This is part 3 in our blog series on raising geese. In this segment I am going to try to cover some of the most frequently asked questions regarding ownership of geese, terminology used for raising geese, and how to get prepared to buy your first geese!
Lets start with the important TERMINOLOGY first, after all, you want to be able to 'talk goose' and understand what other folks are talking about with you when you are shopping for your first geese!
Goose--FEMALE (also sometimes used to describe a single male; however this is not the proper 'scientific' use of this term, .but whose counting...). Females are also NOT called 'HENS.'
Gosling-- Baby/ offspring of any sex (Goose or Gander)
Gaggle-- A group of geese on the ground (not in flight)
Wedge-- A group of geese in the 'V' flight pattern (usually seen during wild migration of geese)
Geese-- Plural of either sex (a group of ganders or goose are called 'Geese')
Clutch-- A number of eggs in the nest
Brood (y) -- A batch goslings. Offspring, or a term used to describe a female's desire to raise young.
Set (setting) -- when a female goose has stopped laying and has begun to 'sit' and incubate eggs.
Vent-- The proper 'rear end'-- or 'anus'
Vent Sexing-- A process used by breeders to 'check' for male or female sexual organs in the vent.
Bill-- the 'beak' or mouth
Knob-- Fatty protrusion on the head of chinese and african geese.
Lobe-- the fatty 'saggy' deposits on the body of geese. Chinese are 'single lobed' but Sebastopols are 'double lobed.'
Now that we understand some of the basic terminology used when we are raising geese, lets move on to the FAQ section.
1) What do Geese Eat?
Geese are grass grazers! Contrary to 'popular belief' geese and most poultry/waterfowl should NEVER be fed a diet that consists primarily of corn/scratch. The diet your geese receive should be very similar to that of sheep, cattle, or any other 'grazing' species. Allowing your geese to graze on your lawn, over grown garden space, or pasture is ideal. However geese can be fed dried baled feeds. Timothy grass, and alfalfa/orchard grass mix hay are relished by geese.
If you feed dried baled feeds, geese will need supplemental protein and vitamins. To achieve a complete diet, we recommend feeding a 16% protein layer pellet to mature geese. 18% protein should only be fed during molt, or to growing babies, but 16% works best for all ages.
Corn scratch, breads, or other high fat/carb 'treats' should be fed sparingly. Why? Geese, like chickens, store excess fat in their liver. When the fat cells become too numerous the liver stops working properly. This causes a whole host of irreversible health issues from kidney failure, sterility, liver failure, high blood pressure (leading to capillary ruptures and internal bleeding), enlarged hearts, heart attack, premature death, and the list goes on! Grain Rich feeds are NOT appropriate as a strict diet for any fowl.
*Geese should ALWAYS have free access to plenty of water when feeding either fresh or dry diets. Avoid feeding grasses with excessive amounts of dry seed heads that can get stuck in the sinus cavities of your geese!
2)Do geese need a shelter?
Yes! A simple three sided structure/dog house appropriately sized to house all of your animals should be provided. Each animal should be able to sit stand and turn in their shelter--a 2x3 foot space for each adult bird is a good starting point!
Just because the geese have a shelter doesn't mean they will always stay in it. They will only use it for nesting, getting out of the wind, or take a break from the weather when they need it. Geese are waterproof, and have the best down coats of any animal on the planet, so don't be shocked if they are 'singing in the rain' and appearing to ignore your brand new shelter; just because they don't rely on a shelter as much as other birds doesn't mean they don't need it! So be kind, and give your goose a place to take a break!
3) Why are geese always sold in pairs? Do I REALLY need another bird, or can I just have one?
Geese are sold in sexed pairs, usually. Geese have very complex social lives, and need the companionship of other geese. Geese kept alone can become aggressive, or bond so closely with their human they may not 'function' in a flock if every they are introduced.
Females love to have a male companion and visa versa. They form life-long mating relationships, and while a gander may accept another goose. The goose may not accept another gander as a mate. Some will never accept another gander--even after their mate dies!
Ganders are flock protectors, and will protect the goose while she nests. This relieves stress on the females, and gives them a sense of security, though the human may not like how their gander 'deals' with them. But they do serve a purpose. We strongly recommend keeping geese together with other geese to fulfill their need to have a familiar companion--even if you don't want a gander.
4) Are all Ganders really that aggressive?
No. Aggression varies from individual to individual. HOWEVER, teasing, prodding, chasing, rough handling, over-handling, quick erratic movements, screaming, shouting, pushing, and throwing things at your geese will make them very untrusting of humans and almost certainly guarantee your gander will be un-manageable!
In addition to this, geese are not like goldfish. They REMEMBER every bad experience with their humans. If you, your children, house guests, neighbors, or any unruly human causes your geese physical or mental harm they will rember who did it!
There are MANY stories of geese getting chased by grand children, the children grew up and came back to visit their grandparents (who still had the geese) the geese recognized the grown children and attacked them! Or how about the stories of friends watching the house for a family on vacation, then when the friend was invited to the house was 'attacked' by the geese who remembered the friend (even when dressed differently) because he had kicked the gander for defending the nest.
To sum things up-- your (or someone else's') behavior has just as big of a role to play in the aggression level of your gander as does the individual personality of the gander himself.
5) Why is my friendly gander suddenly Aggressive!?
Defensive/aggressive behavior in ganders is not uncommon, and should be expected once your goose is setting on a clutch of eggs in the nest. Remember he is the family protector! To help us humans work around the gander, we recommend having a isolation pen ready once breeding season comes to a close to keep your gander from hurting you, or someone else.
NEVER beat your gander, kick him, or charge him. This will only affirm in his mind that you are the threat he perceived! Instead, if he charges you--grab his head and push it down to the ground. Hold it there if necessary. This forces him into a submissive position. If he persists, after grabbing his head, take hold of the feathers between his wings on his back-- when fighting the gander that gets this 'sweet spot' gains the upper hand. And push/hold him down.
If your 'Hulk' gander is not humbled after a few sessions. A 'gander -tamer' is a non-violent approach when not used to harass your birds. It is a stick, with a cloth tied to the end of it. The 'floating' cloth is the most terrifying thing on the face of the planet to a duck, goose, or chicken, and is very useful for herding your birds.. Use your "gander-taming wand" to drive him away from people. And preferably into an isolation pen.
Isolation pens should be in full sight of the other geese, so your gander still feels like he is part of the flock. And should only be used during the peak 'hormonal' period (April-May) . It is NOT a permanent pen! After Mr. hormones settles down, and the goslings are of a good size he should be allowed to go back to his family.
6) When do geese start breeding?
Geese reach full sexual maturity at 2 years of age. Once mature, breeding season begins in late February/March--and runs to about June/July.
7) How many eggs can a goose lay?
Every breed is different, 6-10 eggs in a season is common for most breeds. With 20-40 being the maximum seen by light breeds like the Chinese.
8) How long does a goose set on her eggs before they hatch?
It takes approximately 65 days for an egg to hatch, so depending on how many eggs were laid you may expect goslings within 65-78 days.
9) How fast do babies grow?
Geese grow FAST, they are 2/3 their adult size within 4 weeks, by 8 weeks (2 months) they can be butchered if desired. We like to wait for our geese to be at least 4-5 months old before slaughter, and fatten butcher animals on corn one month prior to butchering.
10) Are geese safe for Children?
In general I would say NO. Any animal that is at, a little below, or a little higher than eye level to geese may be at risk of getting harassed. Geese have teeth on the side of their Bills for cutting grass, and if they get a hold of tender skin they can inflict serious bruises and injury.. not to mention the terrifying experience of being attacked by a giant hissing bird. If you have geese and children, keep them separated. This way the geese do not develop a habit of chasing children, and children do not grow up hating the 'evil geese.'
11) What does goose taste like?
Some people think goose is very greasy. But since we primarily raised chinese geese (single lobed geese) the meat was not greasy at all. The carcass of our 12lb gander was enough for 8 people to have a serving on the side of their dinner plates, and was very much like the dark meat of a turkey. Everyone enjoyed it!
Homegrown meat is NOT like the meat at the store. The carcasses are more lean, so you will not feed as many people as you would with an equivalent weight bird you would purchase. Why? Because homegrown animals are not genetically manipulated, or selectively bred to put on gross amounts of muscle. The meat at home is leaner, less fattening, has higher mineral content, tastier, and comes from happy animals that got to naturally browse and see the light of day!
12) Can you eat goose eggs?
Yes! Ever have a 6 egg omelet come out of one single egg? Probably not-- but that's about what you will get when you crack open a goose egg. Like duck eggs, the whites are the very best for baking and making meringues!
13) Will geese protect my chickens from hawks?
Protect is such a strong word... The presence of a goose in the yard may deter a hawk because they will not feel comfortable coming down in a yard with such a large bird present. But geese are better alarms than avid fighters. Even so, hawks or other predators, may still prey on your poultry with/with out a goose.
14) Do geese really eat weeds? Mine don't seem to like them!
Geese will only eat what they learned was food as babies. Teaching them to eat new things can take weeks or months! Also, some weeds are poisonous to poultry in large enough doses, so make sure you are not offering your birds weeds that might actually be making them sick.
15) What geese are good for beginners?
Our favorite breeds have been American Buffs, Sebastopols, Pilgrims, and Chinese. Americans tend to be the most calm, but any breed that you are drawn to should work. Not everyone has the same taste, or wants the same things from their birds. What works for one person may not be the ideal breed for you.
16) What is a good price for a Pair of Geese? Goslings?
Pricing is always subjective. It really depends on your area and who/where you are getting your birds from. Hatcheries will give you a good idea of what to expect for a pair, or single unsexed gosling of any breed that is 'utility quality.' $20-$66 per UTILITY quality gosling is normal from any hatchery.
Show quality babies from private breeders (often better suited for homesteading and meat/eggs) are going to demand a higher price. $30-$100 per gosling is normal in most cases.
Adults SHOULD cost more than the babies since the cost of feed needs to be factored in. Generally, you should expect to pay 50% more for an adult than a gosling. Less if who ever is selling the birds wants them gone!
17) Can geese live with my chickens? Ducks?
Our geese are housed separately from other waterfowl since geese can be 'snobs' and bully the poor ducks rather badly. We have never personally raised geese with chickens, but know people who have! The geese (even when raised as babies with the chicks) are nasty to the chickens (mutilating the chickens and eating feathers, dirtying water, hogging food..). So I would say NO.
Waterfowl are also carriers of some nasty viruses/bacteria that can make your chickens very sick!
Alright, now that we covered some of the 'basics' lets go over some of the things you will need before you get your first geese!
Do you have a brooder for your babies? A large plastic container will work for a few weeks to keep your babies warm indoors, but they will out grow almost any container pretty quick! You will need a cage, horse trough, or other very large well insulated 'housing' option for your babies as they continue to grow. Do not put heat lamps too close to the bedding-- remember geese have necks! They can reach up and get burned by lights that are too low.
Wheat grass (fresh sprouted at home, or from the pet store) will give your babies the greens they need to get started. Fresh shredded zucchini, chopped clover, and alfalfa sprouts are also good options for babies. Never feed waterfowl medicated chick feed! Geese and ducks are sensitive to most common poultry medications, and feeding your babies medicated feed can/will kill them!
Make sure you have a well fenced area prepared for your geese, so they can get to know your property before you let them out in the rest of your yard. Fences also make great neighbors, and will keep your animals at home-- domestic geese are not migratory, but if they can walk there--they will go there!
5 gallon buckets work great for watering adult geese. Also hanging poultry watering feeders that the geese cannot crawl into work well to keep water from getting soiled.
Geese need baths in a small pool or cement mixing pan at least once a week for keeping their feathers in top condition. Baths make happy geese, and happy bathing geese are fun for the owners to watch too!
Do you have a secure three sided shelter? Feeding dish? Grass hay--16% layer pellets?
When getting adults understand MOST PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW GEESE ARE GRAZERS despite all the information on geese, publications, and informative web sites. So your new geese may not have EVER had grass or hay! They will need to be taught to eat their natural diet. Give them a flake of hay and pour their pelleted feed on top. As the pellets are eaten some will fall into the grass. The geese will dig for them, and in the process sample some of the grass hay/ feed. Over the course of two weeks reduce the amount of pelleted feed to encourage them to eat their grass feed.
We feed 2qts of pelleted feed for every 4 adult chinese geese. The rest of their diet is grass they graze, and hay they are fed. When switching geese from a prepared diet, they may need as much as 1qt per bird. More if they are a larger breed. If food is left over till morning they are being over fed. Always have grass freely available for your geese so they can graze, and not 'starve' waiting for their protein rations.
Make a 'gander tamer'. If your geese get out of their pen, or are getting into things they shouldn't, your gander tamer will help you get them back without chasing them/ stressing them out too much.
Last but not least.....
Ear plugs...and a Sign Language book--- Okay, not a real thing you would need, but your spouse or your neighbor might appreciate the gesture!
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