In Australia and elsewhere, domestic geese breeds are grouped by size as Heavy, Medium and Light. The massive African is among the heavyweights, reaching around 10 kg (22 lbs) for ganders and 8kg (18 lbs) for geese in the USA and UK. Matthew Selway, an African goose breeder in NSW, says that in the US, some strains approach 30lbs.
In Northern Hemisphere countries the African is highly regarded as a meat bird and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy promotes the African as worthy of preservation as an important utility breed. This breed is extremely rare in Australia. Matt Selway of Stoker's Siding, northern NSW is working to improve quality and increase his flock of this breed.
The following information is based on my conversations with Matt and comments of various poultry writers.
The African goose is a massive bird. Its heavy body, thick neck, stout bill and jaunty posture give the impression of strength and vitality.
Matt pointed out that in Australia, we are nowhere near the weights mentioned above. Here, Africans probably average 7.25kg (16 lbs) for males and 6.35kg (14lbs) for females. Matthew's heaviest (and best all round) gander weighs about 10 kg (22 lbs and his heaviest female is about 17 lbs. Matt says these two are not particularly large framed geese, but are much heavier than they look.
Respected American breeder Dave Holderread says that mature African geese have a large, forward-inclining knob on the forehead, which requires several years to fully develop. (Matt's understanding is that in the African, the knob continues to grow slowly throughout its life.) A smooth, crescent-shaped dewlap hangs from its lower jaw and upper neck. The dewlap may become ragged in shape as the bird ages. Its body is nearly as wide as it is long. It is keelless, and has a smooth, rounded abdomen with little or no fatty lobe development. The tail points up and folds up neatly. The eyes are large and deep-set. Its value in the Northern Hemisphere as a meat bird derives from its being, despite its weight, a leaner bird than the Toulouse or Embden.
Matt said that 'the stance should be 35 to 40 degrees above the horizontal whereas Chinese geese stand much more upright. Africans have a nice, big head whereas Chinese have a fine head. The African's neck is swan shape, but thicker than the long slender neck of the Chinese. Some individuals don't get the dewlap until over 18 months old, whilst others might develop one at 6 months. The dewlap runs down from the bill into the neck. The knob should be oriented slightly forward. Paunch should not touch the ground.'
The colour pattern is similar to the wild Swan Goose, from which it is descended. The head and neck are light brown, the neck having a distinctive dark brown stripe. The front of the neck is a very light ashy brown gradually lightening until past the dewlap it is almost cream, then gradually deepening again as it approaches the breast. This ashy-brown lightens yet again under the body and by the time it reaches the fluff it is virtually white. The sides of the body, wing bow and coverts are ashy brown, each feather edged in a lighter shade of this. The primaries are dark slate and primary coverts are lighter slate. The secondaries are also dark slate but edged with a shade approaching white. The tail is back to ashy-brown laced with near-white and tail coverts are white.
Matt said that good examples of the breed should have a narrow white band bridging their bill but not under it, ie from one side of the bill, over the top, to the other side.
One of their many distinctive characteristics is their lovely satin black bills and knobs.
Leg colour is dark red or burnt brown.
In the USA, where Africans are readily available, there is also a white variety which was accepted to the American Standard of Perfection in 1987, and more recently, a very attractive buff colour has been developed. The white variety has an orange bill and knob.
The African goose does not hail from Africa but from Asia. Like the Chinese breed, the African is descended from the wild Swan Goose (Anser cygnoides). Other domestic breeds such as the Embden and Toulouse stem from the wild Greylag Goose (A. anser).
Matt said that the Americans have progressed way ahead of us in terms of development and standardization of type and size, plus having the white and buff varieties. The Brown African was admitted to the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection way back in 1879.
Megg Miller's research of eighteenth and nineteenth century literature (see references) suggests that although the African was probably well known in Europe towards the end of the 1700s, until the early twentieth century it was called many different names. Fanciers and goose farmers in the UK largely ignored them in favour of the Embden and Toulouse. In contrast the Americans embraced the African enthusiastically and American poultry writers in the 1850s were referring to African geese.
Most goose experts now believe that the dewlap has not come from cross-breeding with the Toulouse, as some have claimed. Early 19th century illustrations show Africans with a dewlap at least 50 years before Toulouse breeders developed the dewlap in that breed. Oscar Grow claims that crosses with the Toulouse were probably made for the opposite reason, ' as at the time the African appeared, very few Toulouse had appreciable dewlaps; nor did they display them in a pronounced form until after the African had been standardized.'
Megg Miller's article points out there is now genetic evidence (research in the 1980s) that supports the purity and A. cynoides ancestry of the African.
In Australia and elsewhere (eg in the USA) they were crossed with Chinese to get more eggs, and crossed with Toulouse to get more size.
Oscar Grow laments this practice as 'In this cross most of the African features predominated but it retained the Toulouse keel and paunch and the tendency to take on heavy layers of fat; thus the African lost much of its reputation for a comparatively lean carcass, when dressed. . Happily, a few discerning breeders such as Dawson Brothers of Wisconsin and M. B. Howe of Iowa scrupulously adhered to authentic bloodlines, and it was through them that the breed was saved from oblivion and is now regaining its position as one of the finest of all market geese.'
In Australia this practice has very much diluted the purity of the African and it is very difficult to find true African stock.
How would you know you had a crossbred African-Toulouse? From the literature cited above it seems that if it has any suggestion of a keel and a pronounced paunch, this is probably a Toulouse influence. Also, pure African geese develop their dewlaps slowly. Youngsters under twelve months who show marked dewlap development are more likely to develop a keel and pendulous paunches.
Active and agile for a large goose, it has a unique call. Matt describes it as an 'Asiatic-type call' (which is different from the Greylag-derived geese) similar to the Chinese Goose but a little deeper. He has found them to be very placid and relatively quiet, even during the breeding season. His are good foragers, but at a slower pace than, for example, the hyperactive Chinese geese.
Matt said that they can be kept on grass if very lush and succulent but with our Africans being on the small side, they need all the help they can get to grow to their full potential and in most cases should get supplementary feed.
Matt uses his own mix of layer pellets, whole and cracked corn, wheat and a little bit of milo grain. He has noticed that when the mating season commences the males eat less, being preoccupied with more important matters.
In America, they appear to be very productive with 20 - 40 eggs in a season. A pond for mating is a big advantage. One of Matt's laid up 30 eggs in this year. Unfortunately fertility and hatchability was a major problem, with no successful hatches. Of the minority that were fertile, none developed.
Matt has found his to be good mothers but not aggressively defensive of the babies.
Matt advised the following:
(based on Dave Holderread's and Oscar Grow's books)
(You may wonder why the Toulouse, if it were indeed originally crossed with the African to develop the dewlap, would then grow their dewlap faster. I guess the different combination of genes is the obvious answer. More intriguingly, Oscar Grow claims the dewlap is '..a sort of auxiliary keel, related to breast keels and pendulous paunches, and somewhat difficult to disassociate from them.' And we all know the exhibition Toulouse's major characteristics are a deep full keel and paunch. In the US a "Utility Toulouse" is recognized. This breed/variety lacks the massive body and huge dewlap, probably more like the original Toulouse.)
They are a meat breed but Matt hasn't tasted them - you're not going to eat something as rare as this! In the US where eating goose is much more common, there is a significant market for African geese. (The African is not on the American Breed Conservancy's endangered list: their status is "Watch")
As long as your grass is relatively short to begin with most geese make great lawn mowers. You should fence off no-go areas though. Like cats they have the knack of finding the coolest, most comfortable spot, usually your verandah or patio, and love gazing at the geese in the glass doors.
African geese seem to cope with hot weather better than many breeds, and are ideal for warm to hot climates. Conversely, because they can get frostbite on their legs and knob, they are not so good for very cold climates and would need a good shelter from snow and ice in winter. Knobs that have been frostbitten often develop orange patches that usually disappear by fall. Is there any use for the dewlap? In dewlapped cattle such as Brahmin and Red Sindhi (tropical breeds) the dewlap is thought to aid cooling (large surface area). Possibly it serves the same purpose for the African goose.
The Americans say that if they are well managed, they may reproduce in their mating season. (August-September in Queensland). Eggs are large, weighing 141 - 226 grams (5-8 ounces), and hatch in 30-32 days. Each gander can be mated with two to six geese, depending on the individual birds. (However, Matt Selway keeps them in pairs.)
Africans produce high quality, lean meat, and are considered a premier roasting goose in the US. Young ganders can weigh 16 to 18 pounds by the time they are 15 to 18 weeks old.
As indicated above, pure specimens are very difficult to find. Matt said that he has seen many geese whose owners said were Africans (or even, 'Super Africans'), which he is certain are just Toulouse-Chinese crosses. This breed needs all the support it can get in Australia, so if you are thinking of taking on a goose breed, consider the African. You will almost certainly have to be prepared to start with less than excellent stock and gradually work to improve your flock.
Matt Selway can be contacted on his mobile phone number: 0419 172 686.
Bob Whitehouse of Burpengary, Queensland, has also been breeding African geese for several years. For various reasons he is winding down his flock, and currently has some to sell. He can be contacted at night on 07 3888.0550.
Matthew Selway's African gander won Breed Champion at the 2001 Queensland Royal Show and was also Champion Goose or Gander at the Waterfowl Fanciers Association of Queensland 2001 Annual show.
Last updated 29 December 2001