Geese make a delightful addition to any farm operation. They offer entertainment, guardianship, meat, eggs and more. If you’ve decided a flock is in your future, be sure you are ready for your first goslings.
Food and water
When goslings first arrive, either from a hatchery or local farm, they will need immediate access to food and fresh water. Goslings need their food soaked in water in order to swallow the meal. They need water to wash dry feed down, and it’s pretty entertaining to watch a gosling fill their mouth with feed, waddle to the water for a drink, then wattle back to the feed for another mouthful. Most farm supply stores offer feed specific for waterfowl chicks, but if you already have chick starter, you can feed them this with the addition of brewer’s yeast to help prevent any growth. Feed at a ratio of 3 pounds of yeast to a 25-pound bag of feed.
In addition to the moistened feed or dry feed, goslings also obviously need a source of fresh water for drinking. Goose nostrils tend to clog if they do not have the ability to fully submerse their beaks in water, so be sure their water bowl is deep enough for them to dip their beaks into. Do not give them so much water that they try to swim. Chick waterers usually offer plenty of depth for submersion without the extra space for splashing. Water must be checked and cleaned regularly – once or twice daily – to prevent contamination from droppings.
Goslings love swimming, but until they are at least a couple of weeks old, they should not be allowed to swim. In the wild, a mother goose will dry off and warm a damp gosling. In a brooder, they have no such protection and can become ill if they get soaked in water. A wet gosling can be dried with a towel, but it’s best to remove the option of swimming entirely. Once they are a couple of weeks old, you can introduce them to a pond or a tub for bathing, and they will splash and swim with delight.
As with any baby bird, a gosling’s brooder needs to be warm and dry. Shavings make ideal bedding, but you can also use hay or straw. Geese are notoriously messy, especially as youngsters, and any bedding will need to be changed frequently. Bedding usually lasts a few days with new goslings, but as they grow they’ll need fresh shavings daily.
New goslings need a secure space with about a half square foot per bird. Within just a few weeks, they will need at least double that space. If possible, block off a small portion of a brooder box or livestock stall, and slowly move the partition out as the geese grow.
Use a brooder heat lamp to maintain a constant temperature in the brooder. In their first few days of life, geese require a temperature of around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You can decrease the brooder temperature by 5 degrees per week, and by the sixth week, goslings should no longer need any artificial heating method.
Bringing up baby
Check on and monitor your goslings regularly to make sure they are happy. If you hear a lot of distressed peeping, they may be cold or not have enough food. Regularly visiting with your new birds also increases the chance they will bond with you.
Imprinting is a behavioral trait unique to waterfowl and some land fowl species. When raised by hand, goslings come to identify the person who feeds and cares for them as their parent, and they remain attached to that person for the rest of their lives. Not only will they not show aggression, but they will follow their imprinted parent around, honk to be picked up, and generally behave more like a house pet than a farmyard animal.
If that is your desired relationship with your birds, be sure to spend plenty of time with your goslings to forge this special friendship with them. If your goal is to raise a flock that will stick around the barnyard, the daily feeding and watering will accomplish this.
Before bringing your geese home, spend some time researching the various breeds. Choose breeds appropriate for your operation, and choose a number you can manage. In order to avoid fighting within the flock, limit yourself to one male for every three female geese.
If you have close neighbors or small children, take this into consideration when looking at temperament. Certain breeds, such as Chinese and African geese, are especially loud and can be aggressive, whereas Pilgrim and Embden geese are known for their docile attitudes. Depending on your goals, also consider egg production, meat production and foraging ability to ensure you get what you want out of your flock.
Brooder to coop
Your goslings are ready to move outdoors full time when they are about 8 weeks old. You can ease them into outside life by letting them out during the day at first, and bringing them back to their brooder at night.
Outdoors they will stick close to home and the people with whom they have bonded. For security, they should be fenced in, with a low, solid fence to keep them from wandering off, and they should be monitored to make sure they are safe. Even inside their brooder you can delight your goslings by bringing them special treats of fresh greens from your lawn or garden. Geese have a never-ending appetite for vegetation, and a group of 10 or 12 geese can keep up to an acre of field neatly trimmed.
Adult geese require nightly shelter to be safe from predators, but they can free range during the day. They will thrive with access to fresh greens and open water, although they do not require either. A healthy adult goose needs at least a few square yards for their outdoor pen, and they also need constant access to food.
If you do not have pasture space for them, supplement their diet with hay or lawn clippings. They should have water deep enough to bathe themselves, and a separate water source for dunking their beaks and drinking. Their night enclosure should have at least 10 square feet per bird, and should have protection from the elements. Bedding, such as straw or shavings, should be provided.
If you have other poultry, your geese may try bullying them. Chickens or ducks kept with geese should have a large enough run that they can get away from an ornery goose. Trouble can often be avoided by making sure your geese are amused with enough food, hay or grass to forage, and plenty of swimming space. Because geese are quite intelligent, a lot of their misbehavior may stem from boredom. Allowing them to free range, or kept in a large run, geese make excellent guard animals for other poultry, effectively scaring off many smaller predators – and it keeps them busy.
Good goose health
Geese and goslings are hardy birds, but they can be vulnerable to various health issues. Making sure they have a full diet of goose crumble and fresh greens, along with access to fresh water, will help keep them in good health. As with all birds, it is best to quarantine new fowl and keep wild birds away when possible.
Geese react poorly to stress and should be kept in an area where a routine is maintained. The most common goose illnesses are caused by an unbalanced diet, and can be avoided with free access to wheat, grass and feed pellets. With plenty of water, geese can tolerate hot summer temperatures. Most breeds do not mind cold winters (they have top-notch insulation), though the crested varieties of geese – African and Chinese – can suffer frostbite on their prominent knobs.
Once your goslings have moved outside and are growing their adult feathers, you can start to really enjoy the benefits of geese on your farm. A gaggle of geese will keep your lawn trimmed and will alert you any time a stranger approaches. Some owners pasture their geese for the summer, and harvest them for meat and down in the fall. Geese kept for eggs will lay large, nutritious eggs from April through September.
No matter the reasons for adding geese to your farmyard, they’re sure to provide an abundance of practical benefits, as well as delightful companionship and plenty of amusement.
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is a freelance writer and farmer from Liberty, Maine. She is currently restoring a 200-year-old barn and farmhouse. She enjoys tending her geese, chickens and goats. She maintains Hostile Valley Living, and hopes to help others learn about self-reliance and simple living.