Raising geese for meat is the primary purpose for most goose breeds, although some are bred with emphasis on other attributes as well. The Sebastopol goose, for instance, has long, curly feathers that look like a misguided perm, while the diminutive Shetland was bred to thrive in a hard environment.
The fact remains that geese, like turkeys, are basically meat birds. Properly cooked, goose meat is rich and juicy without being greasy. And family squabbles over who gets the light meat and who gets the dark are eliminated, since the meat is uniformly succulent throughout.
The Breed for You
When raising geese for meat, an important consideration is the size of the goose breed. If you’ll be feeding a crowd, you’ll probably want a Toulouse of Embden goose, which reach 20 to 25 pounds at maturity. For medium-size gangs, the African is just the ticket, weighing in at 18 to 20 pounds. Smaller families appreciate the tidy size of Pilgrim and Chinese geese, which range in mature weight from 10 to 14 pounds.
Don’t forget to check the size of your oven in relation to the size of the goose. A lot of modern ovens are not nearly big enough to hold a large roasting pan, let alone foiled potatoes or a casserole filled with stuffing on the side. If you can roast a big turkey in your oven, you can roast a goose.
Foraging ability is an important aspect for of raising geese for meat naturally and as economically as possible. All goose breeds forage to some extent, although if you intend to employ your geese as garden weeders you may want to avoid the soil compaction that typically occurs with the heavier breeds.
Feather color is another consideration. Lighter varieties are better than darker ones, since missed pin feathers don’t show up as readily when the goose is cooked. Though it’s simply a matter of aesthetics, after going through all the trouble of raising the bird, cleaning it, and roasting it to perfection, you’ll want it to look its best on the platter.
How neat a bird will look on the table is partly determined by the stage of molt. Geese pick cleanest right after their first feathering, at about 13 to 14 weeks of age (sometimes longer in backyard situations). Since geese achieve their maximum growth during the early weeks of life, the age at first feathering is also the prime butchering time from an economic standpoint, even though the birds will not have reached their maximum weight.
Soon after the first feathering, a goose begins to molt into adult plumage and you’d best wait for it to come back into full feather before butchering. Otherwise the multitude of unsightly pin feathers may well put a damper on holiday appetites.
To determine if molting is complete, check to see if the wing primaries reach the tail, pet the plumage to test for smoothness, and run your fingers backward over the feathers as you peek underneath for the presence of pin feathers. Plumage should look bright and hard, with no downy patches around the vent or along the breastbone.
Finishing the Bird
When a goose reaches full feather, but is no older than 10 months for best texture and flavor, a common practice is to finish it in preparation for butchering. This process of putting on weight to round out the body is especially important where geese have been running freely in pasture.
When raising geese for meat, finishing takes from three to five weeks, and should be accompanied by confining the birds in an area where they cannot roam and burn off that extra plumpness you wish to encourage. But do give them sufficient room to remain clean and dry, or the resulting decline in vigor may result in weight loss.
Locate your finishing pen where the birds will not be agitated by outside disturbances, including neighborhood dogs. Unless you have raised only one goose for the purpose, try to finish several together as a lone goose often pines away for the gaggle it can see or hear nearby.
Feed the geese all they can eat of a good grower ration, stimulating appetites with a little grain making up no more than one-third of the daily total. Top off the feeder three or four times a day to stimulate interest in eating. When raising geese fro meat, refrain from including in the diet any strong-flavored foods such as fish scraps, garlic, or onions, which sometimes cause off-flavors in the flesh.
The night before the big day, remove all feed so dressing won’t be complicated by messy half-digested rations. But continue to offer water to prevent dehydration and mottling of the flesh.
When raising geese for meat, I would by lying if I said killing a goose is easy. First off, geese are regal and intelligent, and (like other poultry) have individual personalities. Second, even the young ones are pretty powerful. So butchering a goose requires overcoming both psychological and physical obstacles. A ploy that works pretty well for most poultry keepers is to keep a pair of yard geese, let them hatch out an annual brood, and hustle the young ones into the freezer while they’re still young and anonymous.
If your experience has been with chickens, you may be in for a little surprise when you pluck your first goose. Not only do they have extra layers of feathers and down, but the feathers seem to be stuck in more firmly than a chicken’s. For this reason, many folks turn at this point to a custom plucker. But it’s understandably not easy to find one who’ll do the job. Check not only in the farm community, but also among local hunters who may know someone who cleans the waterfowl they bag.
If you’ll be doing the picking yourself, one way is to chill the unplucked, whole carcass to a temperature of 33°F to firm up the skin, which makes dry picking easier. Since I’m always in a hurry to get the job done, I start dry picking right away. When only one bird is involved, dry picking is a lot less mess and bother than preparing a pot of hot water for scalding and wet picking. But if I have more than one goose to clean, or if I have other birds to pick at the same time, I’ll use hot water to loosen the feathers and speed up the job.
The water must be close to 150°F. Much hotter and it may discolor the skin and cause tearing when the feathers are pulled. Much cooler, and it will do no good. A little added dish soap breaks surface tension and helps the water penetrate the layers of feathers, and a long-handled spoon is handy for pushing the floating bird under water. You’ll need a lot bigger scalding pot than you’d normally use for chickens or ducks. If your pot isn’t big enough to hold both the whole goose and enough water to cover it, the resulting hot tidal wave will serve as a painful reminder to use a bigger pot next time.
For cleaning lots of geese or other waterfowl, it’s worthwhile to invest in picking wax as an aid in removing the final layer of down and pinfeathers. But for the occasional goose, it’s not worth the extra mess and expense.
Once the goose is dressed and ready for the oven, store it, loosely covered, in the coldest part of the refrigerator for no more than three days. If your butchering has been done well in advance of the holidays, freeze the bird in an airtight plastic bag designed for freezer storage. Thaw the bird in the refrigerator, allowing two hours per pound. Never thaw a goose at room temperature, since spoilage may occur in thawed portions while the inside is still frozen solid.
When you’re ready for roasting, rinse and drain the goose. If you’ll be stuffing it, fill the neck and body cavity loosely with your favorite mix, preferably one containing something tart, such as apples, oranges, pineapple, or sauerkraut to enhance the natural richness of goose meat. Fasten the neck skin to the back with a skewer and tie the legs together.
If you do not plan to serve stuffing, a sliced apple and an onion in the bodycavity during roasting add a little extra flavor. To decrease cooking time of an unstuffed goose, heat up several metal forks in the preheating oven and pop them into the cavity to intensify heat during roasting.
Roasting Your Bird
Whether stuffed or not, pierce the bird’s skin all over with a meat fork to let the fat ooze out as it liquifies — a sort of self-basting process. For extra crisp and tasty skin, rub it all over with a cut lemon, sprinkle with salt, and dust with a little flour.
Place the goose uncovered and breast side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan, with a meat thermometer inserted deep into the inside thigh muscle. Roast in a preheated 400°F oven for six minutes per pound, then reduce heat to 325°F and allow an additional 12 minutes per pound. I find it best to get the goose into the oven a little ahead of schedule, as sometimes it takes longer than it should and there’s nothing worse than an underdone goose when hungry diners are waiting expectantly around the holiday table.
You will know your goose is cooked when the thermometer reads 185°F and the stuffing reaches a temperature of 165°F. If you have no thermometer, you can test for doneness by pressing the meaty portion of the leg between pro- tected fingers; it should feel soft. Then prick the thigh with a fork; the juices running out should not be pink. The skin should be golden and crisp.
During the last few minutes of roasting, after the fat has been melted off and spooned away (as described in “Rendering Goose Fat” sidebar), you can give your bird the gourmet touch by basting it. My favorite baste combines l/2 tablespoon of sherry or brandy with 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 tablespoons honey, and l/2 teaspoon seasoned salt.
Brush this mixture over the goose 15 minutes before it’s scheduled to be done, and then again moments before you remove it from the oven. Whether or not you have basted, skim the final pan drippings to make into delicious gravy to serve over the sliced meat, biscuits, potatoes, or stuffing. Ar- range the finished goose on a large plat- ter surrounded by sweet potatoes, baked apples, or other favorite trimmings, and be prepared for the “oohs” and “aahs” as you arrive at the Christmas table with your homegrown roasted goose.
Rendering Goose Fat
A goose collects fat in its abdomen, at the base of its neck, and under its skin. After the goose has been plucked and chilled, the abdominal and neck fat firms up and may easily be peeled away. To save it by melting it down, or render- ing it, cut it into smaller chunks, put it in a saucepan over low heat, and warm it gently until the fat turns into a golden liquid. Take care not to let it get so hot it splatters or burns. Some people, not me, add a cup of water to the rendering fat, which evaporates by the time the fat liquifies and meanwhile helps keep the fat from turning brown.
The fat under the skin melts off during roasting. If you wish to save it, spoon it out about every half hour during roasting to keep it from browning. Do not baste the bird during this time, which is unnecessary anyway and would spoil the flavor of the rendered fat. In my experience, the fat that renders during roasting is never as pure as that rendered in a saucepan, so I keep it separate and use it primarily for pan frying.
In both cases, strain off and discard solid pieces and other impurities, pour the rendered fat into a jar, and store it in the refrigerator. Clean fat may be kept in the refrigerator for a long time — as much as a year — but is so good you will probably use it up long before then. It may be used wherever you might otherwise use butter, shortening, lard, bacon drippings, and the like. My husband grew up enjoying rendered goose fat, spread on bread and sprinkled with a little salt. The secret ingredient in my oatmeal cookies everyone raves about is — ta-da — goose fat instead of shortening.
Good Stuff for Stuffing Your Goose
Apple Orange Stuffing
6 cups day-old bread crumbs 2 cups diced tart apples
l cup diced orange sections l/2 cup raisins
l/2 cup chopped pecans
l teaspoon salt
l/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
l/2 cup orange juice
l/4 cup melted butter
Mix ingredients together and stuff the goose.
l cup chopped onions
l/4 cup butter
2 pounds drained sauerkraut
l cup shredded raw potato
l teaspoon salt
l/2 teaspoon caraway seed (optional) l/4 teaspoon pepper
l/2 cup white wine
Saute onions in butter until transparent, then combine remaining ingredients.
l/4 cup chopped onion
l-l/2 cup chopped celery
6 tablespoon butter
3 cup cooked rice
l-l/2 teaspoons orange rind
3/4 cup orange sections
3/4 cup crushed pineapple
3/4 cup sliced mushrooms
l/4 cup chopped walnuts
l teaspoon salt
l-l/4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger dash cardamom
orange or pineapple juice
Saute onions and celery in butter until transparent, then combine remaining ingredients, adding enough juice to just moisten.
No goose breeds lay as prolifically as a chicken or a duck, but geese tend to be efficient layers for longer — as much as eight years for some breeds. A goose egg is nearly three times the size of chicken egg, the white is somewhat thicker than that of a chicken egg, and the yolk makes up nearly half the egg.
One goose egg makes a formidable omelet, although goose eggs are less often used for culinary purposes than for hatching or, because of their size and thick shells, for creating craft items such as decorative jewelry boxes. Yet goose eggs may be used in just about any rec- ipe calling for eggs. They are especially prized for baking rich pastries.
The primary problem with goose eggs is that they are available only sea- sonally. In a warm climate, hens may start laying toward the end of January. In a cold climate they may not start until early March. Once they start, most hens lay an egg a day. How long they continue laying each season depends on the breed. Average egg production for each breed is shown in the “Quick Goose Breed Profiles” table on page 53. Some strains lay considerably better than average.
Age is another consideration. A hen’s egg production peaks at three to five years, then gradually declines. A third consideration is climate. As cool-weather birds, geese generally prefer to lay only as long as daytime temperatures remain below about 80°F.
A typical backyard scenario, though, is that a goose will lay a dozen or so eggs in early spring, then go broody, at which time she stops laying. If you take the eggs away as she lays them, or soon after she starts setting, she may begin laying again. Otherwise she finishes laying for the year and busies herself raising goslings for your future holiday meals.
Good luck raising geese for meat for your next holiday meal.
Gail Damerow has enjoyed raising geese, chickens, and other poultry for more than 40 years. She shares her goose-raising expertise in The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals, and is also the author of Barnyard in Your Backyard, Fences for Pasture & Garden, The Chicken Health Handbook, Your Chickens, and the recently updated and revised classic — Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, 3rd edition. All Gail’s books are available from our bookstore on page 64 and our online bookstore at www.backyardpoultrymag.com.
Originally published in December 2011 / January 2012 and regularly vetted for accuracy.