Buff Geese

by
Craig Russell

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2004, 9(1):11-12

As a group, Buff geese are connected only by color. Despite the fact that Buff varieties are now bred in many breeds, the color probably has a common source. Oscar Grow believed that Buff in all breeds sprung from Pomeranian or German stock. Many British and European authorities would disagree. In my opinion the preponderance of evidence supports Mr. Grow.

As established types, Buff seems to have appeared first in Pomeranian Saddle Back and the related solid Buff Celler Goose (often called Buff Pomeranian outside Germany). Other Buff geese can either be linked directly or indirectly to this population, or at least display characteristics that would seem to link them to an Eastern Graylag origin. Only American and Brecon Buff join the Celler Goose as Buff breeds. Just as the Celler is really a Pomeranian, the American Buff is basically a Buff morph of the historic American Farm Goose. The Brecon Buff closely resembles Pomeranians and Americans in general size and type, but has a general refinement that is unique. In Modern Waterfowl Management, Oscar Grow says, "While Buff plumage has long featured domestic goose bred in both the United States and Europe, they have been a rather heterogeneous lot and left much to be desired from a breeding standpoint." According to Bruce Lentz, many of them had a grayish tone and others ranged from pale to dark buff. The main problem was that almost all of them were female. Much to Bruce's amusement prominent breeders for years picked up buff specimens but failed to establish a pure buff strain. Bruce considered it a problem that "any chicken farmer worth his salt could have figured out," but for decades nobody did. Barbara Soames reports in Keeping Domestic Geese that part of the foundation stock for the American Buff came "from Pomerania in 1900." There were apparently a number of imports over the first decade or so of the 20th century. Bruce said they were mostly ganders, a few saddle back and others of solid color. Breeding these ganders to American hens immediately established buff strains. In the early days most American Buff geese had pinkish red bills and legs, the Pomeranian norm. Some early American Buff hens sprang from Gray farm geese, but others came from long established populations of German geese already in the United States. These German geese may have been the source of buff genes found in the general Gray population. The pinkish red bills and legs are recessive. Bruce and Young John Kriner tended to believe all Buffs originated from a single mutation. Dale Rice believed that was possible, but also felt it might be a fairly simple mutation that had the chance of occurring frequently.

As a point of interest, Oscar Grow indicated that American Buff geese were selected for the orange bill and feet trait because reddish pink had never been popular in North America. Bruce Lentz pointed out that such extremities remained popular in areas of heavy German settlement and that Americans simply wanted to distinguish their birds from the already established German types. Oscar Grow also mentions Saddle Back geese as a sub variety of the American Buff. I remember such birds well from my youth and they are still around now, all too often being called Pomeranians. With orange bills and legs they should not be so easily mistaken. English Buff geese and Buff Saddle Back geese have been known for sometime but they were never common.

The Brecon Buff geese are at least as a recognized breed newer than the American Buff geese. Barbara Soames credits Sir Rhys Llewellyn with first raising them in 1928. Actually, they were already found in their present form on a Breconshire Hill farm. Oscar Grow points out that "The fact that Pomeranian geese feature the same extremities as the Brecon leads one to surmise that the latter goose is a scion of the former." Barbara Soames disagrees, "It is unlikely that Welsh hill farmers would have imported Pomeranian blood." She turns to various wild geese with deep pink colored bills and feet that winter in Wales and sometimes summer there as well. She also points out that buff tinged feathers are also found on some of these geese. Barbara and many other writers point to these geese, Beans, Pink Footed, White Fronted and Lesser White Fronted, as the source of Buff in Pomeranian geese. This is interesting speculation. While there is good reason to believe that some or all of the previously mentioned geese have had an impact on domestic populations, the arguments for their influence on Buff geese are not very convincing. First of all, "buff tinged" overstates the case. Pale or light brown would be closer to the mark. Besides, all known Buff geese are buff versions of the Greylag pattern and don't mimic other species. The Buff African goose is an exception, with Graylag type imposed on a Swan goose pattern. In short, domestic Buff geese seem to carry a dilution of the Graylag color. While Barbara Soames is right about Welsh hill farmers not purposely importing Pomeranians, there are also many logical scenarios that could produce buff colored geese in Wales. The Vikings that traded and raided all over Europe and may have transported auto sexing geese to the Shetland Islands and western England could also have brought geese from Germany at a very early date. Buff and Buff Saddle Back English geese were developed after 1815 by crossing English geese with White German geese imported to develop the Embden goose. An Englishman with Welsh holdings could have moved them to Breconshire without much trouble. These are just two possibilities.

Incidentally, Brecon geese are one of the foreign breeds Oscar Grow promoted and a few are still found in North America. Buff Toulouse geese have been recognized, as well as Buff Roman geese, Buff Sebastapol geese and even Buff African geese. Buff China geese are under development.

In areas where geese are still agriculturally important, Buff geese are useful for producing sex links. Buff ganders bred to Gray hens produce pure Buff hens and Gray ganders split to Buff. The reverse produces pure Gray females and more split Gray males. Such Buff hens often tend to gray tones. This type of breeding is similar to sex linkage in chickens. Although auto sexing geese have been called sex links, the genetics are quite different.


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