Goslings and ducklings have unique requirements unlike baby chickens or other land birds. They need plenty of water, and they are determined to make a remarkable mess. Here are a few of the steps I take to prepare my brooder before the arrival of baby waterfowl.
While I bed my adult geese in straw, I use shavings in the gosling brooder. Shavings are softer for young goose feet, easier to change out, and very absorbent. A bag of shavings will last a long time filling a small brooder space.
When goslings first arrive they are tiny and need very little space. They'll huddle by their food and water and do little exploring. Within a week, they'll be all over the brooder having adventures. A space with approximately 1/2 square foot per bird will work to start, but you'll need a larger space quickly.
A goose brooder should be around 90 degrees when you geese first arrive, and decrease in temperature by about 10 degrees a week until it matches the outside temperature. This is easiest to accomplish using brooder lights with a 100 watt light bulb in them. Heat lamps are also acceptable, but can produce a fire hazard.
Your goslings also will need more head space than baby chicks, as they grow tall very fast. Use a brooder with a top at least two feet above the floor. You can use a plastic tub or bin as a brooder, adapt a dog crate to work, or build a wooden box. The key elements are space, ease for cleaning, and the ability to keep it lit and warm.
When your new geese are still downy, they can't keep themselves warm with the protective layer of feathers that adult birds have. That's why it is important to supply water they cannot splash in, and don't allow them to swim for the first 1-2 weeks. Even on a hot day a wet gosling can catch a chill, so if they do get into water towel dry them before putting them back with their flock.
Because they can't warm themselves, supply water in a tray that won't allow them to submerge more than their beaks. A plastic chick waterer works, but they will clog it regularly and it requires constant monitoring. A drip nipple system, which many hardware stores sell for chickens, greatly reduces mess, or you can use a milk jug or 5 gallon bucket (depending on how many geese you have) with small holes cut in the sides. This method allows them to stick their heads through the holes to access the water, but won't allow them to swim. A larger container like this also won't be as easily toppled. Simple, at home designs for these are available on Pinterest.
It is crucial that you keep their water clean and fresh, as both goslings and adult geese can't properly swallow their food without water.
Similarly, young geese will quickly mess up their food if it's not set up properly. Using feeders designed for chicks, with small holes for feeding and rest of the crumble covered, is the neatest way to keep your goslings fed. Goslings should never be fed medicated feed: you can feed them non-medicated chick starter when they are small. When your geese first arrive it's a good idea to soak their feed so it's soupy before feeding. Within one or two weeks they can eat dry crumble as long as a clean water source is nearby. If you feed does not come with grit, supply a small bowl of grit to aid their digestion.
Goslings will delight in any extra treats you can offer them. They love grass clippings, lettuce, spinach, arugula, and other leafy greens. Geese are herbivores so don't feed any meat, and don't feed your goslings bread as it is an empty fattener that is not healthy for them. I stick exclusively to grass and lettuce, greens they'll enjoy nibbling throughout their lives.
Within a week or two your geese will be active and eager to get our of their brooder. You will soon have to start cleaning your brooder daily, even with their water and food carefully contained. At this time you can start allowing them to spend some of their days outside, in a supervised or secure area. If you take the time to supervise their outdoor time, this will help to strengthen their imprint with you.
Once geese reach 3-4 weeks of age they can start spending all day outside in good weather, and can move off heat. Be sure to give them a secure place to stay at night, preferably a clean coop with about 10 square feet per bird. A larger space like this will allow you to keep them in during bad weather without cramping them. As they get larger, they can start free ranging on pasture, but even as babies they'll enjoy time on the lawn in a fenced in area or a safe spot where you can keep an eye on them.
Geese are a delight to keep, and their enthusiasm for their caretaker makes them some of the most charming birds to raise. Their needs are different than some other poultry, but if you take the right steps bringing up your goslings should be easy and fun.
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