The African goose is a massive bird. Its heavy body, thick neck, stout bill and jaunty posture give the impression of strength and vitality. Its name is not indicative of its place of origin. Historical studies show that the African has been known by many names, and its origin has been attributed to many continents. It seems to have arrived in North America on ships that traveled around the world so its exact origin is ambiguous. It is known, however, that the African is a relative of the Chinese goose, both having descended from the wild swan goose native to Asia. The physical differences between the substantial African and the lithe Chinese goose demonstrate the effect of selective breeding.
The mature African goose has a large knob attached to its forehead, which requires several years to develop. 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 upward and folds up neatly. The eyes are large and deep-set. A mature gander averages 22 pounds, while a mature goose averages 18 pounds.
Two varieties of Africans are found in North America, the colored variety known as either Gray or Brown, and the White variety. The plumage of the colored variety is a combination of browns, buffs, grays and white. A dark brown stripe runs over the crown of the head and down the back of the neck. On mature birds, a narrow band of whitish feathers separates the satin-black bill and knob from the brown head. The legs and feet are dark orange to brownish orange. The Brown African was admitted to the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection in 1874. The White African has pure white plumage, an orange bill and knob, and bright orange shanks and feet. It was admitted to the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection in 1987.
Breeding stock should be selected for vigor, good reproductive traits, proper conformation and body carriage of 30° to 40° above horizontal. Mark the goslings that grow most rapidly to be saved for future breeding stock. "To maintain the lean meat qualities of the African, males of all ages and young females kept for reproduction should be keelless and have only moderately full abdomens. Tails held in line with the back, or lower, are often an indication of physical weakness and low fertility in this breed. Avoid birds with narrow heads, slender necks, shallow bodies, drooping tails, pronounced keels and baggy paunches that drag or touch the ground when the bird is standing. Older females, especially during the laying season, will often have low-hung paunches and show some indication of a keel" (Holderread, 1981).
Quality breeding stock may seem expensive, but are worth the investment. In the U.S., smaller, moderately priced Africans may be little more than oversized Chinese geese. African geese are long-lived and will produce for many years under normal circumstances. If well managed, they will reproduce in their first year. Eggs are large, weighing 5-8 ounces, and hatch in 30-32 days. Geese form bonds with their mates, and each gander can be mated with two to six geese, depending on the individual birds. The African goose produces high quality, lean meat, and is considered a premier roasting goose. Young ganders can weigh 16 to 18 pounds by the time they are 15 to 18 weeks old. African geese can withstand considerable cold weather but need shelter to protect their knobs from frostbite. Knobs that have been frostbitten often develop orange patches that usually disappear by fall.
Holderread, Dave. 1981. The Book of Geese: a Complete Guide to Raising the Home Flock. Hen House Publications. Corvallis, Oregon.
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