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Rearing geese, for ecological farms

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GOOSE, THE robust farm bird, is one of the fastest growing avian species commonly raised for meat. Goose rearing requires little attention and it ideally fits into intensive integrated farming systems (IIFS). Geese offer nutritious meat, large eggs and rich fat for cooking as well as soft down and feathers for bedding and clothing. These birds are particularly appropriate for providing farmers with supplementary income.

Mature geese are independent, larger than other poultry species, and thus less vulnerable to predators. When kept in small flocks and allowed to roam in farmyard or field, they are adept scavengers, requiring less attention than any other domestic bird, according to Dr. Susanne Hugo, an Associate Professional Officer at FAO's Animal Production and Health Division. Geese adapt easily to captivity and if small quantities of supplementary feed are provided in the evening they will even return home by themselves, says Dr. Hugo.

Geese are found all over the world, but their rearing is widely practiced as an economic enterprise in Asia and Central Europe. Most geese are well adapted to hot climates as long as shade is available and to high rainfall regions. They particularly flourish in aquatic regions and marshlands. They do exceedingly well in warm, shallow waterways.

A Chinese goose, which is the most popular breed of goose in South-east Asia, is ideally suited for ecologically friendly IIFS farmers. The Chinese geese are good layers, active foragers, and the most alert and "talkative" birds producing the leanest meat among the various breeds of goose.

Geese can play a crucial role in weed control and pest management in integrated farming systems. They relish grasses and shun most broad-leaved plants. They have shown particular preference to troublesome perennial grasses such as the nut grass (Cyperus rotundus) and Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon). They feed voraciously on various crop residues and are effective in managing aquatic weeds as well. "Geese can be raised well by feeding with cooked rice and a host of other farm-grown commodities.

They are affectionate birds and are loyal to the masters," says Dr. M. J. Narasimhan, a leading physician, who is practicing integrated farming in Morapakkam village near Madurantagam about 90 km from Chennai.

Geese with their sharp eyesight and wide field of vision, combined with their strident calls, make excellent guards against approaching intruders or predators.

They will charge at strangers entering the farms ferociously and they cannot be calmed in to silence by them. They are thus good unbridable watchdogs for the farms. They are known to be messy birds, and it is better to house them little away from the farmhouse. These birds do not require much of a veterinary care.

Geese lay about two clutches of ten eggs each in a year. The eggs on an average will weigh about 115 g each. The eggs can be hatched using a brooder hen or in incubators at a temperature of 37.8 degrees Celsius, and they hatch in about 40 days, according to Dr. Narasimhan.

The young goslings can be reared in brooders generally used for rearing chicks. The young goslings should not be let in to ponds and pools for swimming.

Only when they are over ten weeks of age, they should be let out to roam freely in the farm. Geese will be ready for mating in about two years, and they should be paired with ganders of same age. One gander is sufficient to fertilise five to seven geese.

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