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Birds Guide

Domesticated goose

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A Danish domesticated Greylag Goose in its pen.
A Danish domesticated Greylag Goose in its pen.
A domestic goose's head
A domestic goose's head

Domesticated geese are descendants of wild geese now kept as poultry, used for meat or for their down feathers.

In Europe and North America, most are derived from the Greylag Goose. The domestication of this species, as Charles Darwin remarks (Animals and Plants under Domestication, i. 287), is of very ancient date.

Few other animals have been bred so largely in captivity over such a long period, yet has varied so little. The domesticated goose has changed very little as compared to say the domesticated turkey.

It has increased greatly in size and fecundity, but almost the only change in plumage is that tame geese are commonly bred to lose the browner and darker tints of the wild bird, and are more or less marked with white — being often wholly of that colour.

From the time of the Romans, white geese have been held in great esteem. Perhaps white geese are preferred because they look better plucked and dressed.

The most generally recognized breeds of domestic geese are those to which the distinctive names of Emden and Toulouse are applied; but a singular breed, said to have come from Sevastopol, was introduced into western Europe about the year 1856. In this the upper plumage is elongated, curled and spirally twisted, having their shaft transparent, and so thin


that it often splits into fine filaments, which, remaining free for an inch or more, often coalesce again; while the quills are aborted, so that the birds cannot fly.

In eastern Asia, the Swan Goose has been domesticated for centuries, and is familiarly known as the Chinese Goose.

Geese have proved remarkably resistant to intensive rearing methods, and they therefore remain an expensive luxury compared to other poultry, such as the chicken and domesticated turkey.

Geese in cooking

Geese can be roasted as a whole bird, though their size precludes this preparation except for banquets and other festive meals (such as on Christmas). Geese contain much more fat than turkeys or chickens do - at least 500 ml (two cups) of fat may be rendered from an average-sized goose during cooking. The Cantonese barbecue also features prominently roasted goose over a charcoal spit with a "tuned" crispy skin.

Geese are used for the production of foie gras.

Geese produce large edible eggs, approximately four inches (100mm) from top to bottom. They can be used in cooking just as ordinary chicken's eggs, though they have proportionally more yolk, and this cooks to a slightly denser consistency. Taste is more or less the same as a chicken's egg.

Geese in fiction and myth

Domesticated goose
Domesticated goose

When Aphrodite first came ashore she was welcomed by the Charites (Roman "Graces"), whose chariot was drawn by geese.

There are Mother Goose tales, such as a farmwife might have told; there is the proverbial goose that laid the golden eggs, warning about the perils of greed. And there is the goose as a veiled reference to the penis in the verses

Goosy Goosy Gander, where dost thou wander?
Upstairs, downstairs, in my lady's chamber.

The geese in the temple of Juno on the Capitoline Hill were said by Livy to have saved Rome from the Gauls around 390 BC when they were disturbed in a night attack. The story may be an attempt to explain the origin of the sacred flock of geese at Rome.

There is a tale of Trickster and the geese in the North American Trickster cycle [1].

Liliane Bodson and Daniel Marcolungo, L'oie de bon aloi: Aspects de l'histoire ancienne de l'oie domestique [The goose in ancient life and folklore]. Vise (Musée Regional d'Archeologie et d'Histoire de Vise), 1994, discusses the image and lore of domestic geese in classical antiquity, with a separate chapter on the goose in folklore.

There is a Christian reference (Father Augustine) to the goose that relates to the coming of the winter solstice or as it is called "The Great Freezing". One of the reasons for harsh winter seasons was to scare or cull the goose population (a creation of the devil). This cyclical process is supposed to be symbolic of the struggle between evil (Satan) and God. Evil may never be completely put down, but God shall always triumph.

One of Aesop's Fables relates the story of The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs, the phrase itself passing into the language.

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