Feed and Care for Geese
By Kirsten Lie-Nielsen, Maine
Geese are low maintenance, hardy birds who will outlive many other farmyard fowl and are comfortable in a wide range of environments.
You can keep geese in a large flock, or have as few as a single goose. A male goose, or gander, will mate and bond for life with one or more females. If you have more than one gander, a ratio of three geese to a gander keeps the flock harmonious. In a flock with only one gender, one goose will express dominance and assume the “gander” role. Ganders are typically more aggressive than geese, but both sexes can be temperamental in the spring breeding season.
Geese have the reputation of being irate, hostile birds, but most can be easily managed by keeping in tune with their farmyard needs. They attack with more vengeance if they feel threatened, so approaching them with a weapon such as a broom only increases their fury. If you know your geese well and have raised them from goslings, aggression should not be a serious issue. A calm manner and deliberate movements should quell any issues with angry geese.
Hand-raised geese often form an imprinted bond with their humans. These geese regard their people as a part of their flock and will follow them around, lavishing them with attention throughout their lives. Geese who have been raised by other geese tend to be shyer, but neither method seems to have as much effect on aggression as does breeding and individual personality.
Before obtaining goslings, prepare a brooder with at least one square foot per bird. Geese should be kept at 90˚F for their first week of life, and the temperature should be reduced by 10˚F each week until they are three to four weeks old and no longer require heating. The best heat is provided by a heat lamp in the brooder. Goslings are much hardier than other domesticated birds, but when raised by humans do not have waterproofing or protective oils until they are three to four weeks old. They should not be allowed swimming water until at least this age, but access to drinking water should be provided. Geese need water to swallow their food and keep their nasal passage clean, and goslings’ food should be kept saturated and soupy for them to be able to consume it. Older geese can eat dry pellets or crumble, but still need constant access to drinking water to prevent choking. Geese do not require swimming water, but are very happy if it is provided. Regular bathing keeps their feathers in good, healthy condition.
Once goslings have reached 6 weeks of age, they are quite capable of foraging for themselves. Given free-range access to grass and clover, an adult goose needs only a scoop of waterfowl feed at night to maintain a healthy weight. During winter months more feeding is required and grass can be replaced with regular access to fresh timothy. An acre of field can keep up to 40 geese well fed.
Depending on your location you may want to consider fencing for your geese. Geese are happy free-ranging during the day, but tend to wander several acres if they have access. A wire or wooden fence at least four feet high should deter them, and help to keep them protected from predators. Adult geese can free-range full time but to protect them from potential predators, they will need a shelter at night. At temperatures below freezing (or if you are planning to hatch eggs), geese require housing. At least three square feet per goose is required for them to be comfortable. Geese are robust birds but at very cold temperatures can get frostbite and would benefit from a heat lamp in their shelter.
With minimal effort geese will make a delightful addition to your livestock A well cared for goose can live for more than 20 years, making them a great companion for your farm or backyard.
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is a freelance writer and small scale farmer from Woolwich, Maine. When not cultivating a growing garden and tending to her geese and other animals, she maintains Day’s Ferry Organics (daysferryorganics.com), hoping to help others learn about self-reliance and simple living.