Bringing Cotton Patch Geese to Flip Flop Ranch
Cotton Patch geese are our big thing here at Flip Flop Ranch. They were the first livestock we began to breed and they are still our favorite. Nobody is happier than when the first eggs of the year hatch. We are so dedicated to this breed that when famed breeder Tom Walker decided to retire and disperse his gaggle, we just couldn’t let that happen. We purchased the whole breeding flock and drove all the way to Texas to pick them up.
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We just about literally went through hell for these geese. The 28 hour drive from California to Texas was uneventful until the last hour before we hit Bastrop where Tom kept his geese. Then the transmission went out. A two day trip turned into a week long trip. Five days and $3,000 later, our van was fixed and we loaded 18 adult Cotton Patch Geese into the back. An hour later the van had broken down again. The poor geese had to spend the night in the back of the van while it was fixed twice more and then we began our 28 hour slog back home.
Eventually we made it back home alive and exhausted, but so happy that we had been able to keep this precious foundation gaggle together. And thank God we did because only a couple months later, a huge wildfire swept through Bastrop, Texas destroying Tom Walker’s home and killing most of the rest of his birds.
We aim to breed true to the Walker line and do not mix any other lines with our’s as we have enough genetic diversity within our flock to have a closed flock and do proper line breeding. Our birds are generally free range and get much of their food from eating weeds just like this breed is supposed to.
We also aim to breed a functional bird by increasing egg laying capability, extending the time they lay (earlier and later in the year) and breeding for meat production. We not only sell breeding birds, but we also sell our birds for meat as we expect them to pay for themselves and make a profit for the farm. Our Cotton Patch Geese are not a hobby, but contributing members of a profitable farm business and we breed a functional bird, not just a beautiful and personable one.
About the friendly Cotton Patch Geese
Because geese relish grasses and shun most broad-leafed plants, some enterprising US farmers in the 1950s began using them to rid cotton fields of grassy weeds, which are difficult to kill with herbicides. The geese were put into the fields as soon as the crop came up. A brace of birds kept an acre of cotton weeded; a gaggle of 12 would gobble as many weeds as a hard-working man could clear with a hoe.
The geese cleared the fields more cheaply than hoe hands. They left the crop untouched and ate only the succulent young weeds. They did not damage crop roots (as hoes or tractors can), and they were safe and selective, unlike many herbicides. On top of all that they spread fertilizer for the farmer, and ultimately provided him meat for the market.
Eventually, farmers found that geese could be used to weed nearly all broad-leafed crops: asparagus, potatoes, berry fruits, tobacco, mint, grapes, beets, beans, hops, onions, and strawberries, for example. Geese were used in vineyards and fruit orchards to eat both weeds and the fallen fruits that could otherwise harbor damaging insects. They were employed in fields producing trees for the forest industry and flowers for florists shops. Some growers turned goslings loose in cornfields to consume the “suckers” (corn, after all, is a grass) as well as the grain left on the ground. This eliminated the problem of corn as a weed when different crops were later planted in those fields.
In the 1970s when cotton acreage dropped and herbicides selective for the troublesome grasses were developed, the use of geese declined. But today, some organic farmers are returning to the practice.
There is no happier day on Flip Flop Ranch for me than when the cotton patch goslings hatch. This year started good with a nice amount of eggs in the incubator week 1 and so far has continued good with many pipped eggs. As of right now, three goslings are out of their eggs and every single one is healthy.
It has been a struggle over the years for us to get the hang of hatching goslings. It’s nothing like hatching chicks which is basically just toss the eggs in and let the incubator run. Goslings are sensitive and need the right humidity and the right turning and the right temperature and the right cool down periods and the right amount of water sprayed on them daily. SIGH. It has been really really hard to figure out how to hatch healthy babies.
Chicks of course need the right temperature and all, but goslings seem much more sensitive. It’s kinduv like cooking beef compared to lamb. Sure both need to be cooked right, but you can mess up a lot more with beef whereas if you screw up lamb, you are going to be eating something else.
Every year we’ve had issues with the humidity being too high. Common wisdom is the humidity needs to be around 65%, but we’ve had to lower humidity to no higher than 50% or the goslings don’t absorb the yolk in to their belly and they die as soon as they are partially hatched. It’s tragic.
This year though so far so good and I am soooo happy. The Cotton Patch goslings are my absolute favorite animal on the ranch. We will be selling them live as well as for christmas dinner.