By Roger Ranson
The Homewood family, who hosted the British Goose Producers’ autumn farm walk in Oxfordshire, typifies the revival of the Christmas goose over the past 40 years.
In the late 1970s a goose was rarely part of the festive meal. Yet, the goose had been a central feature of Christmas for centuries and was still popular in post Second World War homes until the spectacular rise of the turkey in the 1960s and 1970s.
The demise of the goose was such that Bill Homewood’s mother Nancy could not find one among her local butchers, he told more than 30 British Goose Producers (BGP) members and guests at the event at Peach Croft Farm at Radley near Abingdon.
“It was 40 years ago when mother decided to choose a goose rather than a turkey for Christmas,” said Bill whose grandfather began rearing turkeys for Christmas some 80 years ago. “There were then nine or ten butchers with stalls in the Oxford covered market, but not one of them had a goose for sale. My parents decided to rear their own geese the next year, starting with 30 which increased to 300 the following year and then continued to grow.”
Now they are producing 2,000 for sale through their farm shop, more than 60 butchers and wholesale customers from Jersey to Cheshire.
It was in the early 1980s that John Adlard who was supplying goslings as Norfolk Geese to farmers like the Homewood’s – imported as day-olds on the ferry from Denmark – decided to get together with producers who were rearing geese for Christmas to form an organisation to promote the bird. So was formed the BGP, now a sector group of the British Poultry Council, which has helped to put the goose back on to the Christmas dinner table.
Bill Homewood said that today butchers are looking for heavier geese with oven-ready weights of at least 5 kg (11 lb). They sell geese in four weight bands from 4.5 – 5 kg up to 6.5 kg plus. Goose fat is processed and sold in 300 ml glass jars which butchers stock all the year, while the feathers and down are made into pillows retailed in the farm shop.
Bill Homewood told the visitors that as a precaution against avian influenza one change they had made was to stop feeding wheat to the geese in the field which tended to attract wild birds. Instead, they use a balanced ration fed when the geese are brought into the barn at night.
Visitors saw how rearing geese runs alongside production of 7500 free range turkeys, and fits into the mixed enterprises on the 650-acre arable farm that also grows asparagus, strawberries, sweet corn and pumpkins.
BGP chairman John Franklin, who farms at Thorncote Green, Sandy, Bedfordshire, commented on the wide support for the event with members coming from across the UK
“Bill Homewood hosted a great event showing us a valuable insight to his goose business,” he said. “Especially interesting was the captive bolt humane slaughter method which many members are moving over to, and also the quick removal of wax with a rubber finger machine. I’m sure we all picked up a few ideas from Bill and each other.
“Most producers are hoping for a reasonable Christmas, but some members are concerned about sales and would like to see geese more in the media – and nearer the seasonal time – to boost sales.”
He urged members to use social media more to promote their own goose sales locally and nationally, and to invite their local radio to broadcast live from their farm in late November with the sound of geese in the background adding to the appeal.
Members heard how a new Christmas exchange is being introduced for geese alongside the one already established for turkeys.
Stuart Hinchly, of animal feed business forFarmers, said the exchange would enable geese producers to sell, swap or buy Christmas poultry from each other run. It is operated through Facebook.
Members can join by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org with an email address linked to a Facebook account, and once approved they are free to use the exchange.
New guides for goose producers
A voluntary code of practice on goose production and an avian influenza (AI) contingency plan for all members of British Goose Producers were introduced at the meeting.
In launching the new publications BPC technical director Máire Burnett said the code pulls together all the legislation and market requirements to cover every aspect of rearing geese and would be a working document to be updated to reflect future changes in legislation.
The Code of Practice and AI Contingency Plan, developed by Livetec and funded by the BPC, is available to members of the British Goose Producers. The contingency plan provides guidance to poultry producers affected by an AI outbreak or the restrictions imposed following an outbreak in the locality.
She said that although the UK was fortunate to have only had AI outbreaks in wild birds this year, other European countries had seen AI in poultry. The autumn migratory season was underway and the UK is now in a period of high risk.
She said the code of practice and AI contingency plan would allow goose producers to get AI insurance, with at least one underwriter offering such a policy.
The documents allow insurance underwriters to be able to benchmark farms with a self-declaration of risk management, and provide the wider poultry industry, in particular other BPC members, an assurance of good practice within the sector in relation to disease prevention and control. They can be used to promote the group and provide an additional benefit to members.
The code of practice for rearing and slaughter of geese covers the structure of housing and range and layout for biosecurity, chick supply and hatchery/brooding, health records, feed, range management and water access, processing and packing, AI high risk periods/prevention zone actions, outbreak zone requirements such as movement controls and housing, cleaning and disinfection requirements and restrictions, and sample record sheets covering visitors and suppliers.