‘Goosey, goosey, gander…..from European farmyard to European battlefield


The goose begins to loom large in certain British families as Christmas time approaches. After all, the turkey (Melagris gallopavo) was not brought into England until 1526 by William Strickland, and before that time, the goose ruled supreme as the prefered domestic fowl. Of course, if you were the Sovereign you had had exclusive control of the wild Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) on the River Thames since the Middle Ages, and could look forward to even BIGGER dinners! 

Certainly, the Greylag Goose (Anser anser) in its domesticated form (Anser anser domesticus) has ruled the European farmyard for centuries. Romans favoured them as sentinals, and the sacred geese of Juno on the Capitoline Hill in Rome are credited with saving the citizens from the stealthy arrival of a Celtic horde.  Despite the fact that a goose will lay only between 30 and 50 eggs per year they were prized for their large, ‘heavy’ eggs, with a proportionately bigger, richer yolk than chickens. The goose feathers were a vital military accessory, too. They were used to ‘fletch’ the lethal, yard-long arrows fired from the yew longbow, a weapon which, in the skilled hands of the English, Welsh and Cornish archers (Cornwall was a semi-independent Duchy in the 14th century) could punch clean through a knight’s plate armour. Other, small, goose feathers and goose down would be used to make the famous ‘feather bed’, an expensive item sometimes given as part of the dowry by the bride’s parents, and which would be so important that it would be willed to family members on your death – Anne Hathaway only merited William Shakespeare’s ‘second best bed’ in his will, for example! The current domesticated Greylag is white or mostly so, but easily hybridized with its wild cousin, giving rise to the attractive barred pattern of  plumage you can see above.

The goose is a heavy bird, with the slightly larger gander running out at between 18 and 20 lbs. It is happy to root around the barnyard for seeds and small insects whilst they crop on grass, and only need supplemental rations of grain if you wish to boost egg production or in winter. The flesh of a goose is juicier than that of the turkey or chicken, due to the presence of large quantities of fat. Goose grease was used for everything from protecting the feet and ears of sheepdogs in foul weather, to being rubbed into the chest before a warm poultice was applied, as a remedy for a cold. As you can see, the goose was a vital part of the small-holders economy

The geese shown above are roaming happily near a replica Mediaeval thatched croft at Cosmeston, near Lavernock, Vale of Glamorgan. This is a wonderful reconstruction of a Welsh 14th century village, located close to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, an area of flooded former limestone quarries, now a nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Re-enactors teach groups of visitors what village life in the Middle Ages was like, and the whole reconstruction is of a very high quality. I am proud to say that my brother (as an elected official from this part of the world) had a good deal to do with the whole project, and his name is one of those that appear on the dedication plaque in the adjacent Information Centre .

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3 comments on “‘Goosey, goosey, gander…..from European farmyard to European battlefield”

  1. I remember seeing geese at a local them restaurant chasing small children about the garden sitting area. These are not docile birds! I hear that they possess an excellent and juicy taste and will try them at some time.

    Thanks for detailing another corner of the UK to stop in on for a visit — I’ve palced it onto my map of places to go.

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  2. True…geese can be vicious, but always remember to carry a small can of ‘Pate de Foie Gras’ to threaten them with!

    Sadlly, up until 2000, you could have travelled about 8 miles due west from Cosmeston, and visited an aircraft collection, the ‘Wales Aircraft Museum’ at Rhoose, close by Cardiff International Airport. Unfortunately the museum is now long gone, and most of the airframes were broken up on site.

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  3. Breaking up the museum aircraft on site! What ghastly behavioir 😦

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