The native goose of the Shetland Islands is a compact hardy goose. The gander is always white with gold down and the goose is always grey and white pied with grey/gold down. The birds are considered to be dual purpose birds which produce a reasonable number of white eggs per season if allowed (15-20 eggs), and a good carcass weight, all with no extra feeding other than adequate grazing. The birds when culled make a delicious carcass and have a gamey flavour. They weigh in at around 6-8lbs (2.7kg – 3.6kg) for the goose and 8-10lbs (3.6kg – 4.5kg) for the gander at maturity.
The geese will go broody and are capable of hatching a brood of goslings. The birds have a well-rounded breast and have little or no evidence of a keel on the relatively flat abdomen. The bill is smaller than those of the pilgrim goose e.g. showing their good grazing potential, and is a reddish blue colour. The legs and feet are fleshy pink coloured and the eyes are blue.
It is considered to be a domestic bird with Greylag ancestry and valued for their ability to thrive on grazing, fertilise the pasture, egg production, meat, and even down for insulation.
Rare breeds of poultry seem often to be unfairly undervalued. Their biodiversity is invaluable and their genetics must be kept in living genebanks. They are easily cross-bred then lost, but these were saved just in time before extinction.
A breeding programme has been started on the Island of Trondra for the Shetland Geese. They are hardy and live off reasonable grazing so do well on crofts as a food source and as a valuable eater of parasites that would harm other animals.
Image: © Mary Isbister