preserving summer

2016/11/16 deej 0

There’s something really deeply satisfying about picking and preparing – and preserving – your own food. Everything from jam and chutney to wine, cider, mead or beer, to vinegars, pickles, cheeses, yoghurt, jerky, .. So many delicious things. Preserving food isn’t just good fun, though; it’s an important means of extending the season of seasonal foods without adding millions of food miles by eating imported foods from who knows where. It’s a link to our cultural and gastronomic history, to foods our grandparents would have enjoyed and the cultures which those foods came from. And it’s a way of recalling the best parts of summer when the chilly, grey winter weather gets you down a bit – which is funny, given the unseasonally wet, stormy, cool weather we’re having at the moment.

 

I love every food preservation technique I’ve tried or eaten the results of. I’ve dehydrated things, and pickled things, I’ve made cheese and yoghurt from fresh milk, and I’ve preserved fruit in syrup. Today’s little google rabbit-hole has been jam-making. It’s a little too early for stone fruit still, although the early nectarines are in the shops and I can see them ripening in the orchards through the Swan Valley. It’s much too early for figs. But figs are today’s topic, mainly because I just ate a caramelised fig yoghurt and remembered how much I love that flavour. And our fig trees are just putting out their new leaves for summer, so I’m thinking wistfully of the futuer in which they are covered in delicious, jammy fruit.

 

Caramelised fig things have a slight burnt-sugar bitterness to them which balances the sticky sweetness of the fig, and brings out the deeper, fortified wine, golden afternoon sunshine notes from the fruit. One of my favourite applications of it is in Maggie Beer’s Burnt Fig, Honeycomb & Caramel Icecream, which is amazing. The key to the icecream, which is otherwise a honey and caramel flavoured custard icecream, pleasant but nothing special, is the Burnt Fig Jam (or, in fact, burnt fig syrup for the icecream). That burnt fig jam is pretty good, but it’s a little strong for me; I want the caramelised flavour without quite so much of the burnt flavour.

 

Maggie Beer’s burnt fig jam is made, according to her website, by reducing the figs with no water, then adding sugar and cooking until ‘burnt’, then adding some lemon juice to sharpen the flavour. The burnt fig syrup for the icecream contains figs, sugar, lemon juice, and a brown sugar syrup made with brown sugar, water, and verjuice. Amounts aren’t mentioned, unfortunately. Most fig jam recipes call for 1 part sugar to 2 parts figs by weight (actually anywhere from 300g – 750g sugar per kg of figs, but generally 500g to 1 kg). The method varies widely. I’ve never made fig jam myself, although I’ve made some very successful jams using citrus, berries, and guavas (not all together).

 

Nonetheless and undaunted, I am currently fascinated by the subject. So here’s my research-based thought experiment: caramelised fig jam. To be tested as soon as fig season arrives.

 

Caramelised Fig Jam

1 kg fresh, ripe figs

250g demerara or rapadura sugar (basically dark brown, mollases tasting sugar)

250g honey

juice of 1 -2 lemons (or to taste)

(optional) 1 Tbsp verjuice

(optional) 1 – 2 tsp spices or herbs – e.g. cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, star anise, black pepper, rosemary, lemon or orange rind, lemon thyme, sliced red chillis, ..

 

  • Roughly chop the figs. Stir together the chopped figs and the brown sugar, and refrigerate overnight.
  • Place the figs, sugar, and any liquid which has been released from the figs overnight into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until the figs are soft and cooked through, and the sugar is completely dissolved. Mash the figs gently to break them up further.
  • Stir in the honey, and any spices if you’re using them. Whole spices are better than ground, so half a star anise, or a small cinnamon quill is preferable to the equivalent in dried, ground spice. Either way works, though.
  • Bring to the boil, then cook over a very low heat for 45 minutes, or until thickened and sticky. Make sure to stir often.
  • Add verjuice and lemon juice; taste and adjust to your preferred level of tartness. Remove any whole spices or herbs.
  • Continue to cook until the jam is thick and sticky, and begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan. You should be able to judge the degree of caramelisation (or burning) by smell. Be careful not to overdo it.
  • Cool slightly and seal in sterilised jars. Store in the fridge once completely cool.

 

Inspiration came from these sources:

 

And for those interested in the forest gardening side of things, the varieties of fig we currently have in the ground are:

  • White Genoa – Hardy in cooler weather; also known as Lattarula or Lemon due to the lemony flavour of ripe fruit. The fruit are large and very sweet, with yellowish green or chartreuse skin and rich amber pulp.  Good fro eating fresh, drying, or making jam.
  • Brown Turkey – Large fruit with green skin overlaid with brown, pink juicy flesh, and a sweet rich flavour. This is a great all-round fig, good for eating fresh or drying, cooking with or making into jam.
  • Esperance Heritage – A lesser known variety, this is listed in several rare fruit catalogues and it is still sold commercially by a few nurseries – but there are no descriptions of it online.

 

I also plan to put in:

  • Blue Provence – A rare fig, once grown more widely in Australia, Blue Provence fruit have a blue-violet skin and blue-purple tinged pulp with red seeds. The fruit are soft and sweet, and with than many anthocyanins (the purple-red colour found in berries and pomegranates), they’re full of antioxidants too.
  • Panache – Also called the Tiger fig, this unusual fruit is variegated (striped!) green on yellow. The flesh is strawberry pink, and delicious without being overly sweet, meaning that this is a good fig to eat fresh or use in salads.
  • Preston’s Prolific – This is a very high quality fig, with large, greenish-brownor purple fruit. The flesh is cream coloured, while the pulp is amber and sweet. 
  • White Adriatic – An Italian variety with thin yellowish-green skin and red flesh which has been likened to strawberry jam. Excellent flavour eaten fresh, and good for drying. A friend of mine has a tree, and we’ve dried fruit form it before – the dried fruit is a fantastic snack, not quite as sweet as dried figs often are.

 

And possibly some others. Probably. We’ll see.

 

Olives for integrated livestock-orchards

2016/11/14 deej 0

I’ve been doing an awful lot of research, recently, into integrated agroforestry and pastured livestock farming systems. Specifically the system of pasture and productive woodland common to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) which is commonly called  dehesa, or montado in Portugal.

 

Although the traditional dehesa forests are primarily made up of cork oak (Quercus suber) and holm oak (Quercus ilex), the system could work with any number of tree species. It’s basically a Mediterranean silvopasture system, with scattered tree cover (using trees which produce some sort of commercially valuable product) with pasture and animals grazing underneath. Traditional dehesa systems often include pasture raised pigs, which are fattened in the autumn on the acorns dropped by the oak trees and then slaughtered to make premium jamon iberico. The fallen leaves of the oak trees are also a useful fodder resource for pigs, sheep, goats, and cattle, supplementing the available pasture.

 

In an Australian context it turns out that oak trees aren’t really the way to go unless you’re planting a forest for pleasure. There’s a limited international market for cork (and even more limited domestic market), and the trees take around 25 – 35 years to produce a viable cork harvest (and can thereafter be harvested only every 9 – 10 years). There is no existing market for acorns, in spite of their value as pig feed, and the fact that when they’re properly processed they are entirely edible to humans too. And they’re gluten free, but provide a similar gumming capability to gluten, useful in baked goods.

 

Rather than oak trees, an Australian dehesa style system would work best if it used trees which produced a crop faster, and one for which there is an existing market. That still leaves several options, and the choice depends largely on the local climate (rainfall, available chill hours and heat units) and on what type of livestock will be included in the system. For example, apples or plums are a great option if (a) your region gets enough rainfall for them to thrive, (b) your region gets cold enough for long enough over winter to ensure good fruit set, and (c) you want to keep pastured poultry (turkeys, chickens, or geese will clean up windfall fruit and help control fruit fly, but won’t eat the foliage of the trees – which is potentially toxic). In warmer and lower rainfall regions, some of the best options in terms of market value, yield and productivity are date palms, pomegranates, and pistachio nuts. And olive trees.

 

Olive trees are appealing because they’re already widely planted, and there’s a huge market for both table olives and olive oil. The commodity prices may rise and fall, but it doesn’t look like the demand for olives and olive oil are likely to drop significantly any time soon. And of course, olive trees are beautiful, graceful trees which never fail to make me happy when I see them. One of my fondest memories from travelling in South America was the 100 year old olive grove in Lima, Peru; gnarled, old trees which had clearly been pruned and trained so that they could be easily harvested. They were in this tiny park on a median strip in the middle of a huge, super busy road, but they were still so peaceful and majestic. Yeah. I like olive trees.

 

We use olive oil for almost everything ourselves, and we go through about a litre of the stuff every six weeks. Sometimes a bit more, if I’m doing a lot of baking that month (yes, you can replace the butter in most recipes which call for butter with an equivalent volume of olive oil). Since the average yield for a mature olive tree is anywhere from 30 -80kg olives per year (averaging about 45kg per year for a ten year old tree), and the oil yield ranges from 12 – 21% (but averages around 18 – 20%), I worked out that six olive trees would more than cover us for our olive oil needs, and another six for all the table olives we can possibly eat. So I planned on twelve olive trees. We have seven in the ground already, so I went to order the remaining five – and promptly ordered twelve instead, because.. well.. olive trees are so lovely and I wasn’t sure which variety to get more of so I got three of each. The varieties we have are: Kalamata, Koroneiki, New Norcia Mission (a variant of Frantoio), and Manzanillo. They last week (ordered from Mission Horticulture, who were great), and will be going into the ground this week.

 

The other joy of olive trees is that the tree is remarkably multifunctional. The foliage can be eaten by ruminants (and pseudo-ruminants like rabbits), although due to the tannins it isn’t hugely nutritious. The raw fruit can be eaten by poultry and pigs, and I can’t vouch for the nutritional content but the chickens seem to love raw olives. Weird birds. They’re not harmful to ruminants either, although not necessarily beneficial, so you could keep just about any livestock under olive trees. The leftover press cake from pressing out the olive oil can also be fed to ruminants or poultry, and there are studies to show that it is actually reasonably nutritious, high in protein and energy. The tree is evergreen, and provides a lovely cool shade which still isn’t deep enough to kill grass or flowers grown under it. Trees which are big enough are eminently climbable, with smooth, greyish bark which is a delight to the climber (yes, I climb trees at any opportunity). The timber (from pruned branches of course – who would cut down an olive tree??) is a beautiful golden colour with grey-green highlights, and is good for turning. And of course, olives and oil.

 

We’re not planning on producing olives or olive oil commercially, although we could.  The recommended planting density for a commercial orchard is anywhere from 100 – 500 trees/ha, but in a dehasa style system that would be lower. Maybe around 50 trees/ha, and livestock at 1 – 4 dry sheep equivalents (DSE)/ha. We’ll produce enough for ourselves, and once the trees are mature we may produce enough for friends and family. But that doesn’t change the fact that olives are a pretty good bet for a changing climate and a world poised to head into some tough times over the next few years. They’re tough, adaptable trees, and they thrive in our soils and with the fierce Australian sunshine while producing amazing food. They’re an example for the rest of us, really.

 

* DSE is the standard measure used for livestock density in Australia. A lactating ewe with twin lambs is about 2.4 DSE, a goat is about 1.5, and a cow is about 10 DSE. The measure refers to how much pasture an animal needs to eat each day to maintain body weight and health. DSE are not used for poultry or rabbits, but are sometimes used for emus and ostriches as well as the standard cattle, sheep, goats, alpacas, etc.

 

 

 

 

mozzarella, asparagus, and pomegranates

2016/11/06 deej 0

It’s been a busy couple’ve weeks. Summer is here with a vengeance; we had our first 37 degree (Celcius) day yesterday, although it’s back to a more pleasant temperature today. I have my first sunburn of the summer, because I’m a very silly cat and failed to put sunscreen on before heading out to the Asparagus Masterclass at Edgecombe Bros in the Swan Valley on Friday.

 

Brilliant class, in spite of the sunburn. We started with a brief history of the winery and the local area, and some morning tea. Then all 16 of us tromped over to one of the asparagus patches and harvested several kg of fresh asparagus – and ate probably as much again. The gentleman facilitating the class said to eat as much as we wanted while we picked, so we snacked on freshly picked raw asparagus, which is delicious. Almost the flavour of fresh garden peas, or avocado; nutty and slightly sweet. Our harvest was lightly poached, and then BBQed with olive oil and salt while we enjoyed a wine tasting and tapas platter in the courtyard of the Edgecombe Bros cafe/winery, in the shade of flowering olive trees and grapevines. It was the perfect chilled out lazy summer afternoon. Then we gorged on BBQed asparagus with shaved parmesan, chased with muscat soaked figs in chocolate. I love the floral, fruity flavours of muscat grapes and wines, so combining that with dried fig is just.. nom. I may be in love. They sent us home full of delicious things and sunshine and wine, with a complimentary recipe pack.

 

The actual info about asparagus boils down to: asparagus is actually really easy and quick to cook. You can eat it raw, and like most vegetables where that’s the case, it should really only be lightly cooked if you’re going to cook it. If you can snap the stem easily by bending it, it’s fresh and tender, no matter what the diameter of the spear is, as younger or smaller plants produce thinner spears which are just as delicious as the thicker ones produced by bigger or more mature plants.

 

My last foodie course (I have a weakness for these things, I love learning new food things almost as much as I love learning new gardening things) was two weeks ago, at the Roleystone Family Centre. We went there to learn how to make fresh mozarella, from Megan Radaich of www.foodpreserving.org. The class was fantastic, really informative and easy to follow – and it resulted in delicious cheese. Things I didn’t realise: mozarella is a fresh cheese, like ricotta, and you can only make mozarella using non-homogenised milk. Most cheeses can be made with homogenised milk if you add calcium chloride to “fix” the proteins which are torn up by the homogenisation process, but the calcium chloride interferes with the stretching process in mozarella making, so you end up with dry, non-stretchy cheese which is a lot more like ricotta than it should be.

 

Mozarella is also the easiest cheese I’ve tried so far except ricotta. Combine milk and citric acid, heat slowly to 32 degrees C, add rennet and leave to set. Once you have fully set curds, cut the curds then heat again to 42 degrees C. Gently remove the curds from the whey with a slotted spoon, and place into a microwave proof bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, then kinda massage lightly to get some more whey out. Repeat the microwaving and massaging step 2 – 3 times, until the cheese gets sort of shiny on the surface and stretches easily. Put it into iced salt water (10% – 20% brine) for about 15 minutes – and it’s done. Eat that day for best flavour.

 

To continue the foodie theme, I’ve been obsessed with pomegranates for the last couple’ve weeks. No food-preparation course to blame on this one; it’s mostly because of my last major assignment for my university course. The paper I wrote was about the economic feasibility of dehesa style agroforestry in WA, looking at which trees would be effective options. Turns out, pomegranates are one of the best. Highly productive, fruit within 2 – 3 years of planting from seed or cuttings, and the fruit commands a relatively high price even if sold wholesale to retailers, for the fresh fruit market or for juice. And of course you can make pomegranate mollasses from it. Pomegranate mollasses, which is actually sour-sweet rather than just sweet as you might expect from the name, is one of my more recent discoveries. I bought some on a whim, and have been adding it to things and testing it out. I highly recommend that people try it. It adds a balanced sweet-sour note to savoury dishes – a teaspoon or two in a thai curry, for example, rounds out the flavours better than anything else, almost like a fish sauce. I think what I’m saying is that it’s full of umami flavours, but it doesn’t overpower other flavours the way many umami things (garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, fish sauce, ..) can do.

 

We’re just starting to get to the point where we can put in some long term productive crops here. The apples are going in a few per season (apple trees are expensive! especially heirloom varieties which have to be shipped over from Tasmania or NSW), so in a couple’ve years we should start getting decent apple crops. I just need to get our cider-making skill sup to scratch by then, since cider and cider vinegar are two of the products we’re planning to produce. But aside from some small scale production of fresh fruit (we’ll end up with more apricots than we can possibly eat from our three trees, for example, but it’s not going to be a major product either), we haven’t 100% settled on our production niche. I’m leaning towards dates, pomegranates, pomegranate mollasses, and balsamic style gourmet vinegars. (Oh, yes, there will be grapevines. I checked yesterday, and in the space we have allocated for them, I think we can fit 60 vines. So we might try our hand at making fortified wines as well.)

 

Anyway, that’s where we are at the moment. Everything is flowering, and the geese are starting to get their grownup feathers. The baby chicks are getting bigger every day, and the adult chickens are doing their chickeny thing. I found a blutongue lizard in the chicken coop this morning, sharing their breakfast (eating his fill while the chooks watched from the other side of the coop), so I might need to keep an eye out for him. Bluetongues are gorgeous, and I’m super glad we have a couple living near the house (they decrease the incidence of snakes), but they do eat eggs so I’ll just encourage him to keep out of the chicken coop. It’s sunny, and the breeze is blowing past the roses and bringing me rose scents, and life is pretty good.

updates for the end of Oct 2016

2016/10/24 deej 0

I’m in the thick of my last assignment for the semester (for those not yet aware, I’m studying for my Masters of Sustainable Agriculture at Charles Stuart University). It’s a big one, and it’s due in a few days, so that’s where most of my writing effort is going at the moment.

 

That being the case, this post is going ot be short & sweet, just a few quick updates:

  • The goslings are growing astonishingly quickly – they’re already three times as big as they were, and they’re giants compared to the chicks they’re in with. Also, they’ve learned to swim (in their water dish) and are paddling about enjoying the warm weather.
  • The quail (our 3 survivors) have moved into their adult run – a fully enclosed, off the ground pen floored with trays of sand, and equipped with lots of hidey-holes for flighty little birds to hide in. Although to be honest, these quail are surprisingly chill compared to our last lot. I guess being handled from the time they hatch really makes difference – these guys don’t mind being picked up, and don’t panic at humans carrying them around (e.g. to their new home). They did find the rooster crowing a bit alarming (the quail pens are next to the chicken coops, so he’s a bit closer and louder than they’re used to).
  • The apples have started to flower, and the stone fruit have all finished already. The pears are starting to flower as well, although the kangaroos have discovered that the top baby leaves of just-planted pear trees are delicious ๐Ÿ™ so we’ve had to do some extra tree protection there.
  • Went to a mozarella-making workshop on Saturday, which was amazing. I’ll write a whole post about it soon, but not until my assignment is done. On the whole, though, fresh mozarella is the easiest and quickest to make cheese I’ve tried yet except for ricotta (cheeses I’ve made include: feta, ricotta, cream cheese, yoghurt cheese / labneh, haloumi, brie/camembert; next on the list is a cheddar- or gouda- style hard cheese).
  • I have more apple seeds sprouting. I may have a problem – I can’t just throw fruit tree pips and pits intot he compost without trying to germinate them, and apple seeds germinate very easily. So.. more seedling apples on the way ๐Ÿ™‚

 

That’s it for now ๐Ÿ™‚

Pilgrim (or Settlers) Geese

2016/10/13 deej 0

Geese aren’t everyone’s idea of a great back-yard animal. I’ve heard all the stories – they’re noisy, vicious, aggressive, messy, horrible hellbeasts. But I have a confession to make: I’ve always kinda wanted to have geese. Since well before I saw the film Fly Away Home (about a little girl who rescues a nest full of orphaned Canada geese, and raises them, teaching them to fly and eventually leading them on an ย epic microlight journey as she teaches them a safe migration route for their annual migration), I thought geese were adorable. I didn’t have any latent desire to have chickens (although since getting my first hens, I’ve discovered that I love keeping chooks, and I really miss it when I don’t have them around), but geese are different. I have no idea why ๐Ÿ™‚

This week, my very first goslings hatched. I’ve had four Pilgrim Goose eggs in the incubator for the last month (goose eggs take 26 – 35 days to hatch), and three of them have hatched. Given that geese are well known for being difficult to hatch in an incubator, and even commercial farm advice is to hatch them under a broody mother goose or under a muscovy duck, that’s a pretty good hatch rate. I was desperately hoping at least two would hatch, because geese are flock critters and form very strong flock bonds – having a lone goose is cruel and very bad for the goose. So three is fantastic. It looks like at least 2 of them are girls, too (I can’t quite tell for the 3rd). Since geese can live well into their teens, sometimes longer, that means that if I have a pair of girls I can find them a good (unrelated) gander in a year or two and start breeding my own goslings.

The domestic goose (Anser anser domesticus) of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia is descended from the greylag goose (Anser anser), while the domesticated goose of East Asia (Anser cygnoides domesticus, commonly called the ‘Chinese goose’) is descended from the swan goose (Anser cygnoides). The two types of domesticated geese can interbreed, and many flocks include both types, and/or hybrids. There is evidence of domesticated geese in Egypt over 4,000 years ago. Pilgrim geese, sometimes known as Settlers Geese in Australia, are an autosexing breed – males are white, while females are darker, with grey and white or brown and white plumage. Pilgrim Geese were bred in the 1930s in America, and are probably derived from a few European breeds of autosexing geese. They’re generally mellow and calm natured, and for being good foragers and good parents (laying 20 – 50 eggs per year). Like all geese, they have good eyesight, good memories, and they prefer to have a set, calm routine. When there isn’t something riling them up, they aren’t usually that noisy, either.

Geese are grazing animals, more like sheep and goats than like chickens. With access to good pasture, they need little or no supplementary feeding, although if there isn’t plentiful pasture they can be fed grain like other poultry. They will (apparently) eat hay, but only if it’s wet, as the dry hay is difficult for them to eat. Goslings should be fed grass clippings from 2 weeks of age, to help with the development of their gut flora – feeding grass earlier than that is also ok, as long as gosling starter crumble is also available. Young geese grow very quickly, and need a high protein (around 28% protein) feed for the first 4 – 6 weeks). Feed for goslings cannot contain any medications or pesticides/herbicides, as their livers can’t process these chemicals. Adult geese will happily graze pasture or weed gardens (they avoid some cultivated plants, but cannot be trusted around lettuce and similar salad greens), or they can be fed grain or poultry pellets and grass clippings. If pasture is not available, geese must be provided with grass or greens such as lettuce. They also need plenty of fresh water – like ducks, they need to be able to submerge their entire heads to clean their nostrils. Geese do not need water to swim in unless you want fertilised eggs (they mate in the water).

Domestic goose breeds can weigh up to 10 kg at maturity, although there are smaller breeds (such as the Pilgrim Goose, which weighs from 5 kg up to 7.5 – 8kg), and they lay up to 60 eggs per year. Chinese Geese tend to lay more eggs than the European breeds. All geese (wild and domestic) are seasonal layers, and only lay in spring, usually starting in August or September in the southern hemisphere. A goose will generally lay an egg a day during the breeding season, and will go broody and sit on her eggs when the clutch reaches 5 – 15 eggs. If the goose-keeper steals the eggs, the goose will keep laying.

Goose eggs are large and hard-shelled. They weigh 120 – 170g each, and are both edible and tasty; the flavour is slightly different to chicken eggs. Like duck eggs, goose eggs are richer than chicken eggs, and when cooked the yolk texture is slightly denser. If you want to hatch them in an incubator, it will take 26 – 35 days, at 37.5 degrees C. Once the goslings begin pipping and trying to hatch, it can take up to 3 days for them to emerge form their eggs – be very careful if you decide to help them out, since (just like chickens, and any other bird) if the chick is still connected to the egg, breaking those blood vessels can cause serious injury. (That said, I did help my gosling out of their eggs, by gently cracking the shell so they could get out more easily – I was afraid that the egg membranes would dry out too much during hatching and they wouldn’t be able to get out. I’m an anxious bird-parent.). The humidity requirements are complex, with two options:

  • For a wet incubation, the humidity should be 50 – 55% until day 27 (or until the first pipping), then increased to 75% until hatch.
  • For a ‘dry’ incubation (which means you can incubate chicken, quail, or guinea fowl eggs at the same time), keep the humidity at 20 – 25% for the first 14 days, before raising it to around 60%. From day 7 onwards, mist or sprinkle the eggs daily with tepid water; after day 15, every 2nd day you should submerge the eggs in warm water (37.5 degrees C) for 1 minute. Form day 7 the eggs should also be cooled (taken out of the incubator) for 5 – 10 minutes, increasing to 15 minutes per day after day 15.

Geese which are hand raised and regularly handled do, apparently, become very tame. They recognise individual humans (and dogs, etc.), and will raise an alarm if a stranger approaches while being perfectly happy to let ‘their’ humans approach. The only exception is egg laying season, during which the males will aggressively protect the nesting females from any intruder. Female geese may lunge at a person to protect goslings, or if on a nest full of eggs. Other than that, geese are fairly docile; they can be easily herded, as they tend to move directly away from an approaching human. There is no need to run (geese can injure themselves if forced to run) or make noises, just walk slowly towards the geese and they will move away as a flock. As an aside, when catching geese, never grab them by the legs, as their leg bones are easily broken; instead, grab the goose by the neck (gently), either by hand or using a shepherds crook. If picking up a goose, make sure to keep the wings controlled, as geese are very strong and can injure a person if they hit them in the face with their wings.

In spite of the fact that a goose is quite a large bird, foxes (or dogs or cats) can and will kill one if they get the opportunity. Because of the risk of predators, geese should be locked into secure housing at night just like any other poultry, and should be protected with secure fencing. Goose housing should have either a solid or slat floor, and a fox-proof door to lock the birds in at night. Fresh absorbent bedding such as wood shavings (in an 8 – 10 cm layer) will help maintain dry conditions and keep your geese clean and healthy (but do not use any scented bedding or anything containing eucalyptus, because it can kill goslings!), and you should provide nest boxes. Goose houses should allow 1 sqm per bird. Other than safe housing, geese need some shelter during hot, summer weather, and if you get snow or severe rain and storms, they’ll need shelter from those too. Aside from night time housing for predator protection, you can free range geese without a problem (remember that you can easily herd them, like chilled out sheep), or you can keep them in a fenced yard. If geese are kept in a yard, you should allow 2 sqm per bird, although larger is better. You should provide 15cm of feeder length per bird to prevent competition for food, and clean, fresh water deep enough for them to submerge their whole heads.

Goose used to be the festive roast of choice in Europe; the meat is darker, richer, and more succulent than turkey or chicken, similar to duck. Goose fat has historically been rendered and used to cook other foods (goose-fat potatoes are amazing!), and the technique is coming back into fashion – you can buy tubs of goose fat in most supermarkets now. Goose quills were the feathers used to make pens before the fountain pen and ballpoint became common, and goose down is still u sed to stuff pillows and duvets. Geese will mow your lawn (and fertilise it at the same time) and weed your garden, and they’re smart enough to make pretty good pets too if you take the time to tame them and teach them that you’re not a threat and are rather a source of treats and happiness. They don’t need much from you in return: a safe place to sleep, clean water, and a bit of food to supplement their grazing.

In summary: geese are awesome, and goslings may be the cutest fluffs that ever fluffed. Ask me again in 6 months when my goslings are adults ๐Ÿ™‚

For more info:

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