CARING FOR GEESE & GOSLINGS
Thinking of adding some geese to your farm or backyard flock?
Here you will find some general information about these great birds as well as advice from
us on keeping your flock safe, happy, and healthy.
Here you will find some general information about these great birds as well as advice from
us on keeping your flock safe, happy, and healthy.
What's good for the goose....
Before you start raising geese, you should be familiar with the terminology. We refer to a mixed flock of geese as geese. That's obvious enough, right? However, the technical term for one of these female birds is goose, while the male is called a gander.
The proper term for immature birds is gosling, though they are really cute and we end up calling them 'baby geeses' or 'geeslings' or some other such ridiculous pet name throughout hatching season.
Housing, shelter & protection
Most young animals have no protection against predators. Goslings are certainly no exception. They are small enough to be easily taken by hawks during the day or owls during the night. At a young age a gosling's only instinct is to clumsily run away and squawk for his mother, which makes him very easy pickings for any and all of the predators common in the countryside when there is no mother goose there to save him.
Therefore, it is very important that you provide appropriate predator protection for your goslings at all time. If you will be allowing them on grass during the day, we advise that you keep them inside a fenced area that is small enough to discourage hunting from aerial predators. Our own gosling nursery area is surrounded by chain link fence and adjoins our house directly. Cover is provided within the fenced area by way of trees, shade cloths, tables, chairs, bushes, dog houses - we aim to break up any large open spaces as much as possible. Both the proximity to the house and the fence and cover (as well as our faithful German Shepherd dog constantly watching from the window to alert us to day-time intruders) has served us very well in keeping our gosling flocks safe during the day all season long.
Our goslings begin spending parts of the day on grass at three-days-old, but spend their nights in the safe and warm brooder. At one week of age, the goslings graduate from the brooder to the fenced nursery area for the entire day. At this point - and up until they are old enough to begin feathering out - they are kept in a secure building overnight every night. We currently keep these fledgling goslings in a large dog crate in our garage - again as close to our house as possible to deter predators. Keep in mind that if a predator can get into an area where the goslings are caged, the little geese will panic and can easily be killed within their cage. Think in terms of double or triple layers of protection for the little ones: a secure fence, a secure building, and a secure cage.
Once the goslings have grown large enough to begin feathering out and IF you also have a flock of adult geese that you will be introducing them to, they can be allowed to range outside of the fenced area during the day. We suggest returning them to a smaller fenced enclosure at night with other geese until they are full-grown adults. If you do not have other geese, then it would be best to continue sheltering them in a secure building at night until they are full-grown adults.
Adult birds do not at all like being inside enclosed structures. Herding them into chicken coops or barns at night is not only unnecessary, but tends to agitate them and can lead to aggression. It is good to provide open shelters with relatively high covers as they will use these for shade on hot days. They will also willingly nap for a while in the barn if the doors are open.
For the most part and at night, the adult flocks like to gather in fairly open areas with some residual lighting - be it a light in your barn, the lights from your house windows, a security light, street light, or landscaping lights. Geese have night vision comparable to our own and prefer to be in a place where they can keep an eye on movement in their surroundings. They also remain active throughout the night, unlike chickens, and will sound the alarm -- even in the middle of the night -- when something is out of place.
Adult geese, as a flock, stand a fair chance against most predators as long as they are not caught by surprise. Therefore, the best way to protect them is to make it possible for them to protect themselves. Give them room to mount a defense, make sure they have an area where they can see fairly well even at night, and provide perimeter fences where possible to slow down fast-running larger predators.
Please keep in mind that all of this advice assumes that you have a flock of adult geese. If you are keeping only one or even a pair - it will probably be necessary to take further precautions to keep them safe at night.
As far as protection from the elements, geese tolerate both heat and cold equally well - though in extremely cold climates knobs (such as those which our Africans develop) may be susceptible to frost-bite. (For frost-bite prevention during extreme bouts of cold, we suggest applying petroleum jelly to the knob.) Again, all that is necessary is providing an open-sided shelter with some straw or hay for deep bedding during the winter months. Do not worry about providing shelter from the rain. They will not use it. Geese are waterproof and they love the rain.
The Social Goose
The number one question we hear from people when they find out we have geese is: "Aren't they mean?" The answer is yes. And no.
Geese are highly protective of their territory -- and that's putting it mildly. It is the job of each individual member of a roaming flock of geese to look after the safety of every other member of the flock. They take this job very seriously.
Have you ever been attacked by a goose? Most people have a story or two to tell of that time some crazy goose went after them at a picnic or at their grandfather's farm.
We hand-feed our geese and handle them quite often. We suggest you do the same so as to avoid any wild-goose chases in the future.
Geese can be quite affectionate and tend to each have certain favorite people around the farm. They will come when called, follow you when directed, and hang out waiting for you at the back door in the evenings.
But even the tamest and sweetest of geese will take a run at your knees if it feels threatened (especially during mating and nesting season). It is important to keep in mind that most of the time such things are more posturing than anything. When our geese posture at us for no good reason, we posture back and approach them with our arms outstretched and head bowed until they take a couple steps backwards. That's usually the end of the confrontation and peace is restored.
The worst thing you could possibly do -- and is probably what happened at that picnic or at Grandpa's farm if you're honest -- is run away. Never run from a goose. Always a bad idea. Hold your ground. Shoo them away. Honk back at them. Threaten to scoop them up and give them a big hug (this is our favorite tactic around here) -- but do not run away.
Geese are not timid and they really don't trust anyone or anything which behaves timidly around them. I personally think they consider such behavior to be sneaky and they cannot take any chances with sneaky behavior, after all.
It is for these reasons that we do not recommend that you ever leave small children unattended in the presence of adult geese.
Do you have stubborn geese? Do you have access to peacock feathers?
Looking for an easy way to move your goose or flock of geese without too much stress and effort? The answer is: peacock feathers.
We found out quite inadvertently that the only animal on our farm who can casually and quietly move the goose flock out of the way is our male peacock. It just so happens that holding a couple of his tail feathers in your hand is just as effective - they're basically like the magic wand of goose herding, just a wave in the direction you want them to go and they quietly comply.
You do not have to use your pretty peacock feathers for this - just make a bundle of the longer eyeless feathers and gently wave away. A bundle in each hand allows you to direct the flock as if you are landing an aircraft.
Feed & Supplements
We start our goslings on a 20% protein non-medicated crumbled ration in the brooder, as well as provide fine grit and plenty of clean, fresh water at all times. Water is especially important for goslings as they must have water to swallow and digest food. For this very reason, and unfortunately, they are not the neatest drinkers. If you are raising young goslings then you can expect to be cleaning out waterers ten times more often than you would with, say, young chickens.
On Day Three after hatching, we move our goslings out onto grass for at least a couple of hours per day. We have found that giving them access to fresh grass and greens works well to avoid problems with vitamin or mineral deficiencies at this age. Plus, they love it.
We continue to supplement with high protein feed until the end of the third week when the goslings begin to lose their baby fluff and grow true feathers. At this point, they are fed a grass-only diet until they have completely feathered out. We believe that this dietary restriction at this stage of development is an important factor in preventing the development of Angel Wing Syndrome. (For more information on AWS, see our blog post here.)
Once feathered out, the main staple of the goose diet remains grass and broad-leafed weeds. However, at times -- particularly after nesting season, molting season, or harsh winter months -- it is necessary to supplement. We provide seed grains such as corn, oats, barley, or millet mixed lightly with a non-medicated crumble. At the adult stage, it is okay to feed higher-protein rations (such as game-bird feed) as necessary. However, understand that these feedstuffs are entirely supplemental.
We recommend feeding any supplemental feed or grains to the geese once per day in a supervised setting rather than free-feeding in a large feeder. As mentioned above, geese need water to swallow and digest their food and inevitably turn a feed trough into a nasty, mushy mess that can quickly harbor bacteria and mycotoxins. Feed small quantities and clean up whatever is left right away.
Waterfowl & Water Needs
Needless to say, geese do love water. But, you may be surprised to learn that they spend relatively little time on or near the water.
It is absolutely essential that they are provided with sources of fresh and clean water at all times. We provide drinking water for our geese using fifty-five gallon drums fitted with water-drinking nipples designed for pigs. (Geese are brilliant animals and figured out how to use these right away.) They are also provided with stock tanks, rubber pails, and an assortment of plastic kiddie pools, as well as a small pond behind our barn.
Geese do not have to have a pond to be happy and healthy. It is necessary for them to have a source of water for bathing and clean water deep enough to submerge their heads and clean their nostrils, but a small pool or stock tank can easily serve this purpose.
Contrary to popular belief, geese do not have to have water of a certain depth in order to successfully breed. We have observed our ganders successfully breeding on land on multiple occasions. The only part of this common misconception which rings true is that some water is necessary to stimulate the gander's desire to breed. A mud puddle, a bowl of water, a kiddie pool half-filled with rain water... any of these things are more than enough to get a gander into the mood during the breeding season.
A warning to those who have other animals who also need clean drinking water: if at all possible, keep it out of the reach of your marauding geese. If your stock tank is low enough, your geese will use it for a quick swim and foul the water in the process. On the bright side, geese are not the best climbers (and heavy African Geese do not fly) elevating the water sources you wish to keep clean for your non-goose animals out of their reach usually does the trick. Also be sure to provide nipple or drip-style waterers for your birds to keep them free of goose contaminants if geese are going to have access to the area.
On Hatching Goose Eggs
Although our African Geese go broody quite often during the nesting season, we have yet to successfully help any of our girls hatch eggs on their own. We have given mostly incubated eggs to some of our females just so they could hatch something and finally get off of the nest, but they have a very hard time setting eggs from start to finish.
It is not a question of perseverance, as our girls will stay on the nest to the detriment of their own health if we do not intervene. Instead, it is a combination of the choice of nesting spots and the girls' own relative weight that seems to cause the biggest problems. Here on our hill in NE Oklahoma, we have incredibly rocky, dry ground. The geese make a shallow nest, usually in the dry dirt, and line it with their own feathers. These shallow nests on hard ground make for crushed eggs after 28 days of heavy goose mama on top of them. Moving the nests are out of the question as, unlike our chickens, geese do not tolerate being moved or having their nests moved when setting.
We hope to encourage the girls to choose better (softer) nesting areas in future seasons, but in the meantime we must incubate their eggs ourselves.
It took us a while to perfect our goose egg incubation technique -- as they take longer and are more sensitive to slight variations than chicken eggs -- but we now boast a 92% average hatch rate on our fertile African Goose eggs.
First, we select eggs that are larger than 4 ounces, but no more than 7 ounces in weight - with a hard preference for egg weights that fall right in the middle of that range. Eggs must be relatively clean from the start as we do not wash our eggs before incubating. We also select eggs with optimal shape (rounded on both ends.. no ridges or bumps) and smooth shells. We candle the eggs to check for hairline cracks and porosity.
Eggs are held for incubation for no more than 7 days and stored at room temperature. Stored eggs are turned 180 degrees daily.
The incubator is preheated to 99.5 degrees and a relative humidity of 48% is maintained for 24 hours before transferring eggs to the incubator. Eggs are marked on each side for turning and placed in the incubator hatching tray on their sides. Eggs are left in the incubator without turning for the first 24 hours.
At the end of 24 hours, turning begins. Eggs are hand turned by flipping 180 degrees three times per day. Optimally, this turning would take place every eight hours - however, since we sleep at night, we turn the eggs first thing in the morning, late afternoon, and just before bed each day.
After seven days have passed, we begin misting and cooling the eggs once per day. We usually choose to do this during one of the thrice daily turning sessions. The egg tray is either removed from the incubator (if we have other eggs in the incubator at the time) or we leave the door to the incubator open for 10 minutes -- long enough for the eggs to start to cool off from incubator temperatures. At the end of 10 minutes, we use a spray bottle filled with warm water (it helps to keep the spray bottle in the incubator if you can) to mist the eggs before returning them to the incubator and closing the incubator door.
We continue this daily routine through the end of Day 24 of incubation, at which point the eggs enter lockdown. During lockdown we stop turning and misting the eggs and make no adjustments to the temperature or humidity of the incubator. We usually get our first pips exactly 24 hours after lockdown began and the hatch is complete within 72 hours. We transfer goslings to the brooder as they dry. Opening the incubator during gosling hatches does not seem to affect hatching goslings nearly as much as it would affect hatching chickens - and, in our experience, the sooner the goslings have cool water to drink the stronger they are down the line.
For more information: Check out our blog and click on the "Geese" category in the sidebar. If you have any questions or think there is something else that should be added here, please contact us and let us know! In the meantime, enjoy your geese.