Nearly top of the flocks as demand for geese booms
Spring is springing which means the geese
are hatching on one Lancashire farm. All
40,000 of them. Jeremy Hunt reports
WITH 40,000 goslings hatching over the coming weeks, spring is certainly a hectic time for the Lea family who run the UKs second largest flock of breeding geese on their farm near Ormskirk, Lancs.
Ten years ago Norman Lea started hatching a few goose eggs to supply the local trade. But the huge increase in demand for table geese has seen a handful of birds expand into thousands.
And if goose consumption continues to rise its possible that the flock could increase from its present 2500 to over 4000 birds in the near future.
The flock at Tower View Farm has been developed over the years into the Lea familys own hybrid strain. The company, known as Lancashire Geese, is renowned for producing birds of exceptional growth rate, meat yield and flavour.
"More consumers are realising that goose is the ultimate in free-range poultry. Its a grass-based system thats about as natural as you can get," says David Lea who has now taken over the goose enterprise from his father.
The breeding geese graze around 6ha (15 acres) and are switched from their basic wheat diet to a special breeders pellet during the egg-laying season which runs from February to May.
They are birds of habit and follow regular daily routines. They are always housed at night and stand waiting at the field gate if David Lea is late. Old tyres split in half and stuffed with straw are scattered around the goose houses in the spring and provide ideal nest sites. At the height of the season, the Lea family collect around 900 eggs a day – and every egg has to be washed by hand.
Goose eggs can be difficult to hatch in incubators designed for hen eggs. Achieving the correct level of humidity throughout the 30-day incubation period is the key.
This year an investment of £150,000 has been made in imported state-of-the-art goose egg incubating equipment which will hopefully be producing 3500 goslings a week this spring.
"Thats what we hope to achieve but, as they say, we never count our eggs until they are hatched," jokes David.
Every goose, which has the potential to lay 40-50 eggs a season, is tagged and will usually maintain that output until around six-years-old.
"We are nearly doubling our numbers ever year. Our main customers are farmers who traditionally rear from anything from 50-2000 birds for the Christmas market.
"We arrange personal delivery of all our goslings. Small orders can be a problem, say if we have 50 goslings to get to Inverness. But we always manage to work something out."
The Lea family used to be the UKs largest growers of carnations. Now part of the glasshouse acreage is devoted to growing parsley which, after it has been cut, provides an ideal holding area for the seasons first goslings which are retained as flock replacements.
"We turn them into the glasshouse for a while in the early spring and they go crazy for the parsley stalks," says David.
But he says that a goose is no longer just a bird to grace the festive table. "People are eating geese all year round. Roast goose contains about 320 calories per 100g (4oz) and its naturally reared on grass."
Dressed geese are also available from Tower View Farm at around £2.50/lb.
• Lancashire Geese: 01695-572023.
Goose Swedish style –
the Lea family
1 oven-ready goose
12 white peppercorns
4 bay leaves
For the marinade:
3.4 litres (6 pts)
of cold water
450kg (1lb salt)
125g (41/2oz) caster sugar
Stand the oven-ready goose in the marinade for three days. (Use a non-metal container).
To cook: Remove the goose from the marinade and pat it dry. Place the bird in a large pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, skim and add white peppercorns, bay leaves and sliced onions. Cook slowly until tender allowing 15 minutes per 0.45kg (1lb) plus 20 minutes. Thats three hours for a 4.5kg (10lb) goose at 200C (400F, Gas 6).
Leave the goose to cool in the liquid before carving.
In Sweden the traditional way to serve this dish would be with an apple puree sauce mixed with some light mayonnaise and whipped cream flavoured with freshly-grated horseradish.
David and Dianne Lea with goslings in the parsley crop.