Processing and marketing geese
Marketing ‘green geese’ at 10–13 weeks of age
Where geese have been properly cared for and correctly fed, they will be ready for marketing as ‘green geese’ as early as 10 weeks of age, when they will weigh about 4.5 kg. Goslings not marketed as ‘green geese’ between the ages of 10 and 13 weeks will need to be kept until they are much older; otherwise, the pin feathers are very difficult to remove.
The rate of growth to 10 weeks is roughly 450 g weight gain each week. After geese reach the ‘green’ stage, the growth rate declines quite rapidly.
Marketing geese at 6 months of age
Geese permitted to graze until about 6 months of age should be fattened for approximately 3 weeks before marketing, on a ration similar to those previously described. The heavy breeds will then weigh about 8 kg liveweight.
Table 1 gives a guide to approximate expected liveweight gains of goslings to 16 weeks of age.
Table 1. Growth rate target
Before slaughtering, starve geese for 12–18 hours, giving them only water during this period. This facilitates bleeding and cleaning, and improves keeping qualities.
Geese should be killed humanely, and as quickly as possible. The most efficient way is to place the goose headfirst into a killing funnel and cut the jugular vein with a sharp knife. If the birds are difficult to manage, stun them by hitting them at the base of the skull before cutting their throats.
If feathers are to be sold, dry pluck the birds. Dry plucking, a fairly slow process, produces a carcase of good appearance. To avoid carcase damage, pull the feathers in the same direction as they lie.
By placing the carcases in hot water, feathers can be removed much more easily than by the dry method. Care must be taken not to spoil the carcase by having the water too hot or immersing the birds for too long. The water temperature should be about 60°C and the birds immersed for up to 2 minutes while the operator holds on to their legs. When the feathers can be easily removed by rubbing, it is time to take the carcase out of the water.
To speed up the wetting of feathers, an approved detergent may be added to the water. Pull the wing and tail feathers out first, then remove the body feathers by rubbing.
Feathers can also be removed by automatic de-feathering machines, which are quite suitable for plucking geese. Remove pin feathers with the aid of a dull knife.
Waxing to remove feathers
Feathers can be removed by waxing only, or preferably by combining this with the hot water method (see wet plucking). Waxing will remove downy feathers but not necessarily pin feathers.
- The wax mixture should be heated to between 70°C and 85°C, depending on the age of the geese and the quality of the wax.
- After most of the feathers are removed and the carcase drained for half an hour, immerse the carcase in a wax mixture for 10–30 seconds, moving it backwards and forwards in the wax. The aim is to ensure maximum adhesion of the wax to the carcase, without burning the carcase.
- Following dipping, the carcase is hung up by the legs to drain.
- To speed up the wax-hardening process, dip the birds in cold water for 30 seconds. Bend the neck back over the body to crack the wax, then peel off the wax and the remaining feathers.
- The wax may be remelted, strained to remove feathers and used again.
Commercial blended waxes are available for this purpose.
Evisceration, if not carried out on an automatic chain system, is best done on a stainless steel table. Removal of the neck is optional.
After removing intestines, place birds in tanks of cool, fresh water and then on racks to drain away excess water.
If carcases are to be frozen, chill them first and then place them in a plastic (or clear shrinkable-type) bag.
A 10% loss in body weight occurs as a result of killing and plucking geese. A total loss of up to 30% may occur when the bird is completely eviscerated and the neck and feet are removed.
The processing of meat and meat products
Producers who plan to slaughter, process or transport their own goose meat products on a commercial basis must conform with the Food Regulation 2004 under the NSW Food Act 2003 (www.legislation.nsw.gov.au). The Act is administered by the NSW Food Authority — Contact Centre, phone 1300 552 406 or website www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au. Poultry meat processors must comply with Australian Standard (AS 4465:2005) for the Construction of Premises and Hygienic Production of Poultry Meat for Human Consumption (FRSC Technical Report No.1).
Processing goose feathers for marketing
Goose feathers usually sell for a higher price than other feathers as they are superior to (larger and softer than) duck feathers and feathers from other waterfowl.
When performed by an experienced person, plucking live geese will not harm the birds. The number of times geese may be plucked each year will depend on their general care and management. The first plucking should be carried out at the end of the laying season, and successive pluckings performed when there is no blood in the quill of the feather. Remove only the soft feathers on the breast, back and abdomen. As a rule, do not pluck geese more than four times a year, and never in winter.
- Ten well-grown goslings will yield about 1 kg of dry feathers.
- The down, or underbody feathers of the goose, and the soft body feathers are the most valuable.
- The quills are of little value.
- Feathers from dry-plucked geese are more valuable because their quality is not damaged by scalding during processing. However, dry plucking is time-consuming and adds to processing costs.
- Coarse feathers should be separated from the finer body feathers.
Wet feathers (see wet plucking) should be washed in lukewarm water to which has been added a detergent, plus a little borax and washing soda. Rinse the feathers and spread immediately, to prevent spoilage, in a 3 cm layer on raised wire netting and allow to dry either in the sun or in a warm well-ventilated building. It is best to shake and respread feathers daily until they are dry. If feathers are bagged wet, they will heat. If feathers are not to be dried, a preservative should be used to prevent spoilage. A suitable formula is as follows:
6 kg wet feathers
6 kg common salt
500 mL hydrochloric acid
130 L water
Mix thoroughly and let the feathers soak overnight in the solution.
After plucking, pack feathers loosely into unbleached calico bags and hang for 4 weeks, either in an airy room or preferably in the sun. To prevent compacting, shake up bags occasionally. To ensure complete drying and to prevent unpleasant odours, sprinkle the feathers with formalin before closing the bags.
Goose feathers are always in demand by manufacturers for bedding, eiderdowns, cushions, quilts, sleeping bags, pillows, upholstery, flyhooks and archery. In Europe, particularly France, white geese are killed and skinned. The large and very small feathers are then picked from the pelts, leaving only the very fine soft down. The skins are then dressed, tanned and dyed, and cut into powder puffs.
White feathers, such as those produced by the Emden breed, are the most profitable. Fifty geese will yield about 4.5 kg of feathers at each plucking.