The domestic geese of Kashmir have now been recognized at national level due to efforts made by veterinary scientists of SKUAST-Kashmir, who conducted an exhaustive study on their characterization and documentation. The 'Breed Registration Committee of Indian Council of Agricultural Research' in its recently held meeting on breed registration approved the registration of local geese of Kashmir as a breed with the name 'Kashmir Aenz' and accession number 'INDIA_GEESE_0700_ KASHMIR Aenz_18001'. The proposed name 'Kashmir Aenz' has been derived from two words, 'Kashmir' representing its breeding tract and 'Aenz' meaning 'Geese' in Kashmiri. With this accomplishment, 'Kashmir Aenz' became the first and the only recognized domestic geese breed in India, making SKUAST-K amongst the pioneer Institutes on geese research in the country.
Two Strains (or within breed types) of 'Kashmir Aenz' breed have also been identified; white coloured Kashmir Aenznamed as 'Safed Aenz' and a cinnamon (brownish) coloured Kashmir Aenznamed as 'Katchur Aenz'. The terms 'Safed' and 'Katchur' are the Kashmiri words meaning 'White' and 'Brownish or cinnamon coloured' respectively. Goslings of 'Kashmir Aenz' also have two variants viz. yellow feathered and blackish yellow feathered. Yellow gosling appears to grow into 'Safed Aenz' and blackish yellow gosling into 'Katchur Aenz'.
Geese rearing in the Valley dates back to ancient time as has been mentioned by Sir Walter R. Lawrence in his book 'The Valley of Kashmir'. Presently, Kashmir Aenzare being reared in and around the water bodies (lakes, wetlands and rivers) across the Valley, but are more abundant in districts of Srinagar, Bandipora, Ganderbal, Baramulla and Budgam. In Srinagar, Kashmir Aenzare reared in hamlets scattered around Dal Lake, Nigeen Lake and Anchar Lake. Shalbugh area, localities along the River Sind and Anchar Lake are the main Aenzrearing areas in Ganderbal district. In Bandipora district, Aenzare being reared in areas around the Wular Lake, mainly in Hajin, Sonawari and Laharwalpora. Geese rearing areas of Baramulla district include Pattan, Mirgund, Hygam, Nigli, Sangrama and Boniyar, and those of Budgam include locations around wetlands of Hokarsar and Narkara.
Katchur Aenz are predominantly being reared in Bandipora and Baramulla, whereas Safed Aenz are popular in Ganderbal. Mixed flocks comprising of both Katchur and Safed Aenz are seen in Srinagar and Budgam. The reason for such a distribution of plumage (feather) colour among these districts appear to be the preference of Bandipora's and Baramulla's farmers towards cinnamon plumage, and that of Ganderbal's farmers towards white plumage colour, and no preference of colour by the farmers in Srinagar. The reason for cinnamon colour preference among the farmers of Bandipora, who rear Kashmir Aenz mostly for the commercial purposes and leave their flocks out in the Wular lake for months together, appears to be their superstitious belief that cinnamon coloured Katchur Aenz are less prone to the evil eye and predation, since they camouflage more with the surroundings than the Safed Aenz with shiny white plumage. Unlike Bandipora, Kashmir Aenzrearers of Ganderbal show fondness towards the attractive white plumage since they mostly rear geese as pets. In Srinagar and Budgam district, farmers prefer no color in particular which may be because they keep geese just as a source of supplementary income in addition to their main occupation.
Three diverse systems of geese rearing are practiced by the farmers of Kashmir. Farmers with small flocks, keep geese confined to their backyards. The geese are confined to shelters during the night while they are let out during the day time. Farmers having medium sized flocks, leave their geese out in the nearby water bodies during the day time and during the night hours, geese are kept inside the shelters. And farmers, who have large flocks, leave their geese out in the water bodies for months together and bring them home at the time of laying or during floods and in winter months.
Kashmir Aenz is reared for meat, eggs and as hobby in the Valley. Consumer acceptability and liking for Kashmir Aenz meat vis-à-vis chicken meat and mutton was ascertained in a study conducted at SKUAST-K by collecting responses from 70 Kashmiris, who consumed Kashmir Aenz meat. Appearance, texture, taste and overall acceptability of Kashmir Aenz meat was rated better than chicken meat by 72.41, 82.76, 82.76 and 75.86 % consumers respectively, and better than mutton by 68.97, 72.41, 89.66 and 82.76 % consumers respectively. All the consumers, covered under the study, confirmed no or negligible odour in the Kashmir Aenz meat. A Kashmir Aenz egg weighs about 136.65 grams, which is nearly 2.06 times more than that of local duck egg, and 3.25 times more than that of desi chicken egg. The shell colour of their eggs is white with yolk colour ranging from yellow to orange. Their eggs are mostly kept for incubation since they lay fewer eggs in a year (around an average of 12 eggs). Hence excess eggs, if any, are sold for a handsome price being rare and large sized. In terms of taste, a Kashmir Aenz egg is similar to chicken egg and reportedly has no undesirable odour.
There are no established geese selling markets in villages, hence they are sold and purchased at the doorstep of the rearers. However, in Srinagar, geese are mainly sold in Batmaloo and Lal Chowk, by vendors, who purchase geese from rearers in villages and sell them live or slaughtered in the city.
Geese farming requires meagre inputs in terms of feeding, housing and health care as these birds are hardy, resistant to common diseases of poultry and well adapted to free range foraging. If tapped properly, geese-farming is a promising sector capable of increasing the farmer's income and at the same time meeting the rising demands for meat in the Valley to a great extent.
(Dr. Henna Hamadani is Jr. Scientist, SKUAST-Kashmir)