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Gander at This: Your Comprehensive Guide to Raising Geese

Care Basics

Raising geese can be a fulfilling and rewarding endeavor. These intelligent and sociable birds can provide eggs, meat, down, and even make excellent pets. Before you start your journey into goose husbandry, you must understand their needs and the commitments involved.

When planning for geese housing, you need to consider three main elements: a shelter or goose house, a grazing area, and a water source.

Shelter:

A goose house or shelter is where your geese can retreat when they need protection from extreme weather or predators. Geese are hardy birds that can tolerate a wide range of temperatures but need shelter to protect them from harsh weather conditions like storms, snow, and high winds.

The shelter should be spacious, providing around 20 square feet per goose. This allows them enough space to move around comfortably without feeling cramped. A crowded goose house can lead to stress and potential health issues, such as increased parasite load and aggression among the birds.

Ensure the house is well-ventilated to keep fresh air circulating, preventing ammonia buildup from droppings. However, it should also be draft-free to prevent the geese from getting too cold, especially during winter nights.

The shelter should have a large door that allows the geese to go in and out easily. This door should be secure enough to keep predators out. 

Keep the house floor dry using bedding such as straw or wood shavings, which must be replaced regularly to maintain cleanliness and reduce disease risk.

While geese enjoy the rain and often prefer to sleep outside, a shelter is still necessary for them to retreat to. If you have local predators such as foxes, raccoons, or coyotes, consider locking them in the shelter at night for their safety.

The Grazing Area:

Geese spend much of their day grazing, so access to a grassy area is essential. This area should be fenced securely to keep the geese in and potential predators out. The fence should be robust and ideally buried a short way into the ground to prevent digging predators. 

Water Source:

Lastly, geese need access to water. This can be a pond, a stream, a large tub, or a kiddie pool. The geese need to be able to get in and out of the water source easily. They will use the water to clean themselves, play, and drink. If a pond or stream is unavailable, the water in the tub should be changed regularly to ensure it remains clean. 

Water is critical if you intend to breed your geese, as they need water to mate. Regardless, all geese enjoy having access to water to swim and clean their feathers. It's an essential part of their natural behavior and overall well-being.

Creating a safe, comfortable, and stimulating environment for your geese will contribute greatly to their health and happiness.


Nutrition and Diet:

Ensuring that your geese have a balanced and nutritionally complete diet is one of the most important aspects of their care. 

Grasses and Greens

As natural grazers, geese will spend a significant portion of their day eating grasses, clovers, and weeds. This should make up most of their diet as it is their natural food source. Fresh pasture provides them with nutrients and the roughage needed for proper digestion. Alternatives like hay can be provided if fresh pasture is unavailable year-round due to seasonal changes.

Grains and Pellets

While grasses and greens are essential, they alone cannot provide all the nutrients geese need. Therefore, it's important to supplement their diet with additional feed. Whole grains like wheat, barley, and corn are great additions. These grains are high in energy and help keep the geese feeling satisfied.

You can also include commercially available waterfowl pellets in their diet. These pellets are specially formulated to provide a balanced mix of nutrients necessary for geese. This is especially important if the availability of pasture is limited.

 

Grit

Grit is essential for the digestion process in geese. Since geese do not have teeth, they ingest grit, which resides in their gizzard (a part of their stomach), to help grind down their food. You can offer grit in a separate feeder or scatter it in their foraging area. Oyster shell or commercially available poultry grit works well.

Fresh, Clean Water

Geese need constant access to clean water for swimming, cleaning, and drinking. They often mate in water and need water to clean their nostrils and eyes properly. The water container or pond should be deep enough for them to dip their heads in entirely. Regularly refresh the water to ensure it remains clean and safe for consumption.

Nutritional Considerations

When feeding geese, ensure their diet is balanced and not too high in protein, which can lead to health issues like 'angel wing' in goslings. Also, be mindful of food that could harm geese, like onions, chocolate, avocado, caffeine, alcohol, and foods high in salt and sugar.

Remember, the nutritional needs of geese can change depending on their life stage and whether they are laying or breeding. For example, laying geese may need additional calcium for eggshell production. Adjust their diet as necessary and consult a veterinarian if you're unsure.

The key to a healthy diet for your geese is balance and variety. Providing a range of foods can help your geese get all the nutrients they need to stay healthy and happy.

Maladies

Geese are generally robust and hardy animals, but like all living creatures, they can be susceptible to certain health issues. Therefore, a crucial part of raising geese involves being vigilant about their health, cleanliness, and overall well-being.

Monitoring and Hygiene:

Make it a habit to observe your geese daily. Signs of potential illness may include lack of appetite, lethargy, changes in droppings, unusual behavior, or visible changes in their appearance. 

Keep the living area of your geese clean to reduce the risk of disease. Regularly change their bedding and keep their food and water areas clean. Geese also love to bathe, which is essential for keeping their feathers in good condition and maintaining overall hygiene. Make sure they always have access to a clean water source for bathing.

Disease Prevention:

Routine worming, and pasture rotation is recommended to keep internal parasites at bay. Vaccinations can also protect against common diseases, depending on what is prevalent in your region. . It is important to not overly worm animals to prevent creating resistant parasites, so consult a local veterinarian experienced with poultry or waterfowl for the best advice on worming and vaccination schedules.

Maintaining good biosecurity practices is also vital. This can include not introducing new birds directly into your flock without quarantine, regularly disinfecting your boots and equipment, and isolating birds showing signs of illness.

Common Ailments:

- Bumblefoot: This condition is caused by a bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction on birds' feet. It usually results from an untreated wound. At home, clean the wound, apply an antibiotic ointment, and bandage the foot. Keep the foot clean until the wound heals. If the condition worsens, consult a vet.

- Angel Wing: This is a dietary condition mainly caused by a high-calorie diet, especially one high in proteins and low in vitamins. Ensure your geese are eating a balanced diet to prevent it. While the condition is irreversible once the goose is fully grown, it can be corrected in goslings with a proper diet and sometimes splinting the wing.

 

- Gapeworm: Gapeworm is a parasitic worm affecting poultry, including geese, by attaching to their trachea and causing respiratory distress. This leads to symptoms like severe gasping for breath, head shaking, reduced activity, and weight loss. The parasite's eggs are passed through the bird's feces and can be ingested by other birds or intermediate hosts like earthworms, slugs, or snails. To prevent a gapeworm infection, maintain good hygiene, regularly clean your geese area, rotate grazing areas, and perform regular worming treatments. Controlling populations of earthworms, slugs, and snails can also help. If symptoms of a gapeworm infection are observed, consult a vet immediately for appropriate worming treatment. Early detection and treatment are key to managing this condition.

- Avian Influenza (Bird Flu): Avian influenza, or bird flu, is a viral infection that can severely affect geese. Symptoms include respiratory distress, reduced appetite, and sometimes sudden death. Some birds may also show signs such as swollen heads or necks, reduced egg production, and changes in behavior. To prevent bird flu, maintain good hygiene by regularly cleaning and disinfecting your geese's living area and equipment. Implement biosecurity measures such as restricting access to your birds, isolating new or returning birds, and preventing contact with wild birds. Vaccination may also be an option in some cases. If you observe signs of bird flu, isolate the affected bird(s) and consult a vet immediately. It's important to note that some strains of bird flu can infect humans, so personal hygiene and protective clothing are necessary when handling birds.

- Wet Feather: Wet feather is a condition where a goose's feathers lose their water-repelling abilities, causing them to appear 'soggy.' This could be due to poor diet, inadequate sunlight, or poor water quality for bathing. Wet feather can lead to difficulties in temperature regulation and other health issues. To prevent and treat wet feather at home, ensure your goose has a balanced diet, ample access to sunlight, and clean bathing water. If a goose shows signs of wet feather, isolate it, dry it carefully, improve its diet, increase its access to sunlight and clean water, and provide a warm, dry shelter. However, if the condition doesn't improve or worsens, a vet should be consulted, as wet feather could indicate other underlying health problems.


Remember, it's always best to consult a professional if you need clarification on a health issue. Regular check-ups with a vet experienced in caring for geese can help ensure your flock stays healthy.

Breeding

Breeding geese and raising goslings can be a rewarding aspect of goose-keeping. Understanding their breeding patterns and providing proper care for the newborn goslings is essential for their health and growth.

Breeding:

Geese start laying eggs in their second year of life, typically in the early spring. The female goose, known as the 'goose,' will lay one egg daily until she has a full clutch, usually containing 5-12 eggs. Once she has a full clutch, she will start to brood, sitting on the eggs to incubate them. 

During the incubation period, which lasts approximately 28-30 days, the goose will turn the eggs several times a day and rarely leave the nest. The male, or 'gander,' is protective, guarding the nesting area to keep potential threats away. 

Hatching:

After about a month, the goslings will begin to hatch. This process can take 24-48 hours. Goslings use an egg tooth, a small, sharp, temporary protuberance on their beak, to break the shell from the inside. 

Raising Goslings:

Once hatched, goslings require a warm, safe environment, known as a brooder, for the first few weeks. Here are some key aspects of raising goslings:

- Heat: Initially, the brooder temperature should be set around 90°F (32°C) for the first week and gradually decrease by 5°F each week afterward. You can use a heat lamp to maintain the temperature. Observe the goslings' behavior to determine if they are comfortable: If they huddle under the lamp, they are cold; if they move away from it, they are too hot.

- Diet: Feed the goslings a waterfowl starter feed to meet their nutritional needs. This can be purchased from most farm supply stores.

- Water: It's important to always provide fresh, clean water. However, ensure the waterers are shallow to prevent the goslings from drowning. Also, avoid letting the goslings get wet or swim until they have developed their water-repellent feathers at about 2-3 weeks old.

- Space: Ensure enough space for goslings to move around comfortably. Overcrowding can lead to unhealthy conditions and stressed birds.

Remember, goslings grow rapidly and will develop adult feathers around 6 weeks old. They can be gradually introduced to the outdoors and transitioned to a grower feed at this stage. Always ensure that they are adequately protected from predators.

Raising goslings is a hands-on process requiring attention and care. Still, it's incredibly rewarding to see them grow and develop. Watch their progress, and don't hesitate to consult a vet if you notice anything unusual.

Goose Behavior and Training:

Understanding goose behavior and implementing basic training can greatly enhance your experience of keeping geese. By nature, geese are socially intelligent animals that can form strong bonds with their flock and caregivers.

Behavior:

Geese thrive in groups, known as gaggles, and can form intricate social structures within these groups. They often pair off into monogamous relationships, remaining with the same partner for many years and, sometimes, for life.

Geese have strong protective instincts, especially during the breeding season, and the gander (male) will often guard the nest aggressively. This instinct can also extend towards their human caregivers, leading them to act as 'watchdogs' of sorts. They can recognize and remember people and may react defensively to strangers. While they remember and may protect their owners, they can turn aggressive if they guard a nest and you ignore their warnings. 

Geese communicate using a range of honks, hisses, and body language. Hissing and feather ruffling are often signs that a goose feels threatened, while loud honking can be a call to the rest of the flock or a warning of danger. Observing and understanding these signals can help you interact more effectively with your geese.

 

Training:

Despite their reputation for being somewhat ornery, geese can be trained to respond to simple commands with patience and consistency. 

- Socialization: Geese can become very attached to their human caregivers if raised from goslings. Handling goslings gently and regularly can help them become used to human contact.

- Basic Commands: Using consistent verbal cues or hand signals, geese can be trained to respond to simple commands such as 'come,' 'go,' 'stay,' or 'no.' It's important to pair the command with the desired behavior immediately, rewarding compliance with a treat or positive reinforcement.

Remember, training should be a positive experience for your geese. Never use punishment or negative reinforcement, which can create fear and aggression. Patience, consistency, and understanding are key to building a strong and respectful relationship with your geese. If you take the time to understand their behaviors and train them gently, they can be incredibly rewarding animals to keep. 
 

Geese for Meat

Content Warning: The following section contains detailed descriptions and steps for processing animals for meat. We understand that this topic may not be comfortable for all readers. If you'd rather not read about these procedures, we recommend you skip this section. Your understanding of animal care and well-being can still be complete without this information. Please proceed according to your comfort level.

 

 

While many people raise geese for their companionship or as watchdogs for their property, geese can also be an excellent source of meat. Their rich, dark meat is a delicacy in many cultures, especially for holiday meals.

Breed Selection:

If you are raising geese for meat, your choice of breed is important. Embden and Toulouse geese are often chosen for this purpose as they grow quickly and have a large body size. They also have a good feed-to-meat conversion ratio, making them cost-effective to raise.

Feeding:

To develop a good amount of meat, your geese will need to consume a high-protein diet, particularly during their growing phase. Commercially available waterfowl feeds, supplemented with foraging if available, can provide the necessary nutrition. 

Housing and Exercise:

While providing ample food for your geese is essential, you also want to ensure they get plenty of exercise to develop lean, healthy muscle tissue. Providing them with a large fenced area to roam freely will encourage this.

Butchering:

Butchering geese for meat typically happens around five to six months of age for optimal tenderness. However, this process is labor-intensive and requires knowledge and skill. If you are inexperienced, having the geese processed at a professional facility may be better. 

It's important to note that local laws and regulations may apply to the raising and butchering geese for meat. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these before you start.

Taste and Preparation:

Goose meat is darker and has a more intense flavor than chicken or turkey. It's also quite fatty, which makes it perfect for roasting as the fat self-bastes the meat, keeping it juicy and flavorful. Goose fat is also considered a culinary treasure, excellent for roasting potatoes or other vegetables.

Remember, raising geese for meat is a commitment that requires careful planning and management. Always ensure the geese are raised humanely and healthily to provide the best meat quality.

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