Economics of pasture and forage in the production of geese

Project Overview

FNE14-793
Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2014: $8,565.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Wesley Bascom
Gozzard City LLC

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: oats, rapeseed, sunflower, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: apples
  • Animals: poultry

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed formulation, free-range, feed rations, grazing management, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, feasibility study, agricultural finance
  • Production Systems: permaculture
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Poultry production in the Northeast depends on a fossil-fuel saturated supply chain of feed from other regions of the US. Because geese, unlike other commonly raised avians, can potentially derive much of their nutrition from pasture and forage, goose farming may be able to produce sustainable, high-quality poultry-meat with a good economic return. However, there is little research about feeding geese in New England with limited grain. We propose to conduct an economic and energetic analysis of several different feeding methodologies, to begin evaluating and tracking the efficacy of different goose production systems. As we do, we will begin to see how geese might fit into the agricultural landscape of New England’s diversified, grass-based farms. Soil conservationist Donna Doel, of the NRCS, will serve as the project’s technical advisor.

    Poultry has been touted by mainstream environmentalists as “better” than other animal-based protein sources, due in part to its low feed conversion ratio. In the SARE community and at University Extension services, attention has been focused on investigating the production of pastured chicken (Profitable Poultry, SARE, 2012). While chickens benefit from spending time under the sun in the grass, and farmers benefit from selling a high-end product, pastured chicken ultimately requires significant grain rations to thrive. Geese have attributes that could be advantageous in the production of local and less environmentally impactful animal protein. Reports from 19th and 20th century researchers and farmers suggest that geese were profitably kept and raised on extensive forage-based pasture systems at diversified farms and homesteads. These were primarily in Europe, but also existed within the US (Ashton, 1999). Geese have the ability to consume and utilize large amounts of grass and forage in their diet. Their physical hardiness and resistance to both predation and common poultry diseases also makes them attractive to producers (Holderread, 1993). Goose fat and meat are premium products, and can also be converted into a wide variety of value-added items. Additionally, down and quills can be sold for crafts, further improving each bird’s profitability.

    As our farm sought to integrate geese into a diversified system — which also includes vegetables, maple, berries, apples and hay, we found little current research focused on producing pastured goose in New England, and none in which environmental and economic data was taken into consideration. This is unsurprising given that geese constitute just .2 percent of the US poultry population (Hamre, MN Extension). The literature we did find focuses on confinement and grain feeding operations. Will geese consume winter squash, sugar beets, Brussels sprout leaves, or sunflowers? If they do, will they fatten up in a way that is pleasing to chefs and consumers? How will the meat taste? None of these questions have been answered.

    We propose to conduct feeding trials based on pasturing and utilizing locally available, organic, foodstuff for fattening. Through these trials and experimental observation — including keeping records of all project inputs (time/material etc) — we will generate an economic, environmental, and qualitative analysis that begins to suggests how geese may or may not fit into a sustainable and regionally based poultry production system. This research will allow other farmers a quantitative and qualitative basis for considering integrating goose production with their existing farm operations, and begin to fill a void in the discussion about regional sustainable poultry production.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    To evaluate the possibility of obtaining high-quality goose meat — which is also produced sustainably and economically — from birds raised in New England on a pasture and forage intensive diet:

    Weight gain for the entire flock during each treatment, and final weight per bird including carcass, cavity fat, and liver weights. Quantitative data will be statistically analyzed with input from our technical advisor.

    Economic Data:

    Both cash and accrual basis balance sheet analyses will be used to assess the financial viability of our treatments at the 66-goose-flock size. We will then combine the data from the feeding treatments with that from the finishing treatments to generate six balance sheets that represent our various models of production, and separate costs into fixed variable groups to enable other farmers to assess the scalability of a goose operation.

    Energetic Data: Labor/Time/Material

    While conventional accounting measures may indicate the profitability of an agricultural endeavor within the existing economic system, they do little to address ongoing concerns about environmental and social costs that are often not fully accounted for. Based on an email consultation with John Schramski, Assistant Professor of Engineering at the University of Georgia, we determined that we will focus on the “energy balance” of our feed sources, rather than a process-based life-cycle analysis. Our results will not rise to the standards set by the ISO for life-cycle analysis, but will provide a sense of the fossil fuel calorie inputs and the feed-for-geese calorie outputs.

    In the case of the conventional grain control group, we will use information available in the literature (Pimentel, 2005; Pelletier, 2010) to provide a basis for adjusting to suit local differences in supply-chain energy use. In the other feeding/fattening regimes, we will track our consumption of gasoline and labor, and combine that information with accepted benchmarks depending on the feed in question (Schramski, 2013). In our report, we will identify areas for further study, including how energetic analysis can help with design and investment on Northeastern farms.

    Qualitative Data:

    In addition, we will conduct a blind tasting to ascertain and qualify if differences in taste exist between treatment groups. This information is both qualitative — in that it identifies attributes of goose flesh and fat — and quantitative — in that the data will then be ranked. Team-member Suzanne Podhaizer studied sensory analysis at the University of Vermont under expert Monserrat Almena-Aliste, and will train the sensory panel and conduct the experiment. Panelists will use descriptive analysis to evaluate products made with the meat, skin and liver of geese from each of the six test groups. The results will be ranked and graphed.

    Outreach: 

    Through the season we will update the public on our progress via a blog and facebook postings. At the conclusion of the study, we plan to generate a final report, a summary report, and a presentation at a major New England agricultural conference as well as two narrative writing pieces aimed at farmers and consumers and published in Small Farmer’s Journal, Local Banquet or similar publication.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.