second grass cutting is given to the birds. From mid-August, maize, sunflowers, third grass cuttings and sugar beet leaves are good sources of green forage for geese. The birds are often kept on stubble fields after the harvest of cereals and leguminous plants. In October geese are given fodder kale or root crops, e.g. red fodder carrots or sugar beets cut in half. Fresh beet pulp, steam-cooked potatoes or mixed silage are also used.
In November young ganders and geese destined for the breeder flock are kept indoors and prepared for their first season of reproduction. Usually the breeder flock comprises birds of the same age. Age differences of no more than two weeks are tolerated but the males must be older than the females. In the reproduction flock no changes are required except for the culling for health defects. The birds are kept indoors but have access to a yard during daytime. Only during the very cold winter (December-March) are the birds kept indoors 24 hours a day.
Poultry houses for breeder flocks and the resulting management conditions depend on the scale of production. There are both specialised buildings and those adapted as poultry houses for breeders. There are houses with and without windows, with and without heat, mechanical ventilation or with natural ventilation but all houses have an adjacent poultry yard. A few large farms have poultry houses built in the 1990s which have a controlled microclimate but on the majority of smaller farms the poultry houses have been adapted from barns, covered shelters or old piggeries. Adaptations can be made relatively easily and at a low cost. The walls must be sealed to eliminate draughts, the ceiling must be insulated to keep the heat in, a new floor installed and wall openings to the yard provided. Additional air inlets are also required to ensure proper ventilation, as well as additional windows, if necessary. Unheated buildings are not harmful to birds despite the cold Polish winters although the water supply sometimes freezes. The optimum temperature for a goose-house during the reproductive season in Poland is 5-8°C.
FIGURE 5. Building for the reproduction flock with darkened windows and trap-doors leading to the yard
(Source: Rosinski, 1999)
Parent stock geese are kept on deep litter made up of cereal grain straw (mainly rye) either whole or cut. New litter is added daily or every second day and it is all removed after the lay period, prior to cleaning and disinfecting the poultry house. The initial layer of deep-litter is 5-7 cm thick and this is gradually increased up to a thickness of 30-40 cm.
Stocking densities are 1.4 bird per m2 of floor area in the house and 0.7 bird per m2 in the yard. On the majority of goose farms the yard is adjacent to the goose house and is fenced. Most frequently these are grass or soil yards and rarely covered with concrete or asphalt. Soil yards of frozen ground are waterproof and are sometimes covered with whole or cut straw to which peat has been added. On some farms, yards with a hard surface have a pool that is used by the geese after the winter period but in general, the reproduction flock does not have access to water reservoirs or ponds during the laying period.
FIGURE 6. A reproductive flock on straw litter
(Source: Rosinski, 1999)
FIGURE 7. A reproductive flock of geese during their first year of lay in a fenced yard with pool
(Source: Rosinski, 1999)
The feeding and drinking equipment in the poultry houses for geese varies from simple wooden or sheet metal feeders and drinkers filled manually to semi-automatic and automatic installations made by established manufacturers. On small farms, the feeders are generally made with dry, smooth wood or sheet aluminium, with a bar on top to prevent wastage. Feeders are usually 150-200 cm long, 30 cm wide and 25 cm deep. The number of feeders is dependent on flock size with each goose given 20-25 cm of linear feeder space. The complete ration is generally fed indoors but the green forage is given outdoors.
Trough drinkers 100 cm long, 20 cm wide and 25 cm deep are also made of sheet aluminium and each goose requires 5 cm of linear drinking space. In the poultry houses there are open nests made of wood that are 50-70 cm in width and depth. One nest is sufficient for 2-3 geese. The nests are situated in one row against a building wall and have neither floor nor back wall. At the front of each nest there is a wooden bar of 10-15 cm in height to prevent the loss of litter from the nest. The sides are 70 cm high.
The more intensive feeding of the geese for reproduction starts in December to prepare them for the laying season. The birds are given the same complete ration that they will receive during the lay period, beginning at 200 g per bird per day and then increased to 250 g per bird per day. At the beginning of January and during reproductive period the geese are fed ad libitum on a complete ration of 14-15 percent crude protein, 2.5-2.6 Mcal of ME per kg and approximately 3 percent calcium. The following feed ingredients are used: a ground cereal grain (wheat, barley and oats) up to 67 percent, ground peas up to 5 percent, ground maize up to 10 percent, either soybean or canola meal up to 16 percent, dried grass up to 10 percent and a mineral-vitamin premix. During feeding ad libitum the consumption of this complete ration is initially increased up to more than 500 g per bird per day and then gradually decreased to around 350 g per bird per day. For the entire lay period the consumption of complete ration is about 60-65 kg per goose on average.
Another method for feeding geese during the reproductive period is to use a combined system using a limited quantity of a complete ration (about 300 g per bird per day) together with a bulky feed (about 200-300 g per bird per day or more). The birds are usually given either red carrots, fodder beets (up to 200 g per bird per day), kale (up to 500 g per bird per day), hay (up to 50 g per day) and steam-cooked potatoes as the bulky food.
On smaller farms the birds are maintained under natural daylight. In such cases the lay season begins in mid February and continues until early June. The highest intensity of lay is observed in March and April. The number of eggs per layer produced over the season under these conditions is not usually more than 40. On many farms various lighting programmes are used but the most popular programmes provide the geese with 10-12 hours of light. The lighting programme starts about 30 days before the beginning of the laying season. At the end of December, when the natural daylight is about nine hours per day, the period of light is extended by using electric lights for 10-15 minutes every second day. In this way the required duration of 10-12 hours of light can be reached and maintained at the same level until the end of reproductive season. During the daylight period the birds are in the poultry house or in the yard. For the standard 12 hour lighting programme, the lighting period is from 7.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. For the ten hour lighting programme, it extends from 7.00 a.m. to 5. 00 p.m. For the dark period the birds are then kept in the house and the lights are switched on and off automatically according to the lighting programme. The use of artificial lighting programmes, particularly with the reduced hours of light, requires windowless houses with good ventilation. These programmes are also used in poultry houses with windows that have been painted dark or covered.
With 12 hours of light per day, the laying season begins in mid-January and ends in June, with an average laying intensity of 40 percent. The average egg production for this period is 54-57 eggs per female.
With ten hours of light per day, the laying period is 20 days longer than with the programme of 12 hours of light per day and the number of hatching eggs is increased by 15-20 percent, but the average laying intensity, at 38 percent, is slightly lower. Because of the longer laying period, however, the average number of eggs is greater, i.e. 63-68.
To increase laying intensity, at the beginning of the laying season under the programme of ten hours of light per day, a "light stimulus" is applied. This consists of lighting the poultry house for 24 hours for one day only. This stimulus is applied on about the fifteenth of January and thereafter the hour programme is continued. Ten days after application of the stimulus, the laying performance of the flock is about ten percent and during the next 4-6 days it will increase to 40 percent.
Very good results have been reported during the reproductive period with lighting programmes that provide only eight hours of light per day. With this programme a greater number of eggs can be obtained from each female because the lay period is extended until July and higher fertility can be maintained until the end of reproductive season. Values of up to 80 percent have been reported. However, this lighting programme is seldom utilised by goose breeders.
Hatching eggs are collected 3-5 times a day. The nests must be maintained at a high level of hygiene and their litter replaced frequently. After collection the eggs are disinfected on the farm by UV light or formaldehyde gas and delivered to the hatchery once a week. The price of goose hatching eggs accounts for 40 percent of the price of day-old commercial goslings.
Egg production of White Koluda geese kept under local conditions and in various management situations, is between 44-55 eggs per bird in the winter-spring reproductive season. The percent fertility ranges from 84-92 percent and the percent hatch of eggs set ranges from 66-70 percent.
From the end of the laying period until November, the breeder flock is kept in yards or on pasture where the birds are fed on green forage and other bulky feeds, supplemented with ground cereal grain.
As mentioned, both the White Koluda W31 (from the cross of a W33 male with a W11 female) and the W11 pure strain birds are used as commercial stock for meat production. On completion of the fattening period at 17 weeks of age, the W11 geese have a bodyweight about 0.5kg lower than the W31. The W31 hybrids currently account for 80-85 percent of the total market goose production in Poland while the W11 pure strain birds account for 15-20 percent.
The most popular production system consists of growing the geese until 17 weeks of age (the second cycle of feather maturity) although some flocks are grown until 24 weeks of age (the third cycle of feather maturity). In both cases the production system is semi-intensive and the goslings are fed intensively on a complete ration until four weeks of age. During their first week of age fresh green forage is introduced into their diet. From the fourth or fifth week until 12 weeks of age the goslings are given green forage ad libitum and a complete ration limited to 210-240 g per bird per day. In week 11 the birds are partially plucked and the amount of complete ration is increased by 20-30 g per day. From weeks 13-14 the birds are given 150-170 grams of complete ration per day and green forage ad libitum.
The type and quality of complete ration and green forage is similar to that used for rearing goslings for the reproduction flock. The management system of the birds is also the same, that is, rearing them under a system using both a house and yard up to the sixth week of age and thereafter using either a yard or pasture system. However stocking density may be higher by 1-2 birds per m2, e.g. in the first week of age which means 10-12 goslings per m2. The fattening period is three weeks prior to slaughter i.e. from 15-17 weeks of age inclusive. During this time the birds are kept indoors or in yards. They are often kept in fenced pens, each holding 250-300 geese. The geese are kept at 0.33-0.50 m2 per bird. At week 14 oats is gradually introduced into their diet. No bulky feed is given to the birds during the fattening period and the consumption of oats amounts to 10-11 kg per bird for this period. During the fattening period the birds gain between 1.2-1.4 kg and by the end of the fattening period at 17 weeks of age, their final body weight is between 6.0-6.7 kg.
Total consumption of the complete ration and oats is approximately 28-30 kg per bird and that of green forage between 60-65 kg per bird. Fattening birds in autumn is easier because of their genetic and physiologic tendency to have a greater appetite during this period as well as a tendency for increased fat accumulation. To prevent the birds from becoming excessively fat, the daily ration of oats is limited to 600-700 g per bird per day. In the summer months from June to August goose fattening is less effective as the high temperatures reduce their appetite. This decreased appetite can, in part, be overcome by adding either red carrots or fresh succulent green forage to the oat ration at the rate of 100 g per bird per day.
When the geese are to be slaughtered at the age of 24 weeks, they are given less complete ration per day (100-150 g per bird per day) for a longer time, i.e. until 21 weeks of age. During this time green forage (either as cut grass or pasture) is the main feed, and the second plucking is performed at 17 weeks of age. The geese are fattened with oats for the three week period from 22-24 weeks of age inclusive. The body weight of these geese is usually 0.4-0.6 kg higher than birds marketed at 17 weeks of age.
The carcass of a goose fattened with oats is called "oat goose", and is one of the specialities of Polish agriculture. "Oat goose" meat is considered a high quality product on the German market. The high quality is a result of both the genetic traits of the goose and of the feeding system used. At 17 weeks of age, the slaughter yield (carcass without giblets) is about 65-66 percent; the breast muscle yield from the carcass (with neck) is about 18-19 percent and the leg muscle yield is 16-17 percent. The carcass has an optimal subcutaneous fat layer and the peritoneal fat content is 3-5 percent.
On large goose growing farms the number of birds is from 3-4 thousand birds. On the smallest farms around 500 birds are grown and fattened. In all cases the number of birds and their marketing is synchronised with the capacity of the slaughterhouse to which they are taken. Some very large farms grow up to 50-60 thousand "oat geese" annually. The increasing demand for young commercial geese in the 1990s has resulted in the construction of large farms where geese are grown in poultry houses under controlled microclimatic conditions and with automatic feeding and watering equipment.
Apart from growing geese on commercial farms, the traditional system of keeping them in backyard flocks of various sizes ranging from 10-40 birds is still popular. Geese are initially reared in one of the farm buildings or even in the farmer's house (up to ten goslings) with an infrared lamp or a common light bulb used as a supplemental heat source. Goslings are fed a commercial complete ration for the first two weeks which, from week three, is mixed with ground wheat. From 6-8 weeks of age the birds are given ground cereal grain (wheat, oats or barley). Green fodder is given from the beginning of the rearing period. Geese are kept together with other farm animals and are allowed to range freely where they can graze for grass and weeds. In nearby ponds or other water reservoirs they can find duck weed and other water plants. For feeding geese in backyard farm flocks kitchen waste and by-products including vegetables, fruit (mainly apples and plums) can be used. The geese are also given such things as red beets, steam-cooked potatoes, carrots and cabbage. During the growing period the soft feathers and down are partially plucked and the feathers and down used as pillow and duvet filling. The geese are usually kept until December when they are slaughtered, and the meat and fat used by the family for their own needs.
FEATHER AND DOWN PRODUCTION
Soft feathers and down from the breast and abdomen of geese are valuable raw materials and can be sold at a relatively high price. They are obtained by partial manual plucking of live birds. This operation has to be done when the feathers are fully mature and the foot of the calamus is closed and free of blood, and can be easily removed without skin damage. Done properly, the plucking of live birds is not harmful and has no detrimental effect on productivity. On the contrary, it results in a more uniform growth of new feathers and can improve the appearance of the carcass. In Poland plucking of live geese is performed on young and adult birds.
The first period of soft feather and down maturity is between 10-11 weeks of age when 60-70 g of white soft feathers and down can be obtained from one goose, of which about 16 percent is down. The subsequent pluckings are done at 6-7 week intervals, as this is the period required for the soft feathers and down to mature. Commercially produced birds that are to be fattened are plucked alive either once (if slaughtered at 17 weeks of age), or twice (if slaughtered at 24 weeks of age). Young breeding stock birds are usually plucked alive three times: at 10-11 weeks, 17-18 weeks and at 24-25 weeks. The second and third pluckings each yield between 100-120 g per bird of soft feathers containing 19-22 percent down. Adult geese in the reproduction flock are plucked three times after the reproductive season. The first plucking after the end of the laying period delivers 70-90 g of soft feather with a down content of 15-17 percent. The two successive pluckings yield 110-130 g of feathers with a down content of 28-32 percent. Adult birds sometimes have a fourth plucking which is done in the first ten days of December. This last plucking is the most efficient and up to 150 g of feather and down can be obtained per bird.
Before plucking the birds are bathed and allowed to dry overnight on clean, dry straw to give the feathers and down a better colour. They have their shanks bound with a soft textile tape and are put on their backs on the knee of the person doing the plucking. The bird's neck is slightly pressed down with the left hand and the lower part of neck, breast and abdomen, as well as the sides of the body, are plucked. The flank feathers are not removed and the back of the body is not plucked. Feather and down are used both for the manufacture of high quality bedding and clothing articles in Poland and exported as raw materials, mainly to Germany, Switzerland and Japan.
In large-scale production of breeding and market geese, great attention is paid to hygiene and disease control. On the farms, the rearing houses are properly prepared prior to the introduction of goslings. The rooms and equipment are cleaned, washed with hot water containing detergents and sanitizers. The rooms and the production equipment are disinfected mainly with formaldehyde gas. The yards are also disinfected. Hard surface yards are disinfected with a 2-3 percent iron or copper sulphate solution or with other disinfectant preparations. Soil yards are disinfected by spreading chlorinated or burnt lime in the quantity of 1-4 kg of lime per m2, after which they are rinsed with water and a few days later ploughed to a depth of 15-20 cm. Geese that were kept on pasture are treated for parasites, mainly against Amidostomum anseris prior to introduction into the poultry houses. The reproductive flocks and goslings are vaccinated against Derzsy disease.
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