Pictures: Peter Jacobs, Text: Andrea Heesters

I've been asked to write about keeping geese in The Netherlands and I think it's a lot different than in the UK, mainly because we don't have that many specialists, or much experience or 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 house so they have to take the car twice a day to take care of their birds. My husband, Peter, and I don't like that because in our opinion you can't give them the attention and care they need. What if something happens when you're not around? For example, in the last few years, it's been forbidden to hunt foxes here, and it's becoming a big problem for breeders of poultry and waterfowl. A friend who lives just outside a village had a visit from a fox three times, 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 pairs in, you'll end up with a lot of cross breeds. Unfortunately it happens a lot here. You can't keep an eye on them if you don't have them near your house.

I remember 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 to stay with just two 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 many different breeds. In the eyes of a lot of 'old fashioned' breeders we are too '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, just as he couldn't do anything with those two ganders, but he said 'You can cross them with yours'. I told him that 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 coloured geese are the same.

That brings me to another issue over here: there is not much information or books on keeping or breeding geese in this country. Before we bought our first pair 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 several English and American books. Because there's so little information here, I think a lot of breeders just try and find out. Just 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 grain 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, grain and 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 either because most people over here breed chickens, rabbits and doves. Waterfowl demand 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 experience with geese.

Another issue is that no Dutch waterfowl judge has ever seen an American Buff alive! 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!

We joined some Belgian Associations which are a lot different and have a lot more knowledge. Besides that, it's important for the Belgians to have a nice time with friends who have the same hobby including 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 have 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. We hope to help new breeders here with the information we gathered over the previous 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 have declined 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 people how much fun you can have in breeding waterfowl, chickens and other small animals in your own backyard, even if you don't like to go shows. All kind of activities were organized, besides 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!