How to Raise and Care for Geese
My gaggle of Embden Geese
First of all...
What's a goose?
Well, a goose is not a duck. Unlike ducks, geese are strict vegetarians, so you won’t catch them fishing in your pond or creek, and unfortunately they won’t help keep bugs out of your garden. Geese are waterfowl, and as such they absolutely love water – it’s their favorite thing.
There are three “families” of geese: The grey goose (all domesticated geese, no matter the color, fall into this category), the black goose (such as the Canadian Goose), and the white goose (other wild geese, such as the Snow Goose and Ross’s Goose, barely distinct from the grey goose family).
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be discussing domesticated geese. These geese don’t migrate, so if you decide to keep some as pets they will make your home their own.
Pictures of my Embden GeeseClick thumbnail to view full-size
Raising and caring for geese
Raising and caring for geese may be easier than you think. Baby goslings require less heat and time in the brooder than baby chickens do. Some breeds, like the Embden, feather out quickly and grow very rapidly, so your time as "mother goose" is relatively short lived.
If you're planning to get some geese, you should consider the following things:
- You need a brooder, at least temporarily. This can be anything from a well-ventilated box to a dog crate with a brooder lamp attached.
- Incidentally, you need a brooder lamp. These should be available anywhere where livestock or horse feed is sold.
- Baby geese eat a lot. For eight goslings, I was replacing their feed three times daily. DO NOT feed medicated chick starter to goslings - they don't need the medication (which is a coccidiostat important for baby chicks), and in fact it can be harmful, even deadly, to them. Use a duck/goose grower or a non-medicated chick starter instead.
- Water-water-water... Geese love water, and goslings need a constant supply of it. Until your little geese are at least a week old, you should use a waterer that is only large enough for them to get their bills in. As the goslings age, you can introduce them to water slowly. Use a small pan and let them play in it for 15 minutes at a time. Remove the pan, dry them off, and make sure they get under the heat lamp. Until they develop their oil glands, getting wet and cold can actually kill your goslings. (Tip: Teaching them to swim in the bathtub is tons of fun for the goslings and for you... not that I've done that, of course.)
- Get your little geese out on the grass as early as possible, but not in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Let them play in the sun, and keep a watch over them. I cannot recommend unattended play time for goslings that haven't feathered out yet - they are just sitting ducks (I know, I know...) for predators like hawks, foxes, dogs, and cats.
- If you have secure fencing, your geese can be outside as long as they are at least three weeks old, it's not raining, and the temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the day. I don't advise leaving them out all night to free-range until they are at least a couple months old.
- Once your geese are a couple months old, they should be able to be outside all day, have access to water they can swim in, and be given free access to lots of grass they can graze on. If you're short on grass, make sure the pelletized goose food you provide is offered free-choice. Like chickens, geese will not eat more than they should, so if your geese rely solely on you for food you shouldn't let them run out.
- You should have some sort of shelter outside for the geese to go into at night. You can use a simple three-sided structure, a lean-to, a shed, a barn, a section of your garage that you don't care much about, or even a makeshift shelter built with a tarp. To encourage the geese to use the shelter, try herding them in there for the first week or so. I got my geese interested in my little shed by placing their dog crate brooder in the shed overnight after they were two weeks old. This helped the geese figure out that they should be in the shed at night. Make sure there is fresh water available in the shelter; this will make the place more appealing to the geese.
- Once your geese are a few months old and have feathered out (grown all of their feathers and lost all of their baby down), they should be fairly independent birds. I have all sorts of predators where I live, including foxes, raccoons, coyotes, hawks and eagles, and even the occasional stray dog. I haven't lost an adult goose to a predator yet, and I don't expect to because the geese have somewhere safe to be during the night, and during the day they take pretty good care of themselves.
Geese as Pets
Geese make awesome pets, especially if you get them when they are very young. If you can, you should buy day-old goslings. These little guys and girls will imprint on you, and you’ll soon be followed around like a mother goose!
For pets, I haven’t found enough difference in temperment between female geese and ganders (males) to make a recommendation one way or the other. I think it really depends on the individual goose. A couple of my ganders are very friendly; I can approach them and pick them up. One gander is more aggressive, so I leave him be. Two of my females are sweathearts; one of them wants to bite me every time she sees me, and another is afraid of her own shadow.
I’ll say this, though: If you are planning to breed, you really only need one gander for a small gaggle.
I have four females and four ganders, and the ganders are always working out amongst themselves who’s the guy in charge. If I had it to do again, I would buy 6 females and 2 ganders, so there would be less need for constant competition.
Plants you should keep weeder geese away from
- Any small grain (as these are just grasses)
- Pole beans, squash, or anything you have trained to climb tellises; the hanging vines are too tempting for young geese to resist playing with them, and although they (probably) won't eat them they could damage your plants
- Young seedlings of any kind
Geese for your garden - "Weeder geese"
Have you ever heard of “weeder geese”? I hadn’t until this year, when I bought my eight little goslings in March and started researching how I might be able to use them here on the farm.
Geese eat mainly grass, and some clovers. Other broad-leaf weeds aren’t their favorites, but if you have a particular weed that just loves to grow in your garden, you can try introducing it to your goslings when they are very young. This may help them develop a taste for it.
Geese can be used to help you weed your garden. Some farmers even use them to weed crops that are difficult or impossible to cultivate using machinery, including cotton, herbs, and berries.
Using geese to weed your garden will take some planning and management. For instance, geese won’t damage most herbs, potatoes, onions, carrots, berries, or garlic. They will damage and eat corn plants and any small grains you might be growing; they will eat some of your lettuce and might damage your peas.
I have run my geese amidst carrots, peppers, corn, turnips, onions, poll beans, peas, hops, pumpkins, squash, melons, lettuces, rye, tomatoes, potatoes, and sunflowers. They stripped a few corn stalks and ate some lettuce, but the damage was pretty minimal.
Some people report having success using geese to weed tomatoes. My geese tore all of my young plants to shreads this year… but they didn’t actually consume them, so honestly I think the geese were just bored. I replanted the tomatoes, kept the geese away until the plants were larger, and the geese haven’t bothered them since.
Keeping the geese where you want them - whether they're mowing lawn or weeding the garden, offering water for them to play in will encourage them to stay put
Geese as lawn mowers
Because their diet consists mainly of grasses, geese can be a great help in mowing the lawn.
If you have a large lawn, you may need to use portable fence to confine the geese in different areas, so that the grass is managed properly.
Depending on how many geese you have, and how large your lawn is, you will probably still have to mow grass throughout the summer - just not as frequently, which can be a big help. Geese will also not help you with weeds like thistles and broad leaf plants.
While they cut your grass for you, geese will leave droppings behind. In their favorite places where they will like to lay down and relax, like around the water source you have provided for them, there will be more manure than in other places. If the manure becomes a problem, simply use a hose to soak it. Spraying it with a hose will spread it out and disperse it, and should prevent problems like nitrogen burn in your grass.
Geese as home security systems
My geese can be very territorial, which is typical of geese in general. When someone shows up at the farm, the geese let me know even before my dog does. Geese will holler when an intruder approaches, even if it is someone they have met already.
If a total stranger is approaching, geese will usually honk and yell at the person, and eventually, if the person doesn’t get away fast enough, the geese will charge and bite. This is especially true of ganders.
If you often have small children visiting your home, it may be a wise decision to keep your geese out of areas where the children will be. Children can be taught to deal with geese (and vice versa), but a 25-pound goose can be very intimidating to a four-year-old.
Geese make good flock protectors, as well.
I have seen a significantly reduced loss in my free-range chickens and turkeys since I added geese to my livestock managerie. For the same reasons that they make good security systems and watch dogs, geese make good flock protectors.
When Mr. Fox comes strolling along thinking he's going to get one of my chickens for dinner, the geese are there making so much noise that it's not worth his trouble. I'm not sure that geese would attempt to fight a fox or a raccoon, but they do go after my dog so anything's possible; what they definitely do is blow the predator's cover, making it more difficult for the hunt to continue.