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By January 22, 2016 0 Comments Read More →

An Introduction to Keeping Geese

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A flock of assorted geese.

Many of us who keep chickens might feel a little intimidated by the slightly more aggressive reputation of geese, but this would be a mistake and a missed opportunity, writes Terry Beebe

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Goose Breeds

Over the last few years more and more chicken keepers have found that they would like to expand their interests by keeping something a little different. Ducks have always been a part of the poultry keeper’s menagerie, but now keeping geese has also become extremely popular. They are useful, too, as effective grass cutters, an alarm call, and also for the table, should you decide to keep a commercial version for the meat. There is also an amazing selection of very fancy and ornamental breeds available which would make a superb addition to any keeper’s flock, and although you may be deeply involved with your chickens, keeping geese could bring fresh interest to the hobby, as it will offer a new and rather different aspect to keeping birds.

Although geese are generally quite large, they will still need to be kept securely, and are by no means predator-proof, even if they might believe it, and their size may lead you to believe it too. The Toulouse geese that I have bred over the years create a huge amount of noise when strangers are nearby, and they also give warning of any unwanted guests or visits by the neighbour’s dog. They have, in fact, succeed in chasing the aforementioned dog away a number of times, but do not let this give a false sense of security, as they are always susceptible to attack. It is wrong to believe that a goose can scare away a fox, so do not take the risk, and always make sure that they are secure and safe, especially at night-time.

A Greylag Goose - in a challenging mood

A Greylag Goose – in a challenging mood

They seem to graze continuously, and will keep your grass under control, but they can also be very destructive if left unattended in the garden, and will eat virtually anything they can reach. If they have access to plants, shrubs and flowers they will literally clear the place in just a few hours, so it is up to you as keeper to seal off any areas in which they are not allowed to roam.

WATER

Water is very important, and geese should always have a supply of fresh water to drink. You can use a large bucket, but this will need to be kept as clean as possible, as the birds dirty the water very quickly. A bucket held securely inside a car tyre will prevent it from being knocked over and causing unnecessary spillage.

Grey Chinese Geese drinking.

Grey Chinese Geese drinking.

FEEDING

Grass is classed as the main part of their diet, so good pasture is very important and needs to be kept in good order, or rotated if possible, to keep the areas fresh. During the winter the grass will of course stop growing, which means the birds will have limited grazing, and this is the time that you will need to supplement their diet. Adding grain or wheat will provide the extra feed required, and combined with some additional split maize should give a reasonably enhanced diet, but restrict the amount of maize you offer, as it can be fattening, and if the birds gain too much weight it will affect breeding and fertility. I also supply ours with a limited amount of standard layers’ pellets, as this helps by adding some extra vitamins and supplements to the diet.

Some breeders also add a little water to the grain to help the birds eat, but this is not essential.

Supplying grit and oyster-shell will help the birds to break down the feed and grasses, and crushed oyster-shell will give an additional source of calcium and phosphorus, both of which are needed to help with the production of good eggshells.

BEHAVIOUR

Geese are generally very well behaved, although they will act very defensively if approached, especially during the breeding season.  Their reaction will be one of hissing with the neck stretched forward and the beak open. Both male (gander) and female (goose) will react in exactly the same way and can be very vocal, and once they have made you back off they make even more noise, almost as if to say, “I have won”. This may also be accompanied by the flapping and spreading of wings, and will usually bring a chorus of reactions from all the other geese in the flock. Although most geese are actually very docile, the sight of a hissing goose could put off anyone not used to the birds, and their size can make them seem intimidating.

You should always stand your ground to make the birds realise just who is in charge, and in most cases they will understand and back off, but this can take time, and you may suffer the occasional nip. If all else fails, a dustbin lid makes an ideal shield for protection until the situation is brought under control.

You must also take into consideration the fact that geese live for a very long time − in some cases up to forty years − plus they are quite different from any other species of garden bird, as they will develop a strong family unit, and will also become bonded to the keeper, especially if a lot of time is spent with the birds.

HOUSING

Housing geese is quite simple. You can use a shed, a converted kennel, or anything of a suitable size – depending on how many geese you need to house. The main requirements are the need for a dry interior, and plenty of ventilation, but without draught. Whatever type of housing you provide, make sure it is secure and predator-proof, and if using a garden shed, remove the glass windows and replace them with a good, strong mesh.

Housing 1

Generally speaking, geese are better suited to cooler conditions, so make provision for them to have plenty of shade as the temperature rises. Natural shade from trees is ideal, but if there is no natural shade, then construct a simple shelter so they can find cover if it is needed.

MAINTENANCE

Keeping geese requires some basic day-to-day management. During really severe, cold winter months make sure that their water is replenished and kept as fresh as possible, and when it freezes it must be replaced to ensure they have constant access. Using a plastic drum or a bucket can be useful, as you can knock the sides in, and, in most cases, the ice will break, giving access to the water in extreme conditions.

Toulouse geese in exhibition or'dewlap' form.

Toulouse geese in exhibition or’dewlap’ form.

During the warmer months allow your geese access to grass, and if you do not have an area of water in which they can swim, then supply some type of container for them to be able to splash around, as this will help them to preen and clean their feathers. It is obviously far better for them to have access to a pond or pool, but this is not always possible, so making an alternative using even a small, children’s paddling pool will suffice − although it is not the best option, it is certainly better than nothing, and during spells of very wet weather it is a good idea to spread some straw in the run, especially in front of the entrance to the housing, in an effort to keep the interior as dry as possible.

There is one further consideration, specifically with regard to the larger breeds. Some of these breeds do need water in order to be able to mate successfully, as the breeding is often actually carried out in the water.

 

 

 

 

 

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