Springmagazine 2005 British Waterfowl Association:

Geese keeping in The Netherlands.


I've been asked to write about geese keeping in The Netherlands and I think it’s a lot different than in the UK, mainly because we don’t have that much specialists, experience and space. Most of the Dutch breeders only have one or two breeds because they don’t have enough land. Some lucky ones have more space so a few breeders over here have more than three or four breeds but I think you can count them on one hand. Also some breeders don’t have land near their houses so they have to take the car twice a day to take care of their birds. We, my husband Peter and myself, don’t like that because in our opinion you can’t give them the attention and care they need. Beside the attention and care; What if something happens if you’re not around? Since a couple of years, as an example, it’s forbidden to hunt foxes over here and it’s becoming a big problem for all kind of breeders of poultry and waterfowl. A friend who lives just outside a village had three times a visit from a fox and a lot of his birds were killed. Another problem when you don’t have your geese near your house and if you don’t have proper pens to put your breeding couples in you’ll end up with a lot of cross breeds. Unfortunately it happens a lot over here. You can’t keep an eye on them if you don’t have them near your house. I remembered when we started with our American buffs and Tufted American buffs a few years ago I said: I like the Buff Back and the Buff Toulouse too! I still do but a friend told me: As a starter stay with those two breeds before you start with more breeds because you can’t give your attention to more than those two breeds if you want to do it right. He was right; Almost all of our attention and space goes to the Tufted Americans, mainly because it’s a new breed compared to other breeds. We found out that it’s not that easy to breed with geese; it takes a lot of study, reading, experience and a lot of help from the really good breeders. If you want to do a proper job as a beginner stick to one or two breeds for the first couple of years and don’t buy so many different breeds as many beginner breeders over here do just to be important, or hope they will be accepted inside the associations. In the eyes of a lot of “old fashioned” breeders, as we call them, we are to “careful” with our breeds. Firstly we see our birds as pets and secondly we find it’s important to keep a breed as pure as possible. Early this year I received a phone call from another breeder who had bought two Celler geese in Germany and it turned out he had bought two males so he asked me if I would like to buy them? I told him I can’t do anything with them, same as he couldn’t do anything with those two ganders, but he said: You can cross them with yours. Sorry, I told him we try to keep our breeds as pure as possible and we don’t cross breeds if we don’t need to. He really didn’t understand me because his were buff too and I really think he believed all buff colored geese are the same. That brings me to another issue over here: There’s not much information or books on keeping or breeding with geese over here. Before we bought our first couple of geese we tried to find as much information as possible but we couldn’t find any Dutch book with the information we were looking for. Luckily I found Chris Ashton’s book Domestic Geese on the internet and for the first time we had a lot of information we could do something with. Since then we bought a lot of English and American books. Because there’s so little information over here I think a lot of breeders just try and find out. Same as in the old days; geese don’t need more than grass and even during the winter time a lot of geese keepers don’t give their birds extra grains or pellets. Some don’t even know the existence of special waterfowl pellets and they give the geese bread and if the birds are lucky, grains, chicken or turkey pellets. Breeding with brothers and sisters which can lead to deformities, worming geese, the right feeding during the breeding season? Never heard of it! Don’t you have any poultry or waterfowl associations over there I can hear you ask. Yes we do but they don’t have much information too because most people over here breed chickens, rabbits and doves. Waterfowl demands space! It’s possible we want to know everything there is on this issue and that we want to learn more than the average breeder but I’m sure we would have stopped if we hadn’t had those books. We did join some Dutch associations and got to know some breeders who had some experience with geese but for most members of those associations the main issue is winning at a show instead of real interest in the birds well being is our experience and if you don’t join the showing activities you’re not important or of any value,……. they think. What also happens a lot over here is; buy good geese from others and start showing instead of breeding themselves and showing their own offspring. We don’t show our birds! First of all we have shows over here that take more than 3 days and we don’t like to put our geese in a small cage with only a tiny can for water instead of a bucket. I’ve seen lot’s of geese with sticky eyes on shows because they couldn’t wash their head properly. Second if there are ten geese at a show it’s a lot and what value has it for us to compare our geese with a Pommorian, a Toulouse or an Embden because those breeds you see most at shows. Another issue is that no Dutch waterfowl judge has ever seen an American Buff alive and they have to take the Waterfowl Standard to see if our geese are good or not. Therefore we want to organize a kind of goose day next year at our place for people who have bought geese from us. We hope they will bring one or two of their best offspring with them so we can compare them and I hope they all will do better than we do! Third; the jealousy between a lot of breeders over here. Instead of helping each other with problems or try to improve the breeds together it seems they have more fun in fighting each other and talking bad about each other. You must be a part of the old boys party and follow their rules and don’t have any new ideas because that’s to difficult. And certainly not a woman with other ideas or opinions! Therefore we are no longer a member of the Dutch Associations but instead we joined some Belgian Associations which are a lot different and have a lot more knowledge. Beside that it’s important for the Belgians to have a nice time with friends who have the same hobby, not only Belgians but also English, Germans, French, Dutch etc. It’s always a pleasure to be there. We found out it’s important to look over the borders and we made friends in several countries. We had a lot of help from breeders in different countries when we didn’t know anymore what to do when we faced problems and we hope to help new breeders over here with the information we gathered the last years. A lot of things are changing over here, maybe because of the Avian Influenza crisis from last year but also, I think, because new waterfowl lovers don’t like the old fashioned way of breeding and showing any more. The entries at shows run back very fast and a lot of shows don’t exist any more. A pity? I don’t know but I do think it’s time for new things because there are a lot of people interested in keeping waterfowl, only not in the old fashioned way.
We went with some of our geese to a one day country living fair in Peer, Belgium last September and more than 10.000 people visited that fair. The organization, a small local association called the Dommellandse Animal Friends, wanted to show the people how much fun you can have in breeding waterfowl, chickens and other small animals in your own back-yard even if you don’t like to go shows. All kind of activities were organized beside the poultry show which could be of any interest for country smallholders and it was a great success! I really believe if we want to keep breeding waterfowl alive we have to find new ways to interest and inform people otherwise I’m afraid we don’t have any of our beautiful pure breeds anymore in the future!

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