If you are looking for a pet that is both beautiful and relatively easy to take care of, geese may be the perfect option. Geese can provide a little bit of everything: companionship, eggs, meat, fertilizer for your garden, and entertainment.
If you’re ready to commit to raising these beautiful birds in your backyard or homestead, it’s important to know how to keep and raise geese. This guide will cover all the essential aspects of choosing and caring for geese, so you can give them a happy and healthy life.
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Why do farmers keep geese?
There are so many different types of poultry that all serve different purposes, so why would you keep geese, specifically?
Geese have a variety of different uses but are most often kept for their eggs and meat. Geese also provide effective pest control and can be used as guard animals. Plus, they make great mothers and are known for their high-quality down feathers.
Goose meat is often described as tender and flavorful and can be prepared in many different ways, such as braising, roasting, or sauteing. One goose can produce up to 14 pounds of meat per bird, so they offer quite a bit compared to what most other common poultry might yield.
Goose meat is considered a delicacy in many countries, but they are not as common in the United States because they require more space. Although geese also fetch a higher price per pound of meat compared to chickens, they are less ideal for large-scale industrial farming.
However, the higher price point combined with potentially low feed costs (see the section on feeding geese) means they are often the most profitable poultry for smaller farms and homesteads. In fact, they are often the only poultry that can generate a noticeable net return on investment.
Geese eggs are about three times larger than chicken eggs; they also have a much bigger percentage of yolk, which makes great for rich, tasty omelets. Health-wise, the higher amount of yolk means a higher amount of fat and proteins compared to chicken eggs.
The egg white in goose eggs is thinner than most other eggs, especially in comparison to duck eggs which have a very thick white. This makes goose eggs less ideal for baking, as viscous egg white makes more fluffy baked goods.
In my experience, geese do not like slugs and snails, but they do love insects, and they will happily eat most weeds. A goose’s appetite is big enough that just a few birds will clear your garden of weeds and most pests without the need for gardening tools or pesticides.
The downside is that geese will also eat anything else they find, including some of your prized plants. So you will need to keep them in a place where they can’t reach your vegetable garden or flower bed.
Geese are great for guarding against intruders. This makes them stand out from most other common farm and backyard poultry, which are generally prey animals unable to defend themselves very well. They can scare off smaller predators that may otherwise attack your chickens, which is why many chicken owners keep one or two geese in the chicken run.
Geese will hiss and make themselves look genuinely scary to four or two-legged guests. They will also make a lot of noise whenever something unexpected happens, which will alert you to the presence of a predator or intruder.
Of course, they are not scary enough to stop a determined predator, like a fox or coyote, so they won’t replace your need for other forms of defense. But they can be a valuable part of an integrated approach to keeping predators away from your farm and warning you if something is amiss.
Are Geese Hard to Keep?
Geese are easy to keep compared to other livestock such as sheep, cows, and pigs. They are relatively low-maintenance creatures that mainly need food, water, and shelter.
However, geese are not the quietest creatures. They can be quite loud with their honking and babbling, which is why you might want to think about where you live and who your neighbors are before deciding if geese are for you.
Another thing that geese are known for is their aggressive nature. And, indeed, they are naturally more temperamental than most poultry, but they are not as aggressive as many people think. As long as you act in a calm manner, they will usually not feel threatened and let you go about your day.
Ganders are the most likely to attack if they feel you are encroaching on his territory or threatening his ladies. This is especially true during mating season. In which case, he will clearly indicate his displeasure by hissing and stretching his neck towards you. An angry gander can hurt a child, and an adult can get some serious bruises, so it’s important to know how to handle an angry goose.
One question that many people ask is whether geese will fly away. After all, wild geese head south in the winter, so should you keep your geese locked up during the migration seasons?
This is rarely a concern, though. Domesticated geese will not fly away from their home as long as they are well fed. In fact, most geese will not venture more than a few hundred yards from the home where they were raised and have been living for the last few months. Besides, most geese are too heavy to fly very far, and they wouldn’t know how to head south anyway.
What Do You Need to Keep Geese?
Before you get your first geese or goslings, you’ll have to buy a few supplies and prepare your yard.
You will need:
- An area of your property that is secure enough for them to free-range while still being safe.
- A shelter where they can sleep safely at night. Use hay or other soft bedding for floor and nesting materials.
- A fence around this area so people and other animals don’t get near their pasture.
- Feeders. Either hanging feeders or ground-level models where all you have to do is pour grain or pellets into it without the need for filling it every day.
- A deep water dish or similar water source.
- A large, clean water supply that is readily available to them all the time.
- Feed so they can grow big and stay healthy.
Geese are much larger and powerful than chickens. Therefore, I recommend you use more solid materials than plastic for feeders and waters. Stainless steel is affordable and easy to find.
Choosing Your Geese
When you have decided to keep geese, you will need to choose which breeds are best for your needs. Like chickens, certain breeds of geese are better for laying eggs, while others are better suited for meat. Leaner breeds produce more eggs per pound of feed, while heavier breeds are better suited for meat.
Some people keep geese for other reasons, such as pets, exhibitions, down production, or guard animals. In which case, you may prefer a breed based on those particular needs. This article provides a comprehensive guide on selecting breeds for any purpose.
How Many Geese Should I Get?
The number of geese in your flock will depend on your needs and the amount of space available. On the low end, I highly advise you to get at least two birds to keep each other company. Geese are social animals and will not fare well alone.
I suggest you start with six to ten, depending on your experience with keeping other poultry. Geese are not hard to keep, but there is a learning curve while you get used to caring for them.
For high egg production, you will need about one goose per person per year. Geese are not as prolific egg-layers as chickens, but because their eggs are much larger, you will need fewer eggs. Bear in mind that they only lay during the spring and summer, so you may want to freeze some eggs for use during the winter.
If you want to raise geese for meat for yourself and your family, then I suggest you consider how much freezer space you have. These are not small birds, and they take up a lot of room.
If you want to sell the meat, it may be worth arranging a contract with a local business that can process, store, and sell the geese for you. In which case, you can easily raise tens or even hundreds of geese once you have some experience – provided you have enough land.
How Many Square Feet Do Geese Need?
According to the Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) standards, geese need at least 20 square feet of outdoor area per bird and 5 square feet of indoor space. The pen should be minimum 18 feet by 10 feet (90 ft by 50 ft recommended).
If you plan on raising your geese on pasture, one acre can sustain about 30 geese. On one acre of land with good grass, you could keep 40 geese, but less fertile pasture may only support 20.
Many people do a combination of pasture and feed. When feeding your geese in addition to some pasture, ten birds can easily live a happy life on one-tenth of an acre or less.
How Many Geese Do You Need per Gander?
If you want to breed your own geese, you will need a gander to fertilize the eggs, and you will need the right number of geese to produce eggs.
Too few geese per gander mean you will have unfertilized eggs. Too many ganders is not a huge problem, as they don’t tend to fight much (once the pecking order is established), and overbreeding is typically not an issue. But they will take up space and eat a lot of feed without producing any eggs.
Ideally, you should have one gander per four geese. At this ratio, most of the eggs will be fertilized at the lowest feed cost. However, some ganders are monogamous. While this is mostly the case for wild geese, some domestic individuals will also choose to primarily mate with just one female.
In this case, you can either increase the number of ganders, or you can move the couple to their own pen. This way, the eggs gathered from the “lovers’ pen” are almost certainly fertilized, while eggs from the singles’ pen are for consumption.
What Are the Friendliest Geese?
The friendliest geese are those that have been treated well from the day they hatched and who see you as the protector and provider of food. Young goslings that have hatched in an incubator and imprinted on humans will usually be much friendlier to people than those raised by a mother goose.
That being said, some breeds are known to be more approachable than others:
The American Buff geese are a wonderful and rare breed of domestic livestock. This proud bird loves being around people. They are very gentle, so they make great pets for your backyard or family homestead.
They are also great dual-purpose geese, meaning you can harvest the eggs from these beautifully colored birds or roast them on the open fire – whichever you prefer.
They are also very rare, and by breeding them, you will ensure that this breed lives on.
So many families and farm owners are looking for an affectionate breed of geese to love. That’s where the Pilgrim Geese come in. These docile, social birds make excellent friends for people. They are personable, gentle, and gregarious animals that will welcome you with their honking greetings as soon as you approach the pen.
The Pilgrim Goose is a medium-sized goose weighing 12 – 18 pounds at maturity; they have an easygoing disposition. Whether they’re on guard duty or just minding their own business around the yard, you’ll appreciate these geese’s sweet temperament over more aggressive breeds when your kids are learning how to interact with animals.
You’ll love this beautiful breed. They are not a meat bird or strong egg layer, but they have their own set of wonderful qualities.
The Sebastopol geese can be identified by the curled feathers on their wings and body and are well-known for being very quiet with even temperaments that are suitable for pets.
This tough breed is threatened and needs to be preserved, so I’m encouraging people to raise them in order to help stop this breed from extinction.
How to Get Geese?
There are basically three ways to start your first flock:
- You can buy and hatch fertilized eggs and raise the geese yourself. After the initial investment of getting an incubator and a brooder, this is the cheapest option. Incubating goslings is not difficult, but it requires some learning and patience.
- You can buy or adopt newly hatched goslings and raise them yourself. This way is similar to incubating eggs, but you don’t need to spend time and money incubating the eggs.
- You can buy or adopt adult geese. This is the fastest and easiest way to get your operation up and running, but it will also be more expensive than purchasing fertilized eggs or hatchlings. Adult geese from reputable hatcheries typically cost between $50 and $100 each, depending on the breed. Sometimes much more.
Which of these options is best depends on your preferences – but unless you already have experience with hatching chicken eggs or other poultry, it is probably best to start with goslings or adult geese.
One downside to starting out with goslings is that they take a while to mature. It will take about a year before they start laying eggs. If they hatch during summer, they will usually start laying around May the following year.
Meat geese are usually processed in either of three age groups:
- 9 weeks: Young and lean
- 15 weeks: Big and lean
- 20 weeks: Big and fat
If you butcher geese outside of these ages, the birds will be molting, and that will make plucking them much more difficult.
Build or Buy a Goose House and Pen
While you are awaiting your geese or hatching eggs, you will need to prepare a place for them to live. They need a house where they can lay eggs and stay safe during the night and a pen where they can spend most of the day.
Building a Goose House
When constructing the house, it’s best to make sure there is plenty of ventilation so that moisture and ammonia from their droppings doesn’t accumulate. You will also need enough space for them to lay eggs in peace.
And just as importantly: It needs to be predator-proof. While geese are quite fierce, they are still vulnerable to foxes, coyotes, and other larger predators. And even smaller predators, like rats and snakes, can be a problem. They will steal eggs and possibly kill young goslings if they can get away with it.
There are many books and online resources available on designing and constructing poultry housing with various styles, sizes, and levels of complexity depending on your needs. Most wooden playhouses or garden sheds from your local hardware store will also work as long as they have a few windows and are predator-proofed.
Preparing the Pen
The goose pen should be a safe and secure place for the geese to live. There should be water, shelter, and lots of opportunities to forage.
The enclosure should be predator-proof. I recommend a 5 feet tall fence. Domestic geese will rarely fly/jump higher than three feet, but a taller fence will make it safer against uninvited guests. Depending on location, you may also want to add electric wire around the outside of the fence.
Unlike chickens, there is little need to protect your geese from hawks. Geese are too large and aggressive to be preyed on by most (though not all) hawks and other birds of prey. Gooselings are exposed, though. If they have a mother, she will defend them with her life, but they will need your protection if they have been hatched in an incubator.
Free-ranging is also an option if you have a large plot of land. Some people use wire enclosure for a safe space, while others let their geese forage out in the world. This mainly comes down to how common predators are in your area. In either case, it is important to make sure that your geese are well-fed and have access to fresh water at all times.
Do You Need a Pond to Keep Geese?
Geese need access to fresh, clean water all day. They enjoy bathing, but it’s not essential to have a pond or another large body of water. However, they must have deep enough water that they can submerge their bills. Goose sinuses get clogged when they eat, and if not properly cleaned out, your geese will be unable to breathe. Consequently, water nipples are not suitable for geese.
That being said, ideally, your geese should have access to an area deep enough for them to cool down during the summer. While they don’t need a pool, it will keep them cleaner and make them happier. Access to swimming water during the mating season will also increase the percentage of fertilized eggs as geese prefer to mate in the water. A kiddie pool or a large tub will work well.
Introducing the Geese to Your Property
Once your geese have arrived, it’s time to get them acclimated. This means that you want your birds to be familiar with their new home before letting them free-range. Most importantly, they need to learn where to sleep at night.
When getting them used to their new home, you can either keep them confined to the house for about a week or let them out into the pen and move them inside every evening before sundown for a week. It’s best not to leave your new arrivals unattended outdoors in the afternoon before you’re confident that they’ve found their bedding location on their own.
Once they are familiar with their sleeping quarters, you can let them free range or house them in a pen and they will return in the evening on their own account. Always remember to close the pen at night for their safety.
Feeding Your Geese
One big benefit of geese is that they can feed themselves as long as there is grass or weeds. This means that you don’t have to feed them constantly, and you get to save on feed costs.
If you have about 1,500 square feet of pasture per bird, your geese will be happy to live in the open space and forage for their own food with very low feed costs to you. In fact, for most of the year, they will be able to sustain themselves almost entirely on grass and fresh greens.
You’ll need to feed your geese if you keep them in a smaller pen. Geese can be fed grain or commercial pellets for ducks and waterfowl. An adult goose eats about half a pound of feed per day. Like ducks, geese will need niacin in their diet. Greens usually contain enough niacin to keep your geese healthy, but if they don’t have enough grass or weeds, you should add brewer’s yeast or niacin tablets to their feed.
Young goslings will need non-medicated starter feed during the first three weeks to ensure they grow up healthy and strong. After that, you can start switching to grower feed and grass. Here is a great guide to feeding goslings.
Your Geese-keeping Routine
Geese don’t require much attention, but it’s important to have a routine for the sake of efficiency and for the geese’s well-being. There are many ways to care for your flock, but this is a general outline of what you should do:
- Let them out in the morning and lock the house in the evening.
- Check for signs of illness and injury regularly, including looking at the bird’s eyes and plumage. If you notice any symptoms (such as discharge from the eyes, unkempt feathers, or abnormal behavior), contact a veterinarian immediately.
- Check their food and water daily, as well as the quality of both. Top up feeders as needed and change the water when it gets too dirty. Sanitize the waterers every few months.
- Keep their house clean: add clean bedding and remove droppings from the ground and nests. Change the bedding once a month or when needed. Once or twice a year you should do a throughout cleaning of the house, including disinfecting.
- If the pen is relatively small and gets very dirty, add bedding to the pen to protect your geese from getting foot infections.
- Gather eggs every afternoon if possible. The longer the eggs are laying in the nest, the more likely they get dirty or crack.
Geese are a fantastic option for anyone who has the space and is looking to make their property more sustainable. They can provide eggs, meat, and even some income as their meat can fetch a high market price.
There are several breeds of geese to choose from depending on what you plan on using them for, and it’s important to do your research before making any decisions because not all breeds will meet your needs.
Once you find the right breed, keeping them shouldn’t be too hard and can prove to be quite rewarding. Be sure to provide them with clean water, feed, and protection against predators to give them a happy and healthy life.