Whidbey woman raises rare geese with curly feathers

Poultry barn at fair could be filled with Sebastopols thanks to Christyn Johnson’s efforts.

Years from now, the poultry barn at the Whidbey Island Fair could be filled with a rare breed of geese thanks to Christyn Johnson’s efforts.

This spring, the Clinton resident pulled her gaggle of Sebastopol geese together and successfully hatched 30 goslings, which are now available for adoption. Johnson is offering a steep discount for 4-H members in the hopes that the birds will be shown and entered in competitions.

A former 4-H club leader, Johnson has always found herself drawn to Sebastopol geese for their gentle, docile nature and elegant “wedding dresses” of long, curly feathers. The heritage breed originated in southeastern Europe and is named for the Crimean city. According to the Livestock Conservancy, Sebastopol geese are a threatened breed.

“I decided this year I was just going to hatch all the eggs and see if I could help out with the Sebastopol population a little bit,” Johnson said. “They’re just dolls, and I’m loving it. My incubation rate was crazy high.”

Much to Johnson’s surprise, she had three hatches in a row with a perfect incubation rate, which has never happened before to her or anyone else she knows.

Johnson’s flock only lays eggs in February and March, which means the goslings are now between 3 and 6 weeks old. Pale yellow with tufts of white feathers, they move together like a cloud, while the ganders stand nearby protectively. Get too close and the dads will open their orange beaks and hiss.

“They like being sung to. It’s how I bring them in and out,” Johnson said, adding that the white, fluffy birds are “sitting ducks” for predators. Her previous flock was decimated by a single raccoon.

“You get emotionally attached, because they can live 20 years,” she said.

Unlike other types of geese, Sebastopol geese can’t fly, due to their copious number of feathers. In Germany, the birds are known as “Strupp Guns” or “Lockengans” which translates to “unkempt goose” or “curl goose.” They are excellent swimmers and enjoy taking frequent dips in the pond on Johnson’s farm.

When it’s not breeding season, the flock has a more easygoing disposition.

“I’ll sit down on the grass and they’ll start chewing on my shoes and then they’ll climb in my lap,” Johnson said.

With a newcomer in their midst, however, the blue-eyed geese were reluctant to stray too far from the goslings.

Demand for the breed is high — according to Johnson, Sebastopol geese are reserved months in advance at some hatcheries. She is hoping to find suitable homes for the remaining two-thirds of the goslings.

An individual gosling costs $130, and for multiple goslings, the price is $100 each. Members of 4-H can buy them for just $30.

Buyers will come to the South Whidbey farm and have their pick of the gaggle.

“I love the idea that they’re going out there, that they’re out there and they’re such a sweet bird on farms,” Johnson said.

For more information, visit pureindulgenceblooms.com/sebastopol-goslings.