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For immediate release 10 March 2005

SPPA member locates Cotton Patch Geese

How many geese does it take to grass a cotton patch?

By Christine Heinrichs, SPPA Publicity Director, christinewillard@prodigy.net, (608) 243-8178

When veteran turkey breeder Tom T. Walker of Bastrop, Texas heard that no members of the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities had Cotton Patch Geese, he determined to search for them.

He launched letters to agricultural extension agents to see what he could turn up. Most didn’t respond, but his letter caught the attention of the director of the University of Arkansas Extension program. He wrote an article on Tom’s quest that was printed in Arkansas and neighboring states. Many readers responded.

“It’s unbelievable the number of letters and phone calls I got,” Dr. Walker said.

They told stories of herding Cotton Patch Geese from one field to another to eat the grass and weeds, earning spending money during the Depression. Flock owners rented their geese, which are primarily grass-eaters, to cotton growers along the Mississippi.

“They won’t touch the cotton,” said Dr. Walker.

Dr. Walker identified a flock of the old breed in East Central Arkansas. They had been in the owner’s family for years. The current owner thought they were Pilgrim geese, and had added a Pilgrim gander to improve vigor.

He shared a trio from his flock with Dr. Walker. He is using them as the foundation for restoring this historic breed.

A flock owner in Mississippi has the saddle-backed variety. Dr. Walker hopes to acquire stock from that strain in the future.

Cotton Patch Geese have pink bills and feet, not the orange of Pilgrims. Ganders are white with blue eyes and touches of brown on the tail and wing feathers. Hens are brown-gray with brown eyes.

Another strain has the brown-gray saddle-back and head with blue eyes, the same pattern as the Old English.

“I’m convinced these are Old English Geese, 300 years removed,” said Dr. Walker.

Perhaps originally introduced in Colonial Virginia as well as New England, the geese would have spread across the South with their owners.

Dr. Walker looks forward to the day when DNA tests can establish precise relationships among goose breeds.

For now, he’s excited about his discovery and future progress. At his request, the Choctaw Tribe in Oklahoma is searching its members for any who may have Choctaw Geese, another variant.

Dr. Walker continues his turkey breeding projects with Regal Reds and Spanish Blacks, with the important contribution of his favorite hen, Senora. Although she weighs only nine pounds, she continues to rule the poultry yard.

The new color that emerged from his experiments, Harvest Gold, is now in its third generation.

In the course of his cross-breedings, turkeys with the original Black-Winged Bronze variation appeared. He has sent two of those hens to a breeder who feared the strain would become extinct.

Those discoveries convince Mr. Walker that the Black-Winged Bronze played a part in the development of the Regal Red.

He sees more projects than he can find time for, especially the development of a Black Midget. He’d be happy to help another breeder get started with that project.

“Right here on my little old place, I’ve got enough to have fun for another hundred years,” he said. Dr. Walker celebrated his 78th birthday in March.

Join Dr. Walker and the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities by sending $12.50 to Dr. Charles Everett, 122 Magnolia Lane, Lugoff, SC 29078


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