In this Article...
A comprehensive guide to successful goose husbandry
Raising geese can be a rewarding and enriching experience for both small-scale farmers and back garden enthusiasts. These remarkable birds not only provide a charming addition to your homestead but also offer various practical benefits. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the reasons why keeping geese can be a valuable endeavour. We will discuss different goose breeds suitable for various purposes, housing options to ensure their comfort and safety, optimal feed choices for their nutritional needs, common health concerns and their remedies, estimated costs involved, practical advice on raising goslings, and essential tips for a successful goose-rearing venture.
The Benefits of Keeping Geese:
Efficient Pest Control: Geese are natural grazers with a voracious appetite for grass, weeds, and insects. By allowing geese to roam freely on your property, you can enjoy the dual benefits of weed control and organic pest management. They will happily munch on unwanted vegetation while keeping pesky insects in check, reducing the need for harmful chemical interventions.
Versatile Utility: Geese provide a variety of resources that can contribute to your self-sufficiency goals. Whether you’re interested in meat production, egg-laying, down feathers, or even weeding, geese are remarkably versatile. Their plump, flavorful meat is a popular choice for many, while their eggs can be used in culinary creations. Geese feathers, particularly those of certain breeds, such as the Embden, can be harvested for down pillows, cushions, or insulation. Additionally, geese are excellent weeders, efficiently clearing unwanted plants and helping to maintain a well-manicured landscape.
Watchful Guardians: Geese are known for their vigilant nature and loud honks, making them excellent watchdogs for your property. They have a keen sense of awareness and are quick to raise the alarm in the presence of unfamiliar or suspicious activity. Their territorial instincts and honking abilities make them a deterrent to potential intruders, offering an added layer of security to your premises.
Simplicity of Care: Geese are relatively low-maintenance animals, making them suitable for beginners and experienced homesteaders alike. They are hardy birds, able to withstand varying weather conditions, and are generally less susceptible to diseases compared to other poultry. Their foraging instincts mean they can find a significant portion of their diet on their own, reducing the reliance on expensive feed.
Educational Opportunities: If you have children or are involved in educational initiatives, raising geese can offer valuable learning experiences. Children can learn about animal husbandry, responsibility, and the intricate dynamics of a working ecosystem. Geese provide a hands-on opportunity to teach about animal behaviour and life cycles.
Enjoyable Companionship: Geese have unique personalities and can form strong bonds with their human caregivers. With proper socialisation and interaction, geese can become affectionate and friendly companions, providing joy and entertainment for the entire family.
Different Goose Breeds:
Toulouse Geese: Toulouse geese are renowned for their large size and calm temperament. They make excellent choices for meat production, as they tend to develop generous amounts of flavorful, succulent meat. Their docile nature also makes them suitable for families with children or those seeking gentle and friendly geese.
Embden Geese: Embden geese are easily recognizable with their beautiful, pure white plumage. They are versatile birds, excelling in both meat production and egg-laying capabilities. Their large size and impressive growth rate make them an ideal choice for those primarily interested in raising geese for meat. Additionally, their eggs can contribute to your homegrown egg supply.
Chinese Geese: Chinese geese are popular for their striking appearance, characterised by a prominent knob on their forehead and a distinctive posture. They are prolific layers, making them an excellent choice for those seeking a regular supply of eggs. Their calm temperament and graceful presence also make them attractive as ornamental birds.
African Geese: African geese are known for their exceptional weeding abilities. If you have a larger property or require assistance with weed control, African geese can be an excellent choice. They are efficient grazers, capable of clearing unwanted vegetation and maintaining a well-manicured landscape.
Sebastopol Geese: Sebastopol geese are visually captivating with their unique, curly feathers. They are primarily kept for ornamental purposes, adding a touch of elegance and charm to any setting. While their feather structure requires some additional maintenance, their striking appearance makes them a popular choice for those seeking visually appealing geese.
Housing Options for Geese:
Simple Shelters: For smaller flocks or limited space, a simple shelter can suffice. This can be a sturdy shed, coop, or a converted outbuilding that provides enough space for the geese to move around comfortably. Make sure the shelter has proper ventilation, good insulation, and secure doors to protect against predators.
Traditional Goose Houses: Traditional goose houses are purpose-built structures designed specifically for housing geese. These houses often feature separate sections for nesting and roosting, as well as outdoor access. They can be made of wood or other suitable materials, with adequate space for geese to walk around and stretch their wings.
Predatory-Proof Enclosures: If you have concerns about predators in your area, consider investing in a predator-proof enclosure for your geese. This can be a fenced-in area with a secure roof or a fully enclosed pen with wire mesh that extends underground to prevent digging predators from gaining access. This option provides a high level of security and peace of mind.
Pond or Water Access: Geese are water-loving birds and benefit from having access to a pond or water source. If your property has a natural water feature or the possibility of creating one, it can enhance the quality of life for your geese. Ensure the pond is clean and safe, with easy entry and exit points for the geese to enjoy swimming and preening.
Portable Housing: Portable housing options, such as mobile coops or tractors, allow you to move the geese to fresh grazing areas regularly. This helps prevent overgrazing and provides the geese with fresh forage. Portable housing is particularly beneficial for those with limited land or who practise rotational grazing.
Remember, regardless of the housing option you choose, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind:
Space Requirements: Geese need ample space to move around and stretch their wings. Ensure the housing allows for adequate room for them to exercise and exhibit natural behaviours.
Protection from Elements: The shelter should provide protection from extreme weather conditions, such as rain, wind, and excessive heat or cold. Proper insulation, ventilation, and weatherproofing are essential.
Cleanliness and Hygiene: Regularly clean and maintain the housing to ensure a clean and hygienic environment for the geese. Remove droppings, replace bedding, and check for any signs of disease or infestations.
Security: Predators pose a significant threat to geese. Ensure the housing has secure doors, windows, and fencing to keep predators out and your geese safe.
Feed Options for Geese:
Fresh Pasture: Geese thrive on fresh pasture, which allows them to graze and forage on a variety of grasses, weeds, and other vegetation. Providing access to a well-maintained pasture area allows geese to exercise natural feeding behaviours and obtain essential nutrients. Regular rotation of grazing areas helps prevent overgrazing and ensures a constant supply of fresh forage.
Commercially Prepared Feeds: There are commercially formulated feeds available specifically designed for geese. These feeds provide a balanced mix of grains, proteins, vitamins, and minerals to meet the nutritional needs of geese. Look for feeds labelled specifically for geese, as their dietary requirements may differ from other poultry species. Follow the feeding instructions provided by the manufacturer to ensure proper portion sizes and nutritional balance.
Whole Grains: Geese can also benefit from a diet supplemented with whole grains. Wheat, barley, corn, oats, and other grains can be offered to provide additional energy and variety in their diet. Whole grains should be properly cleaned and free from mould or contaminants before feeding.
Vegetable Scraps: Geese can enjoy certain vegetable scraps as part of their diet. Leftover salad greens, carrot tops, and other vegetable trimmings can be fed to geese as a nutritious treat. Ensure that the scraps are fresh and free from any seasoning or additives that may be harmful to geese.
Water: Water is a critical component of a goose’s diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times. Geese use water for drinking, preening, and maintaining their overall health. Ensure that water sources are regularly cleaned and free from contaminants.
Common Health Concerns and Treatment:
Respiratory Infections: Geese can be susceptible to respiratory infections, which may cause symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, and difficulty breathing. Treatment usually involves isolating the affected bird, providing a clean and warm environment, and administering antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian.
Parasites: Geese can be affected by internal and external parasites, including worms, lice, mites, and ticks. Regularly inspect your geese for signs of infestation, such as feather loss, skin irritation, or weight loss. Treatment options may include dewormers, topical treatments, or insecticides, depending on the specific parasite.
Foot and Leg Issues: Geese can develop foot and leg problems, including bumblefoot (infection and swelling of the foot) or leg injuries. Providing a clean and dry environment, proper bedding, and regular inspection of their feet can help prevent such issues. Treatment may involve cleaning the affected area, applying antiseptics, and using supportive measures like foot soaks or wraps.
Egg-Binding: Female geese may experience egg-binding, a condition where an egg gets stuck in the reproductive tract, leading to distress and potential complications. Signs include straining, lethargy, and decreased appetite. Prompt veterinary intervention is necessary to address this condition, which may involve providing calcium supplements, warm baths, or even manual removal of the egg.
Nutritional Deficiencies: Inadequate nutrition can lead to various health problems in geese, such as poor feather quality, weak bones, or decreased egg production. A balanced diet that meets their nutritional requirements, including proper amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals, is crucial. Consult with a poultry nutritionist to ensure your geese’s diet is adequate and well-balanced.
Botulism: Geese are prone to botulism, a bacterial infection caused by ingesting contaminated water or food. Symptoms may include weakness, paralysis, and difficulty breathing. If botulism is suspected, immediate veterinary attention is necessary. Treatment may involve supportive care, including fluid therapy, antibiotics, and toxin neutralisation.
Costs Involved in Goose Rearing:
Initial Investment: Acquiring geese will be one of the first expenses. Whether you purchase goslings or adult birds, the cost will depend on the breed, age, and the supplier you choose. Prices can vary, but it’s important to select healthy and quality birds to start your flock.
Housing and Fencing: Providing suitable housing and fencing for your geese is essential. This can range from simple shelters or coops to more elaborate goose houses. The cost will depend on the size and design of the structure, as well as any additional fencing required to create a secure enclosure.
Feed and Water: Geese have specific dietary needs, and providing them with balanced nutrition is crucial for their health and productivity. The cost of feed will depend on the type of feed you choose, whether it’s commercially prepared goose feed or a mix of grains and supplements. Additionally, you’ll need to ensure a constant supply of clean and fresh water, which may require investing in appropriate water containers or a reliable watering system.
Bedding and Nesting Material: Geese require bedding in their shelter to keep them comfortable and provide insulation. Common bedding options include straw, wood shavings, or dried grass. Additionally, providing suitable nesting material for egg-laying geese, such as straw or hay, is essential.
Veterinary Care: Budgeting for veterinary expenses is crucial to ensure the health and well-being of your geese. This may include routine check-ups, and emergency care if health issues arise. Consult with a veterinarian who specialises in avian health to establish a veterinary care plan for your geese.
Miscellaneous Expenses: Other costs to consider include predator control measures, such as fencing or deterrents, and equipment like feeders and waterers. It’s also important to factor in ongoing maintenance and repair costs for the housing and fencing as needed.
Brooder Setup: Before bringing goslings home, prepare a suitable brooder area. A brooder is a warm and safe environment where goslings can thrive during their early weeks. It should be well-ventilated, draft-free, and equipped with a heat source, such as a heat lamp or brooder plate, to maintain an optimal temperature of around 95°F (35°C). Provide clean bedding, such as pine shavings or straw, to keep them comfortable.
Nutrition: Proper nutrition is vital for the healthy growth of goslings. Start them on a commercial starter feed specifically formulated for waterfowl or goslings. These feeds contain the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they need during their early stages. Provide fresh, clean water at all times, ensuring it is shallow enough for the goslings to reach without risking drowning.
Temperature Regulation: In the initial weeks, goslings rely on an external heat source to maintain their body temperature. Gradually reduce the brooder temperature by a few degrees each week until they are fully feathered and can regulate their body heat. This process usually takes 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the breed and environmental conditions.
Socialisation: Goslings are social creatures and benefit from interaction with other goslings or adult geese. If possible, raise multiple goslings together to foster their social development. However, ensure proper space and resources to prevent overcrowding and potential aggression.
Outdoor Access: As goslings grow and develop feathers, gradually introduce them to outdoor areas or enclosures. This exposure allows them to exercise, forage, and explore their surroundings. Make sure the outdoor space is secure, predator-proof, and provides access to water for swimming or dipping their beaks.
Predation Prevention: Goslings are vulnerable to predators, such as dogs, cats, foxes, or birds of prey. Secure the outdoor area with appropriate fencing, netting, or electric fencing to prevent access to potential threats. Always supervise their outdoor activities, especially during their early stages.
Routine Health Care: Regularly monitor the health of your goslings. Keep their brooder and living areas clean to prevent the buildup of bacteria and parasites. Provide access to grit or small stones to aid their digestion. Schedule regular check-ups with a veterinarian specialising in avian health to ensure their well-being and to address any health concerns promptly.
Growth and Development: Goslings grow rapidly, and it’s important to provide them with a balanced diet and adequate space for their physical development. Ensure they have access to appropriate feeders and waterers that accommodate their size as they grow.
Transition to Adult Feed: Around 6 to 8 weeks of age, gradually transition goslings to a suitable grower or adult feed. Follow the recommendations of the feed manufacturer to ensure their nutritional needs are met during this transition phase.
Top Tips for Success:
- Provide Ample Space and Outdoor Access: Geese thrive when they have plenty of room to graze and engage in natural behaviours.
- Secure Fencing: Protect your geese from predators by installing secure fencing around their enclosure.
- Regular Veterinary Care: Establish a relationship with a poultry veterinarian to ensure proper health management and preventive measures.
- Socialization and Bonding: Spend time with your geese to build trust and establish a positive relationship.
- Observe and Learn: Pay attention to your geese’s behaviour and body language, as it can provide valuable insights into their health and well-being.
Raising geese can be a fulfilling and worthwhile endeavour, providing numerous benefits and opportunities for self-sufficiency. By selecting the appropriate breed, providing suitable housing and nutrition, addressing health concerns promptly, and implementing effective management strategies, you can ensure the well-being and productivity of your flock. Remember to approach goose rearing with dedication, patience, and a genuine love for these remarkable birds. With careful attention to their needs and the insights shared in this guide, your journey as a goose keeper in the UK will be both rewarding and successful.