Geese are great multi-purpose birds that belong on every homestead. They will mow down the grass and weeds in your pasture just like your mower, and they are a great second watchdog to protect your chicken and ducks. They will become the guardians of your property, weed your strawberries, and provide you with meat, eggs, fat, down, and feathers. Geese…we love ’em!
Geese are amazingly intelligent animals. If raised the right way they will become friends for life. From a young age they bond with you and will follow you around like a puppy dog. Here’s a few reasons why you should add geese to your homestead:
- They are funny, curious, inquisitive, loyal creatures.
- Geese make great alarms and protectors.
- They are low maintenance farm animals.
- The majority of their diet comes from grass.
We added two American Buff goslings, a heritage breed that is critically endangered, to our menagerie. We hope to raise and breed them so we can help to preserve this wonderful breed.
So what do you need to know to get started with your own gaggle of geese? In this blog we will look at:
- What are the different breeds to choose from?
- How do I feed and house them?
- What are the pros and cons to raising geese?
- What health issues and/or predators should I be aware of?
1. What are the different breeds to choose from?
There are nearly a dozen different breeds of geese that could be raised on a homestead. Some are better candidates than others, and the following list will help you to see the benefits and/or negatives of each breed.
- American Buff is a calm and docile goose breed. They are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. This breed has been raised for meat as well as for their valuable down feathers.
- African Geese are known for being quite a large breed of goose. They can easily be identified by the knobs are their head. This breed has been raised for “watch dogs” and meat.
- Chinese geese can be quite noisy and considered to some to be a more aggressive breed. They are often raised for “watch dogs,” meat, also for their excellent egg laying skills.
- Cotton Patch Geese is a very rare breed known for their excellent temperament as well being sex linked. Cotton Patch geese are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Also Cotton Patch Geese, unlike most domesticated geese, can fly.
- Embden Geese are a heavy goose breed often raised for meat. They have been used as “watch dogs.” This breed is also raised for its down.
- Pilgrim Geese are a docile breed also listed as critical by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Some are raised for meat birds. They can lay approximately 35-45 eggs every year.
- Pomeranian Geese are a breed with beautiful plumage. This breed is often shown at poultry shows. They lay approximately 15-35 eggs every year. They are listed Critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
- Tufted Roman Geese are a breed known for the tufts of their heads. They are an ornamental breed, and lay approximately 25-35 eggs a year. They are listed as critical by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
- Sebastopol Geese are breed known for their curly feathers. This breed has developed into many different color morphs. White, Lavender, Saddleback, Gray are a few of the known colors. This breed is listed as threatened by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
- Shetland Geese are small and known for their superior foraging skills. This breed is quite rare and is listed as critical by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
- Toulouse Geese are a large grey goose breed. This birds are often raised as meat birds.
2. How do I feed and house them?
Goslings should have feed and drinking water when they are started under the brooder. Use waterers the birds can’t get into to prevent losses from chilling. Waterers should be wide and deep enough for the bird to dip both bill and head. However, it should not be large enough that they could get their whole body into it while they are goslings. They could become chilled and possibly die. Whatever container you use, be aware that the playful hatchlings will splash a great deal of water out over their litter, which you will need to take up and replace with fresh, dry litter daily.
You can feed your goslings on a crumbled or pelted chick starter. Keep feed available for the birds at all times, and provide insoluble grit. When your geese mature, they become excellent foragers, and will get almost all of their feed form your succulent pasture or lawn clippings. Geese are somewhat fussy eaters, and will reject alfalfa and narrow-leaved tough grasses, choosing to select clovers, bluegrass, orchard grass, and bromegrass. An acre of pasture will support 20-40 birds. Be sure the pasture and greed feed have not been treated with any chemicals that may be harmful to the birds.
You can brood your goslings in the same brooder where you have your ducklings. Make sure there is plenty of space in the brooder, and be sure some areas are warmer than others. As soon as your goslings are feathered, about 5-6 weeks, you can start letting them free range in the pasture during nice days, returning them to shelter at night. Once they are past the need for the brooder, they can be left in the pasture continually. The best way to keep them confined and protected is by using electronet fencing.
When colder weather arrives, they will need a shelter that is dry and provides protection from the wind. Geese are cold-hardy birds, and they love to be outside in the summer rains. Use a deep, organic litter such as pine shavings in their winter shelter, and be sure you spade it over and fluff it up often.
3. What are the pros and cons to raising geese?
As with any barnyard animal, there are both positives and negatives to raising geese. Here is a quick overview of some of the major pros and cons to raising geese.
- They are prolific grazers, and will help to keep your pasture clean and free of weeds.
- Because they eat mainly from the pasture, it doesn’t cost much to feed them once they are grown.
- They produce down that can be used for quilted clothing, bedding, and pillows.
- If you choose a heritage breed on the “critical” list, you are helping to ensure their continued survival.
- Heritage breeds mate naturally, and still retain their instinct to set eggs. Thus they increase their numbers without additional cost to you.
- They lay enormous, delicious eggs.
- They can be used to get rid of emerging weeds from your garden since they prefer new shoots of plants to mature existing ones.
- They are great guardians. They sound the alarm when strangers approach, and stand their guard against small predators.
- There is a start-up cost to getting started with your goslings.
- They can be noisy. Your neighbors will know you have them.
- They can be aggressive, especially breeds like the Chinese. They are possibly not safe around small children.
- They take up more space than ducks if enclosed. You probably will not be able to use your chicken tractors to move them around as young adolescents.
- They produce lots of messy droppings. They produce a LOT of green poo. That’s not a problem in your pasture, but if you allow them in your yard or on your porch, it is a problem.
- They are insatiably curious and nibble everything. Having them around the house is NOT the way to do.
- Since the eggs are so large, they are harder to use in baking. One goose egg will make an entire omelet. They also only lay eggs a few months a year.
4. What health issues and/or predators should I be aware of?
If you have a reason to catch an adult goose, you need to remember that it must be handled carefully to avoid broken or dislocated joints. First corner it, then put one hand around the neck near the body, holding firmly. Put the other hand on the back of the goose, over the wings. Let go of the neck and slide your hand, palm side up, under the breast and abdomen to support the bird’s body.
Avian influenza (AI) is a disease in domestic poultry, including geese. Waterfowl are natural hosts for the virus and will shed the virus into their environment without showing any signs of illness. To reduce the risk to your geese, follow these steps:
- Keep your pasture flock isolated from wild geese in your area.
- Don’t use pond or stream water to provide drinking water unless the water is filtered.
- Keep food bins covered, and store feed in a location not accessible to wildlife and birds.
- Do not feed wild birds.
- Provide shelter that could be used to confine the birds due to a disease outbreak.
- Be lean, wear clean clothing to check on your flock.
- Limit access for visitors. Don’t allow individual who have poultry to visit your flocks.
Geese are at risk from predators, including comparatively small ones like mink or foxes, and they need protection, particularly at night when they must be shut up safely from dusk until the morning every day. During the day, predator-proof fencing may be needed around an orchard in some areas. If they have access to natural water, watch out for water-based predators, including mink.
Given a proper diet, good care and protection from marauders, geese can live well into their teens and even their 20s, depending on the breed. Fresh, absorbent bedding in shelters, roost and nest sites will help your birds’ feathers stay clean and healthy. They are guaranteed to bring you lots of pleasure with their antics, and you will soon appreciate their mowing and guarding characteristics.