Nothing seems more picturesque than walking out of your house on a cool misty morning to feed your livestock and to be greeted by a few geese and ducks next to your very own little pond.
Sadly however, most people's 'farm dreams' get shattered as soon as that sleek 'gaggle' of elegant geese greet their coffee-deprived owner with their signature boisterously-loud, and non-stop-ear drum-piercing-fine-tuned-choir--HONK! Which is soon followed by bullying and feather plucking the ducks. Then, as you tepidly enter the yard, along comes the dreaded- charging-hissing gander. Some where between the honking, hissing, and bullying we stop and ask ourselves "Why did we get geese?!", "Are ALL geese like this?"
This is Post 1 in a small series that is intended to help give potential 'New' owners a realistic perspective on what it is like to own geese, challenges we have faced, how we over came those challenges, and some basic behavioral information you will need to know if you are considering owning geese.
Before we get too far, there is some information that we need to understand on a 'surface level'. And it all starts with the History of Domesticated geese:
Some of the earliest records of geese being used on farms as domestic livestock can be found in ancient Egypt, Rome, and even China. Early written records from these time periods indicate that geese were primarily raised on pasture (like other grazing livestock), used for weed/grass control in vinyards, orchards, rice paddies, and even around small private gardens. Geese then were a prime source of meat, eggs, and feathers. The meat was a delicacy on the tables of Kings, so the common farmer raising them never relied on them for his own family (too expensive!).
Today, geese are seen strolling in parks, living at zoos, and enjoying 'farm life' in the back yards of many people across the globe. Many of the geese today, especially those in China, are still waddling in their ancestors foot steps as weed control in rice fields. In the US however, geese are more of a novelty 'pet' than an industrious army of lawn mowers. Because of this we (as Americans) have somewhat lost sight of the purpose for having geese--and this is where our relationship with these animals tends to fall apart.
Geese, while having been 'domesticated' for thousands of years, have NEVER been 'domesticated' as pets. Some may develop a strong bond with their owners, but this should not be the 'rule' or 'expectation.' More often than not, geese prefer to be in the company of other geese, and may 'settle' (with a grudge) for a group of ducks, chickens, or even people. And because geese have lost their ability to migrate after being domesticated, we are lulled into thinking that they have also some how lost other natural behaviors as well-- this is not true! And the fact that they HAVE retained these instincts is where new owners can get off on the wrong foot.
Having unrealistic expections (or expectations that are too high) for your animals is where we often go wrong FIRST. Most people living in the 90's have seen the movie 'Fly Away Home.' And after watching that movie were left with the impression that geese are feathered dogs. And that they have the full awarness and understanding of events that human beings have- they DO NOT.
Changing our Lense:::
Life in the perspective of a goose is very different than the way we as human beings see/experience it. For instance, a human being can be taught that we are not to murder-- extreme bullying to the point your victim commits suicide can be ruled as murder. And you being a human can feel remorse for causing the death of another human being. A goose on the other hand, may kill a chicken, duck, or gosling and never feel remorse. In fact, they would almost gladly do it again! Why?
Life and Death, or what constitutes a life or death situation is different for an animal than it is for a human. As humans we are tempted to fight, or become willing to kill when our lives are at risk. A risk to a human life can be anything from a bank robber with a gun, an aggressive dog trying to steal a child, or other 'life threatening' situation. Makes perfect sense right? BUT, to an animal a life or death situation extends BEYOND the immediate risk to ones own life.
A life or death situation for an animal includes having to compete for food or water. Without food or water they will have to travel to find more, and then may have to fight to protect that resource from being stollen by another competeing animal, or die trying. Life and death situations can also be nesting related. If all the best nesting spots are taken, and the animal is forced to nest in an area with more preditors, or exposure to the elements, the chances of that animals offspring survivng is negligable.
Now, to make this vivid to a human being... Imagine you are at a table and someone sets a plate of pasta in front of you to eat. But the person sitting next to you swipes your plate. As a human being this behavior is 'rude' but not a life threat. Now imagine that you are in a financial crisis. The bills are pilling up, your car has been impounded, the bank is comming to take your house, your children have been eatting nothing but rice for 2 weeks and are starving-- then someone gives you the money you need to reverse all this calamity.
It makes you feel pretty good. But on your way to pay everything you owe, and get your life back together, here comes a man with a knife that wants to rob you. Everyone will have a different reaction to this scenario, but each of us will have a choice to make. Will you give up the money so your children can starve and your house can be taken away? Or are you tempted to fight in order to protect 'your life?'
For a goose that 'man with a knife' is another goose, a duck, or any other animal 'competeing' for the same resources that it needs to survive. The kind person who gave you the money to get your life together is the food cup its owner pours out on the ground.
We humans have a hard time understanding why our animals display certain behaviors because we are not on their level, and do not have the same 'lense' to veiw the world through. Animals get anxiety ( the flight or fight response) from situations that cause them to feel 'at risk' of loosing a valuable resource-- ever have a dog that would bite you if you tried to take away his food or toys??? What you know the dog can have again at another time, the dog only persieves he can have at that particular moment. The same applies to all other animals--especially our favorite barnyard birds, who can be very territorial over their pens, coops, food/water stations, and nesting sites.
What to Expect from your Pet Geese:
Geese, when properly cared for, are one of the most long lived domestic barn yard fowl. A healthy goose can be expected to live anywhere between 20-50 years!
Also, because of their life expectancy, geese do not reach full sexual maturity until they are at least 1.5-2 years old. Unlike, chickens and ducks that are mature and breedable by 6-8 months old, and only live for 10-12 years.
Geese form strong bonds with their mates, offspring, and fellow geese in their flock. A pair of geese can be expected to mate for life. While a gander may accept haveing 2-3 females, unless the gander dies (or is taken far out of visual and audio range), the females will not usually accept having different gander as a mate!
Offspring raised by their natural mothers will continue to follow their parents around even as adults. This can be somewhat problematic, because unless male offspring are removed and bonded with another female they may mate with their mothers. And unless female offspring are removed and bonded with another gander they may mate with their father.
Some females will share nesting sites wth other female geese they were raised with. However, reports of females destroying other females nests and eggs are not uncommon either! You may not even know it is happening, because the competeing female will usually lay her own eggs in place of the ones she destroyed!
Ganders (and sometimes even the Goose), can become especially protective/aggressive toward the middle-end of the breeding season. Childeren, elderly, visitors to your home, and people in general who do not 'belong' in the goose pen should not enter! Gloves, denim jeans, tall boots, and long shirts are advised--proper attire for entering the pen with a hormonal gander.
Geese do bite! Anything with a mouth can bite, but geese have sharp 'teeth' on the side of their bill that are used for slicing blades of grass like scissors. If they get enough of a mouthful, they can also use these teeth to bite delicate human skin. Their nails are also surprisingly sharp. And their wings are solid bone and muscle that can seriously injure a person.
Any animal below, at, or slightly above eye-level of the goose/gander is measured up as a potential target for aggression, bullying, or even as a competeing threat. Children under the age of 10 should be supervised at all times around geese, and should never be allowed to 'chase' the geese.
Geese have a LONG memory. They remember to the day they die a good or bad experience. If they are over stimulated with handleing, handled improperly, harassed, chased, or attacked (even if they started it), they will remember that event, and to an extent hold a grudge! They will either not trust their human owner, attack the owner percieving that you are now a threat, or take revenge when your back is turned. Geese are far from being 'stupid'... they just prefer to be aloof.
Ducks or Chickens housed with geese should be given a VERY large open space where each of the groups of animals can have their own personal space. There should be multiple feeding stations available, as well as hanging water containers to keep the waterfowl OUT of water buckets. Geese and ducks can't help but contaminate water with muddy feet, muddy bills, and poop (which can harbor some organisims and bacterial diseases harmful to chickens and turkeys).
If geese are housed seperately from other fowl (strongly advised) we have found it helpful to have a seperate 'isolation pen' sharing a fence line with the main pen. This smaller isolation pen is intended for the gander once he starts having fantasies that he is 'The Hulk'. He can still see and visit with his girls, but when we enter to perform maintenance on the main pen we (the humans) are not having to wrestle/box with the gander just to clean a water bucket!
Geese have a short breeding season, and do not usually lay eggs outside of this time frame (they are not chickens that are aseasonal--year round breeders). Breeding season begins around February, and ends early June. A single goose, depending on her age, health, and breed, may lay anywhere between 10-60 eggs a year.
Eggs will not be fertile without a gander. And while some breeds are exceptional at setting on their eggs and raising their own young... other breeds are not so skilled as mothers, and some even have fertility issues.
Geese, no matter which breed, dont like to be left out of human conversation. They constantly chatter, Honk, and 'squeel' as if they have something MORE important to say. Do not expect to hold a conversation over a goose!
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