Live Harvesting Goose Down - Finally an Update

Discussion in 'Geese' started by Omniskies, Oct 1, 2008.

  1. Omniskies

    Omniskies Songster

    Mar 7, 2008
    I know I said I was going to update the last thread, but time got away from me and then I sort of forgot. I'll try to make up for it this go around.

    Sorry, no pictures this time around, either. I tried to take some pictures while doing this but the geese were camera shy and my hand wasn't steady enough to get a clear shot. I can get pictures of the down in bags if anyone is curious to see that.

    Before ANYONE begins an argument about whether or not live harvesting down from a goose is inhumane, please remember that this is meant to be informative - not torn apart. Now that I've officially done this to a few dozen geese I can safely say that the geese were more annoyed at being held in one spot than in having their down taken. I also didn't have any cases of poor, shaken geese suffering from PTSD, aggression or panic attacks whenever I came close. Honestly, sheep probably have a harder time of it than geese when it comes to being nudified.

    No goose was harmed in the making of this tutorial. Seriously. (But at one point my foot fell asleep.)

    With that out of the way, some quick information about live harvesting: geese happily shed all of their feathers when they molt. Shedding feathers is akin to what happens when a white cat rubs up against black pants. The feathers and down drop off naturally while the rest are preened out. When you are harvesting down you're not "ripping the hair" bleeding out of the poor thing - you're giving a little tug and if it stays put you're moving on. It'll be obvious whether or not you can actually harvest at the time you pick. If nothing comes out with a tug then wait and try again later.

    And now the tutorial thingie.

    I have two groups of geese that are grooving around in one large flock. At the time I had a large flock of not-at-all-handled American Buffs and a flock of Pilgrims I had hand raised. Before I began harvesting I picked up and handled the geese a few times a week to get them accustomed to having their wings moved around, being on their back, and randomly prodded. The Buffs suffered through the indignity and got to the point to where they would grudgingly sit still and wait for me to finish. The Pilgrims were a complete success.

    While being poked and prodded, I kept a bunch of treats on hand that the American Buffs snubbed. But after the Pilgrims became used to being handled they gorged themselves on goodies.

    When I was finally ready to harvest I picked an American Buff to begin with, reasoning that if I screwed something up I'd rather annoy an aloof goose rather than a friendly one.

    I sat down on the grass, held the goose with his back and head against me and his abdomen between my legs and painstakingly spent a ton of time trying to collect some down without getting all of the small feathers in the way. It took forever and all I got was a handful of guard feathers with some bits of down that mostly floated away before it made it to the bag.

    Half an hour later an annoyed goose was let up and put back in the pasture. I moved on to the second goose, again picking an American Buff who forgot all of his manners and flapped wildly while I tried to calm him down. I have no idea how, but by chance I got my hand completely under his wing and, not wanting to let go, I just sort of held him that way while trying to get him calm.

    When he was finally mellow I found out that there is absolutely nothing under a goose's wing but down. It's a small patch, but it's still actual down that you don't have to pick out through the feathers. I managed to collect half an ounce of down beneath each wing before releasing him. It took me no more than ten minutes once he was quiet.

    After that I didn't bother collecting any down from anywhere else. All of the good quality down is hidden beneath the wing, meaning that you can harvest it without worrying about visible bald patches, plus the wings still cover the harvested area to help keep them warm.

    By the time I got to my Pilgrims I had a system down and could finish up in 10-15 minutes. The Pilgrims were more willing to sit still since they were too busy eating their goodies to be bothered about what I was doing.

    In the end it took me all day, but I harvested quite a bit of down and have plenty of bags I'm now planning on selling.

    Any goose that was over a year old yielded about an ounce of down just from under their wings. An ounce is enough to fill up a quart sized ziplock bag - it's extremely lightweight.

    Geese under a year old only yielded about half an ounce total. From what I've read, you want to harvest from older geese, anyway, since the quality of down is better.

    The handling and treats were a lifesaver. The American Buffs are still calm and aloof and my Pilgrims are still nice and friendly. I have a couple of Pilgrims that crawl into your lap and look around for goodies.

    The whole experience was painless and didn't seem traumatizing at all. The geese I released didn't freak out and blast warnings so his companions could run for the hills, I didn't get bit and there were only a couple of times when a goose freaked out and tried to flap his way free halfway through the process (usually when I was turning them around to collect under the other wing).

    Next year I plan on doing this again. Most of the down collected is going toward making a goose down comforter for Christmas and next year we'll probably make a matching pillow. Goose down is extremely under-utilized and even if you don't have enough geese to make something huge, you can at least restuff old pillows and jackets, make animal dolls and even line nestboxes if you have rabbits who are too modest to pluck out too much of their own fur to line a nest.
    4 people like this.
  2. Beekissed

    Beekissed Free Ranging

    I can't say enough how nice it was for you to post these results. Kudos to you for being brave enough to try something you had never done before. I am definitely getting geese and doing this for the down harvest. The article I read about it described much the same behavior from the geese over the harvesting....slightly annoyed but, overall, no lasting effects noted.

    Thanks, again! [​IMG]
    1 person likes this.
  3. LV426

    LV426 Chillin

    Jul 16, 2008
    My great grandmother used to pluck the down from her geese all the time. I have vague memories of her sitting on the porch wit a wicker basket at her side and a goose slung across her lap as she pulled the down off. I don't remember if she got under the wing but I know she plucked breast down. In fact we have 4 feather mattresses in our family that were stuffed from the geese that she raised.
    1 person likes this.
  4. vicki2x2

    vicki2x2 Super Chick

    Feb 9, 2008
    Central Michigan
    Cool, thanks for posting this. It is interesting.
  5. Beekissed

    Beekissed Free Ranging

    Quote:That is a wonderful memory! Do you still use the down mattresses in some capacity or are they just heirlooms?
  6. Omniskies

    Omniskies Songster

    Mar 7, 2008
    In the spring I'll probably harvest from the breast and abdomen as mixed feathers and down. The feathers around that area are very soft and well worth using, I just wanted to collect 100% down (or close to it [​IMG] and didn't want to separate everything out.

    We made a small pillow in the past using all of the feathers from a single butchered goose, sans the wing feathers. The pillow is only maybe 15x15" but it is stuffed full and is still extremely comfortable. I had set the feathers aside in a bag since I didn't know what to do with them and someone else in the household made me the pillow for Christmas using them. After almost a full year of use the pillow is still fluffy.

    Geese are a lot of fun to have around and, in their own way, can be just as beneficial to the homestead as chickens if people take advantage of everything they can offer. That geese have declined in popularity over the years is mind boggling.
    1 person likes this.
  7. MamaDragon

    MamaDragon Songster

    Aug 4, 2008
    Camden, AR
    Omniskies -

    Besides pillows, comforters, maybe a feather mattress, what other uses do you put your down/feathers to?
    How do you know How Much down/feathers to use in something?
    How do you keep it from flying EVERYWHERE while you're stuffing something?
    Do chickens also have this down?

    I've been trying to figure out uses for all the feathers floating around.... we've got 5 BO's moulting, and almost enough feathers to fill a grocery sack. I don't have room to keep geese, but I have a few chickens that are hand-gentled, and I might be able to convince them to tolerate such handling, following your methods.

    I've got a few chicken feather pillows that my grandmother made back in the '50's. But those are the only things like that to have survived (I've got her treadle sewing machine as well).

    There's only so many pillows, blankets, mattresses one family can use, and I'm sure that trying to sell those items to others wouldn't bring enough to pay for the materials used, let alone the time involved in constructing them.
  8. Omniskies

    Omniskies Songster

    Mar 7, 2008
    Besides pillows, comforters, etc, here's our current list of things to try in the future:

    Sleeping bags
    Stuffed dolls (teddy bears, geese, etc)
    Oven mitts
    Winter hats
    Overstuffed hand and foot warmers
    Chick/gosling/etc blankets (stuff inside a waterproof material and set it inside the brooder for them to snuggle up by)
    Seat pads for kitchen chairs

    I have no idea how much down to use for something. I've browsed the internet and looked for how much down a product boasts using, which gives me an estimate. For example, one company had used 48 ounces of down to make a king sized comforter.

    Another good indicator is to see how many stuffed quart-sized ziplock bags would fit inside something and guess from there. A quart-sized bag holds about half an ounce of down.

    Keeping the down under control isn't as bad as you'd expect, but it can go everywhere. I make sure I'm moving down inside something else, like a grocery bag. Usually some will float off, but not enough to really change the weight. Most of the down will stick together and is fluffy enough to be mashed into a ball with one hand, gripped in your palm and pulled out.

    Chickens don't have down at all. They do have fluffy fuzz on their backsides, but that's about it. You could still use those feathers, it just won't be anywhere near as insulating (fine for summer pillows), and probably not as soft, but still soft. Try it out, anyway, and see how it works. You may be able to harvest from your chickens and make a fancy something out of fuzzy chicken butts [​IMG]

    Even if you don't want to use all of the down for yourself there's always someone who could find a use. Goose down is an extra bonus on top of everything else geese provide - getting $5 an ounce for ten minutes of work harvesting the down isn't bad money. If you sell all six bags you got in an hour then you've made $30 for your effort. That's for six adult geese and will pay for 3-4 bags of feed.

    Unless you're currently completely out of room, you may still be able to get geese. My Pilgrims are quiet and completely non-aggressive - even to strangers. They weigh about 12-16lbs full grown, so each goose is the equivalent of two large chickens. You can keep geese with your chickens, don't require a pond and will happily eat chicken pellets in addition to grass and weeds. As long as the goose has at least one other goose as a companion (gender doesn't matter) they'll be fine.
    2 people like this.
  9. Beekissed

    Beekissed Free Ranging

    Would the Embden geese produce more down? Is that why they are more commonly used for this purpose?

    I read that one of the secrets to transferring down is to make sure there are no drafts or breezes and to move very slowly!

    I want to start making down throws to keep in our living room for those days its not cold enough for a fire but too cool to sit and watch a movie without a blanket or something snuggly.

    These would be approx. 5 ft. x 4 ft. and be quilted to keep the down in place. I would like to do a variety of quilting styles, especially a crazy quilt using small and soft corduroy material and flannels.
    1 person likes this.
  10. Omniskies

    Omniskies Songster

    Mar 7, 2008
    Embdens are probably used because they're large, cheap and plentiful, plus the down is pure white, which is more appealing to the eye than the grey and white down Toulouse have.

    If you don't mind the faint color of the down (which are more like pastels in greys, buffs, etc) then I don't think it matters what breed of goose you harvest from unless you're wanting to really harvest a ton. Who knows, Sebastopols may be the perfect down goose, or Dewlap Toulouse, if you're wanting size.

    Maybe people wanting giant geese will make Holderread's million pound Embdens more popular than these itty bitty ones for sale at swaps [​IMG] I plan on staying with my Pilgrims, if only so I don't end up building new pastures in the spring for each breed.

    With that being said, I found a lot of references to Canada geese being used for down, though I can't imagine it was harvested from live Canada geese. I'd like to talk to some Canada goose hunters and see if they've heard of companies paying them for the skins/feathers of the geese they've bagged. That seems more likely than picturing them keeping thousands of "small" wild/half wild geese and plucking them.

    Also, in a "live harvesting is cruel!" article (conveniently where I found a mention of harvesting down from geese being like tearing the hair from your scalp), it mentioned that geese that are live harvested for the down industry are plucked every couple of months for four years, so apparently the down has all grown back within that period. I wouldn't harvest down from a goose that isn't molting, but at least that gives a time frame for how long it will take for everything to grow back. So if you harvest in August or so, the down should be back in by October. Plenty of time for them to be nice and snug for the winter months.

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