A visit to our farm is always exciting! Walking through our gates, you’re immediately in a whole different world of exciting sounds and sights. And the very first sight for most of our visitors, are our geese! The cheeky duo, Greta and Cynthia, have been at the farm for about twelve years, since they were goslings. They are so full of personality, and are always up to something! Like naughty children trying to sneak sweeties, they are always trying to break into the farm office where we keep all our donated fruit and veg for a sneaky treat!
Geese are one of the earliest domesticated animals in the world. There is archaeological evidence for humans keeping geese for over 4000 years. This would be when the Bronze Age came to Britain, or around the time of the Sphynx in Egypt being built! It is possible that geese were domesticated even earlier, up to 11,000 years ago during the Neolithic period, but the practice was popularised in Egypt 3000 years ago.
Domestic geese have been bred to be much larger than their wild cousins, up to about 22 pounds, rather than the 7-9 pounds that wild geese tend to be. This is due to humans selectively breeding larger geese for meat, eggs, and down – the filling for pillows, duvets, coats, and so on. The difference in body weight between domestic and wild geese has changed geese body shapes. Wild geese have a horizontal posture and are slim towards their backsides, whereas domestic geese have a fatty tail end, giving them a much more vertical posture. Although being heavier affects their ability to fly, most domestic geese are able to take flight. They need a lot of space to run far enough to get enough momentum, so most smallholder geese will instead happily waddle on the ground.
Like their wild cousins, domestic geese are highly protective, making them ideal working companions on smallholder and city farms. Geese will protect their immediate family, their flock, and any animals they see as part of their wider family, including lambs and people. Although this protectiveness can make them seem aggressive, geese are just looking after their family, and their loud honks at strange noises and danger will help keep animals and property safe from intruders! There was a sacred flock of geese in the temple of Juno in ancient Rome, said to have warned the Romans of an attack from enemies in 390BC. In modern times, geese acted as warning signals during the Vietnam War, guarding the South Vietnamese planes when they were parked up at night.
Geese are grazing birds; on your next visit to the farm take a moment to watch Greta and Cynthia have a delighted poke around the grass and foliage on the farm! Geese will naturally eat grasses, seeds, roots, and grains. They also love a tasty insect when they find them, and certain fruits and vegetables. Geese living around a pond will also stick their heads in the water to munch on aquatic plants. They prefer to be herbivorous, and won’t eat fish, so will happily live alongside fishy friends!
Wild geese are migratory birds, preferring to spend winter in warmer climates. Some wild Canada Geese have made permanent colonies in southern Canada and northern United States, although this is not the norm. Spotting a flock of migrating geese is usually a sign of the weather changing! Geese fly in a V formation – their big and powerful wings create air vortexes from their wingtips, allowing them to conserve energy in flight. This is really useful for their incredibly long migratory journeys, which are often thousands of miles long.
Domestic geese are descended from two ancestral species, the Greylag and the Swan Goose, which are still found in the wild everywhere. Four breeds from these species are native to the UK, the Brecon Buff, the Shetland, the Pilgrim, and the West of England. Our geese are Embden, who originated in north Germany. They have orange bills and legs, but have you noticed that they have amazing blue eyes?? Embden have all-white feathers, but if you’re lucky enough to spot a gosling, you might see a few grey feathers! These are typically found on the female geese, and will disappear as they grow.
Both parents take care of the nest. The hen will select a spot, usually in a slightly raised area on an open plain or grassland, in order to be able to easily spot predators. The nests are usually near water, and the hen does most of the nest creation, using plant material such as moss and grasses to create a wide, circular nest. Once the hen starts laying eggs, she adds feathers and down to help keep the eggs warm. Geese will lay 2-8 eggs in every clutch, and incubate for 25-28 days. Goslings will leave the nest within a day, and can swim straight away.
Geese are super smart, as evidenced by Greta and Cynthia not only figuring out where we keep our vegetables, but managing several successful heists when our backs are turned! This intelligence is one of the traits that make geese much loved as pets and smallholder animals.
Did You Know?
- A group of geese on the ground is called a gaggle, but when they are in flight they are called a flock!
- The patron saint of geese is St Martin of Tours, a martyr from the 4th Century.
- Geese are found predominantly in the Northern Hemisphere, although they are able to easily adapt to both cold and hot climates!
- A male goose is called a gander, and a female goose is called a hen. Babies are known as goslings.
- Wild geese mate for life! Domestic geese, however, are polygamous.
- Geese love blueberries!
At Kentish Town City Farm, although our animals are not pets but rather working animals, our geese will live out their lives in happiness and comfort. The oldest known wild goose was a Canada Goose, who reached 33 years of age, more than doubling the expected life span. Domestic geese can live for up to thirty years, so we fully expect Greta and Cynthia to be making mischief for a long time to come!
Book a free visit and see Greta and Cynthia soon.