How to Care for Geese and Goslings, Nature's Ecological Lawn Mowers
Should You Keep Geese?
Why cut grass, waste resources, and struggle to maintain a noisy, costly lawn mower when you can keep geese? They are natural lawn mowers and are fun to keep, but you have to do it properly!
You must be able to afford housing, fencing, straw, and medication, if necessary. You must also have sufficient land — somewhere fox-proof — to house your geese, and you must have time to give them fresh water and to feed them. Caring for goslings will take even more time and effort.
Having said this, keeping geese will be a pleasure, and you'll be richly rewarded in so many ways. If you have a yearning to keep geese but don't know if it's right for you, then I hope this article will help you decide.
Pictures of Our GeeseClick thumbnail to view full-size
What You Need to Properly Care for Geese
- About 100m2 of good, short grass per goose.
- The grass must be short at first (approximately 4 inches). If you have long grass, you should cut it and remove the cuttings. Because they don’t eat most weeds, you will need to periodically mow the grass. Try to reduce the weeds and increase the grass by using selective weed killers, but be careful as this may also kill the dandelions, clovers, wild mints, violets, and daisies.
- They need a nice, big bucket of clean water every day. They have to be able to immerse their heads in it. Don’t give them anything large enough for them to get into, as they will soil it. Of course, if you don't mind clean out paddling pools, or you have a lake or large pond, then they are ideal. Geese might pollute a small, natural pond though, so take care when giving them access to water.
- They need a fox-proof place to sleep that is dry, but not droughty. It should be about 1m2 per goose. You must be able to clean it out comfortably.
- They need clean straw at night for bedding.
- If you need to contain them, sheep fencing that is about 4 ft. high is fine. They can fly over if they want to, but don’t generally bother.
- You don't need to worry about the cold if your climate is like that of Limousin or the weather in Britain. They love the cold and rain.
Caring for Goslings
- Geese don’t make good mothers, so it's best to give two eggs to a broody hen or use an incubator.
- The goslings need to be kept in a rat-free environment. Because I keep mine in a barn, we made a box that was 75cm x 75cm x 60cm high, with a base and a removable wire mesh lid. (This box was designed as a car box for our dog, but proved more useful for chicks and goslings). You should be able to keep 4-5 goslings in this enclosure for 3-4 weeks.
- Alternatively, a ready-made wire car box designed for a large dog would be ideal if it was placed in a draught-free place, or wrapped around to protect from draughts. If you don’t have one, perhaps you could borrow one.
- Don’t use wood shavings, straw, or sawdust as bedding, and don’t give them anything slippery to stand on, such as newspaper. Slippery surfaces can lead to damaged leg development. Ideally, lay down a thick base of newspaper and cover that with an old towel. When this is soiled, take it out and shake it, and then hang it up to dry and replace it with another one. Other breeders suggest wire netting. If you choose to use this, make sure it is free from any wire that could injure the goslings. Again, when it is soiled, take it out and brush off the droppings.
- They need to be kept warm. Much of this will depend on the weather, but you will probably need an infrared lamp designed for the job.
- Suspend this over the box or inside the box. You might have to devise some contraption with chairs and brooms. I have a nail in a beam, and I put my lamp on a long chain. When it is inside the box, place it in one corner, so the goslings can sit directly under it, but can also escape the heat, if necessary.
- To gauge how far away you need to place the lamp and the temperature of the heat, watch the goslings' behaviour. If they huddle together, they are cold. If they disperse to the edges of the box, they are too hot. When they walk around or sit around the middle (not too close together), then you will know that they have the ideal temperature.
- Raise the lamp a little each week, as necessary. They should not need the heat after 4 – 5 weeks, but perhaps they will need it only at night, depending on the weather. You have to play it by ear.
- Feed them unmedicated chick crumbs during the first few weeks of life. It is important to check that it is unmedicated, as goslings will eat much more food than chicks do.
- They need water, but shouldn’t be allowed into the water until they get their feathers. I use a cat bowl for their food and another, placed a little distance away, for their water.
- They need something to peck at. I tried raising goslings and chicks together, and it all seemed to be going well until I noticed that the goslings were sucking the tail feathers off the chicks! Dig up clods of grass and put it in their box. If they don’t have something to peck, they might start feather picking each other.
- My main handbook by Katie Theare, The Complete Book of Raising Livestock and Poultry, says not to put them onto grass for three weeks. I can’t understand why. I am not an expert, but I have friends who put their goslings out on the grass after two weeks. When I tried this, I chose a sunny day, and my goslings were happy and healthy. You will need a safe environment (no dogs) and make sure it is not in an area where they can get trapped or escape. You might want to make a run for them, or use a rabbit run if you have one already.
- Choose a warm, dry, and sunny day to let them wander. We delight in getting the goslings out if we have lunch or aperitifs outside. They won’t run away, but will pick grass, chunter charmingly, and sit under the chairs and tables or on our feet. They love to nibble (or nip) your toes. They also like to fiddle with and chew the hems of your skirt, shoe laces, or the buckles on your sandals. For us, this was one of the delights of spending a warm day or evenings outdoors in France.
Caring for Them Once They Are Mature
- As soon as you think they can defend themselves against rats and no longer need the heat, they can go into their adult quarters. I make sure that my geese have shelter from the sun during the day (in our case, it is trees) and shelter from the rain, at least until they have their full adult feathers. I don’t know if you really need to do this or not.
- Gradually wean them off the chick feed. You can replace this with pellets. Check with your animal food supplier to make sure you are giving them the correct ones. You can also slowly add in wheat and maize. I found that the year I put them onto grass early and fed them the least was the year I didn’t have medical problems. So try not to overly care for them!
- If they look a bit off-colour, are being sluggish, not rushing to eat, sitting or staying alone, and/or limping or falling over, get them straight to the vet. When I experienced this, the vet gave me antibiotics to put in the water (very cheap). If only I had acted quickly, I could have saved the first one of the bunch.
- It is a good practice to periodically move them from old grass to new. For my geese, this occurs naturally. They move from the lawn to the play area, from the play area to the gite, and from the gite to the field.
- Always be aware when you might have guests, especially children, and make sure you move the geese away from the area ahead of time.
The Cons of Keeping Geese
- Geese are flock birds. They like company, so you must keep at least two geese or you'll have a very sad and lonely little friend on your hands.
- Although many people have male geese that are perfectly pleasant and adorable, others can be a bit "hissy" and even aggressive, especially if there are eggs or goslings to protect.
- You can't tell the males from the females until they are about 9-months-old. The females start to lay when their stomachs drop. Someone on the Internet pointed out that the males have an "evil eye," and I think this is actually quite a good guide. My husband has been saying for ages that our current lot of geese are not as friendly as the other (which turned out to be an all-female group). Any hissing is definitely a sign of masculinity!
- They do leave a lot of droppings. While I don't think it is offensive, it is messy and unsightly. You might want to keep them away from the house and from paths. I will warn you that they tend to sit on the doorsteps and, if you have a glass door, they will tap at it to be let in!
- They produce large quantities of soggy wet bedding.
- They eat few things other than grass, but they do like chickweed, clover, dandelions, everlasting pea plants, etc. Mine snip the heads and leaves of flowers, and they will chew the bark of climbing plants (even roses), so you must protect the base of your plants and flowers either by building pretty little fences or by wrapping the area with chicken wire.
- They are little devils because they constantly go around pecking and chewing on things, such as the badges on cars, plastic table cloths, or shoe laces! I think that while they are waiting to digest their grass, they get bored and go around looking for mischief. In my opinion, it's this very quality that puts them high up on the pet list, alongside dogs, for being adorable.
- They make a lot of noise and are famous for being good watchdogs. In fact, they are infinitely better than dogs. (Dogs have their own agenda. Ours barks furiously at nothing and on other occasions, she cheerfully escorts perfect strangers up to the front door). Geese, on the hand, know a stranger when they see one. They will also call out even if they know the person and sometimes shout out to greet you. This is not good if you have neighbors. Luckily, ours are very quiet at night.
- They are quite delicate and, unlike hens, can suffer from various fatal conditions.
The Pros of Keeping Geese
- They are lovable and friendly and can become very tame (if they are females).
- They are elegant and decorative.
- Goslings are super cute.
- They keep the grass cut.
- They are cheap to feed. They need only grass from April – October (the season when grass is growing). You can also feed them wheat and corn in the off-season.
- If you want to keep them as pets, they have great longevity (around 30 years).
- They are easier to look after than hens, as you can herd them around. You can also put them to bed at 6pm in the summer, if you want to go out for the night, and they are compliant. There is no way we can get hens to go into the hen house if they don't want to go.
- They are good guard dogs.
- They lay fabulous eggs that you can eat, and you can also blow out the eggs and decorate them.
- They make a delicious dinner, and if you raise them right, you know that they have fed on good food and have had a nice life.
- The soggy wet bedding they produce makes excellent compost material.
- Choose a reputable breeder. If you can see where they are reared, check to see if it's clean and spacious.
- Make sure that there is no sign of feather-picking or ill-health. If one gosling in the batch has been pecked, don't buy any of them — the un-pecked ones are the peckers!
- Which breed should you get? Here in Limousin, we keep white poitou and grey geese. The white ones are used for eiderdown, and the greys, the locals tell me, are best for roasting. I have no experience with keeping the fancy breeds, although, if I have more time, I'd love to.
Using Geese to Cut Grass
Geese are great for mowing the lawn, but don't throw away your lawn mower just yet! They are selective feeders; they will devour the grass and some herbs, but won't touch plants such as docks and nettles.
You'll still need to mow the lawn with a mower, but if you keep geese, you won't need to do it nearly as often, and the work will be much, much lighter.
Still Game for Geese?
Our geese have brought us much pleasure, and I hope that if you decide to keep geese you'll love them as much as we love having ours.
Many people keep them as pets, but some people raise them for food. Geese make a fabulously luxurious Christmas dinner, but remember, you'll also have goose liver (pate), goose fat (for roast potatoes), and goose gizzards. In France, the gizzards are called "gesiers," and I use them to make a typical Limousin salad or, if I have a lot, I make gizzard curry. Goose gesiers take longer to cook than chicken gizzards, but they are super meaty and tasty. If you would like to try some, check out my gizzard curry recipe.
Me and My Geese
When I was a child, we had a pet goose that we kept in our backyard, but I wouldn't advise you to do the same now that I know more about what makes a goose happy and healthy. At Les Trois Chenes bed and breakfast in Limousin, France, we have kept geese for the past eight years, mainly to help keep the grass under control. But, we also love hatching out goslings and watching them grow. Our guests love them as well, even if some don't want to get too close.
Geese do have their drawbacks though. They can be intimidating and are certainly noisy, but because of this, they make excellent watch dogs. I hope that the pros and cons I've listed above will help you decide whether to keep them.
This has been my guide and handbook for the animals we have kept at Les Trois Chenes. It has been a classic book for stock keepers since it was first published.
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My Goslings Featured in My Easter and Greeting Cards
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