Economics of pasture and forage in the production of geese
Our project offers an economic and energetic analysis of raising geese on pasture and marketing them directly to wholesale and retail customers in Northern Vermont. Geese were common additions to the barnyards of diversified New England farms prior to the mid 20th century but fell out of favor as they proved less suited than chicken and turkey to industrial, grain-based, production methods. We aimed to evaluate whether geese can be produced with less grain input than conventional poultry — chickens and turkeys — and marketed profitably in today’s economic climate. The results of this study are intended to offer insights into the challenges and opportunities of raising geese on pasture in the northeast and help farmers evaluate the potential of adding geese to their operations. In an effort to answer these questions, Wesley Bascom and Suzanne Podhaizer (owners) raised three flocks of geese on pasture in consultation with Donna Doel (technical advisor, NRCS) and NOFA-VT staff during the summer of 2014.
During the summer of 2014, we brooded a batch of geese for 5 weeks as per industry standards and then divided that group into three flocks of 60 geese each. We rotated our three flocks through the lower pastures for a total duration of 16 weeks while providing varying levels (10%, 50%, and ad libitum diet) of supplemental grain. We tracked daily grain input and weighed the flocks every week to determine gain and feed conversion ratio. Along the way we recorded daily observations about the work, the animals, and the challenges we encountered. At the end of the season, we attempted to fatten the geese on a mixture of apple pomace and root vegetable seconds. During slaughter we tracked the weight of each goose by treatment group. Throughout the season, we thoroughly tracked financial inputs to develop a costs of goods and enterprise analysis.
In the coming weeks, we will set up a sensory evaluation panel to assess the quality of the meat and detect any possible differences between the treatment groups.
With the season’s field data and the sensory data, we will continue our analysis by developing our enterprise balance sheets for economic analysis and our energy balance sheet for energetic analysis. This analysis will be included in the final report.
We have arranged to present the findings of our study at the VT Grass Farmer’s Association Conference and the NOFA-VT winter conference. Narrative articles describing the study are scheduled for publication this spring in ACRES USA and another publication yet-to-be-determined. Additional material composed of the final report and info-graphics will be posted on our blog and linked through Facebook to create more visibility.
Brooding the goslings went well this year – we achieved a feed conversion rate comparable to that published by the breeders in france who maintain the genetic lines we used. Mortality was 5% with the majority of deaths occurring within days of arrival which might be attributed to shipping stress. Observations from this year indicate the following improvements might be of benefit: switching from electric + wood heat source to propane, building a larger version of the ‘ohio-style’ brooder to better suit geese, and spreading the bedding more liberally to ward of dampness.
During the pasturing period, we initially ran into trouble with electric fence training and separating the flocks — geese have a strong tendency to herd together and they were small enough to pass through (or become stuck in) the electric fence and they seemed particularly interested in the young corn plants in an adjacent field. After a week or so of fence training and re-thinking our pasture rotation plan by placing each flock at a distance rather than adjacent to the other groups, the grazing commenced fairly well.
Feeding geese locally sourced fattening feedstocks proved to be more difficult than anticipated. The fine mash of the apple pomace attracted the smallest and least grain-fed of the flocks but was rejected by the other groups that had received more grain. The turnip, radish, and beets were rejected outright in preference to grain. The standing milky oats were voraciously devoured but we had relatively few of them and ran out after a few days. Given the commercial nature of our enterprise, we made the choice to furnish the flocks with a full grain fattening diet. This was disappointing but suggestions from a neighbor with experience raising geese in Denmark indicate that we might try finding a grinder with a finer setting for the roots or boiling them — steps that we were unable to take this fall and might prove dubious or risky given the cost of labor.
Weekly weigh-ins and tracking feed / labor input yielded very useful data vis a vis ways to re-focus production methods. We achieved the lowest overall feed conversion ratio with the restricted grain group at just around 3:1 at 24 weeks. However, tracking the data through the summer allowed us to evaluate the other ‘slaughter windows’ at 12 and 18 weeks. This data suggests that slaughtering earlier will give a better Feed Conversion Rate with lower labor costs and only a marginally lighter goose.
The average balance sheet for raising geese shows that the basic cost of goods (gosling, grain, bedding, fuel, slaughter materials, and hired labor) for geese are in the $4.50/lb range and, for our farm, the owner-labor and equipment costs add another ~$3.30/lb for a total cost of ~ $7.80 / lb under the 2014 business model. This financial data highlights some of the major cost differences between raising more conventional poultry such as chicken. The individual flock balance sheets have yet to be prepared. From a financial point of view, the data suggests feeding more grain initially and slaughtering at 12 weeks (more in-line with typical pastured poultry producers) or limit feed moderately and slaughter at 18 weeks (a balance of grain and chore labor).
Specific conditions that could have impacted the field data include a lower than average grass-production year in our neighborhood, poorly timed pasture clipping in June, and a bad batch of grain. Our neighbor (Paul Stecker – Maple Lane Farm – organic dairy) reported that his hay yields were down significantly during the early and mid-summer periods — perhaps due to the long winter. In addition to this micro-climate effect in the Cabot area, we clipped our pastures a little too late and experienced a dearth of tender forage during the mid summer period — a time when we chose to feed the limited grain group more than anticipated. We did receive a shipment of grain that was unpalatable to the geese — they refused to eat for 3-6 days but resumed after a different batch of grain was brought in.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
None noted as of now.
Gozzard City LLC
34 Langone Road
Cabot, VT 05647
Office Phone: 8025959536
Gozzard City LLC
34 Langone Road
Cabot, VT 05647
Office Phone: 8023381202
19 Archertown Road Orford
Orford, NH 03777
Office Phone: 6033534651