Questions to Ask Before You Get Geese
Last year I first posted this piece, and as bundles of fluffy, peeping joy start appearing in feed stores and at post offices boxes around the country this spring, it seemed like a good time to repost.
Geese are a favorite of mine, their personalities and attitudes charm me and their feisty reputations are easily overcome. However, it is good to ask questions before bringing them home, to make sure your farm is ready for a goose or two.
Do you have more questions about geese? You can preorder my book, A Modern Homesteader's Guide to Raising Geese, due out this October. Feel free to comment or email with additional questions!
How Much Do Geese Eat?
An adult goose will eat about a 3/4 pound of food a day when given free access to grain. When kept on grass geese don't need free access to crumble. Some farmers using geese for weeding don't feed their geese at all during the summer, but even hobbyists can feed daily in the mornings or evenings rather that keeping food out all day. Goose food is fairly generic, you may want to feed layer pellets during the laying season helps to ensure good, strong egg shells.
What Do My Geese Need for Shelter?
Geese will need a night shelter for protection from predators. Despite their fierce reputations, geese are virtually blind at night and vulnerable to attack. A simple, secure structure with approximately 10 square feet per bird is ideal. During the day, geese are pretty independent. A fenced in area will keep them safe if you cannot watch them, and will keep them out of trouble.
What Supplies Should I Have Before Goslings Arrive?
Your brooder will need a heat lamp or light and a thermometer to keep the temperature between 90-95 degrees for their first week of your goslings' lives, decreasing by 10 degrees from that point on. Your goslings will also need non-medicated feed, soaked in water. It is easier for them to eat and swallow when saturated, and they'll need plenty of clean drinking water as well. Water is best if provided in a traditional plastic chicken waterer, which won't allow them to submerge their bodies. Goslings can catch a cold if allowed to swim before a week old, and will try to swim if given access.
Are There Any Medicines I Should Have On Hand?
Goslings are surprisingly hardy. They need grit in their diet in order to digest food. Many gosling's feeds come with grit: if yours does not, make sure to provide it in the form of sand, oyster shells, or tiny rocks. If your goose shows signs of disease, it is best to take them to a veterinarian who can prescribe antibiotics. While not strictly necessary, fresh greens will help you to raise healthy geese. Try feeding grass clips and lettuce to your geese in the brooder, and allow them out for supervised playtime on your lawn.
Can I Get Sexed Geese? Do Male/Female Rations Matter?
Many hatcheries provide sexed geese, and some small breeders will as well. Geese will fight for mating rights, and contrary to popular belief they do take more than one mate. Mating preferences vary depending on the breed, but most ganders will mate 3-4 geese. While it is best to provide a ratio like that for your geese, if you do have less females ganders aren't as rowdy as roosters. Ganders will fight during mating season but tend to get along at other times of the year. If you can separate pairs during the breeding season, you can avoid a lot of turmoil.
What Type of Bedding Should I Use?
I prefer to bed my geese in straw, because I find it is the easiest to remove when cleaning. Geese are extremely messy and regular cleaning of their quarters is required. Shavings are also suitable. If your geese are regularly allowed to free range, cleaning is (slightly) less of an issue.
What Temperatures Do Geese Prefer?
Most goose breeds are hardy. Once they have feathered out, they can tolerate hot weather as long as they have plenty of access to fresh water. A few breeds are less cold tolerant: Africans and Chinese tend to get frostbite on their prominent knobs, and Sebastopols have less dense feathering. I have healthily overwintered all three of those breeds, among others, by making sure they have an insulated but well ventilated coop and open access to the shelter so they can go in whenever they are cold. Refreshing their water regularly during freezing weather helps. Cold geese tuck their feet under themselves and their beaks under their wings and sit out the winter.
Do I Need a Pond?
No, you don't! Geese need access to fresh, clean water to swallow their food and bathe, but it does not have to be a pond. A kiddie pool or something of similar size is adequate for bathing, with a separate, smaller trough for drinking and eating. Just make sure you refresh it regularly - geese quickly make a mess of water.
Can You Train a Goose?
That depends on your definition of "train", but I would say yes. Geese are creatures of habit, and they will adapt quickly to putting themselves to bed at night. Goslings who are handled regularly will bond with their people. Bonding or imprinting is a unique waterfowl behavior, and it means that they'll think of you as their parent. An imprinted gosling will follow you around like a puppy, even once they are fully grown.
What Can a Goose Not Eat?
Geese are herbivores, unlike chickens and ducks. They won't eat worms or other "meat", although they sometimes nibble at dried mealworms. My geese have always been picky eaters and prefer grass and lettuce to anything else I offer, but you can try feeding other veggies such as carrots, cabbage, or peas. Plants in the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant) are toxic and should not be fed. Never feed moldy or expired foods and avoid any kind of meat or "junk food" like candy or chips. Additionally, while bread isn't bad for geese, it is essentially empty calories that will fatten your goose up without giving them any valuable proteins.
When Will I Start Getting Eggs?
Most geese will lay at one year old, a few breeds tend to start at two years. Geese are seasonal layers, and often won't lay if there is not a male around. With an active male and nice, private areas for her to lay, a female goose will lay from May through September. Geese lay between 40-60 large, white eggs in a year.
Will They Attack Me?
It depends. Some breeds are more feisty than others: Africans and Chinese are loud and can be aggressive, and sometimes Pilgrims, Romans, and Embdens are territorial. Notoriously docile and friendly goose breeds are the Sebastopol and the Toulouse. Geese who have been hand reared and imprinted on their owners are usually friendly, though they can still be aggressive with strangers. Like most animals, the more you handle them and the better you treat them, the friendlier they are. Our geese make a show of aggression, but they love being picked up and cuddled.