Earlier this year we had planned to add a pair of geese to raise on our homestead. I even had the deposit down on a pair of goslings and was anxiously awaiting their arrival. But… life had other plans and we had to put it on hold until next year.
Geese are often given a bad rap and a lot of people stray from even attempting to raise them. They’re often said to be aggressive and not overly useful for much of anything. Especially a small, backyard homestead.
But, most of what we have heard about geese is a misconception. Geese used to be an integral part of farming and are one of the first animals that were domesticated by humans. In fact, some breeds of geese are considered to be what allowed people to survive the great depression by providing them with a regular source of meat, eggs, and grease.
Benefits of Raising Geese on Your Homestead
Geese can be a great addition to a homestead simply as watchdogs and are often praised at doing the job better than most dogs because it’s more difficult to get on their good side (they’re not going to appreciate a piece of steak, they’re vegetarians). But, they have a lot of other benefits as well. And I can’t wait to add them to our homestead next year.
- Geese Are Excellent Watchdogs
Geese are very territorial and aren’t as easily swayed as a domesticated dog can sometimes be. In fact, they were even credited by historians to be utilized in ancient Rome to give alarm when the Gauls invaded.
Today, they are utilized to be a deterrent to natural predators for your flock as well as an alarm for unwanted (or wanted) guests.
They usually tolerate their caregivers very well, but anyone who isn’t them, they will honk about and if that person continues to approach, they’ll generally begin to hiss, chase, and even bite.
Bottom line, you’re going to know when someone is around whether they should be or not.
Some breeds are better at being guard geese than others such as the African Goose and the Chinese goose.
- Geese Are Easy to Raise
Unlike chickens, geese are super simple to raise. They’re very hardy and don’t even require much food after they’ve grown because they’re foragers. As long as you have some lawn, pasture, or garden for them to forage on… they’re happy as clams and won’t require much supplemental feed.
- Geese Are Great At Weeding
Some people are surprised to learn that geese are vegetarians. They won’t typically eat the snails off of your garden plants, unlike their waterfowl friend, the duck. However, they can definitely be a great asset to keeping your garden weeds more manageable, as long as you keep the geese managed properly. And they will, sometimes, eat bugs or worms… but not often.
In fact, many geese breeds were raised exactly for that purpose… to keep crops weeded. When left to their own devices, they can definitely tear up a garden, but when they are managed properly, they can be a great way to keep the weeds easier to handle.
When I say managed properly, what I mean is there are some things you will have to keep them out of, unless you want it destroyed and certain weeds (like broadleaf weeds) will need to be introduced early if you want them to eat them. But, even with all of that with a little bit of research and work, they can help make your garden chores easier.
- Geese Are Good Parents and Setters
I always find it fascinating that the goose as well as the gander raise their goslings. The gander will stand watch and help protect the clutch while the goose is incubating the eggs. He will also help protect and raise them once they hatch. I’ve definitely never witnessed a rooster doing that!
Geese are also generally excellent setters so you don’t have to worry about incubating or brooding your own because the pair will take care of it for you. Goose eggs are not easy to incubate as they require a lot more moisture than chicken or even duck eggs, so it’s best to leave it to the experts. However, a broody hen can, and will, hatch a few goose eggs if given the proper situation and opportunity.
- Geese are Excellent Flock Protectors
Just like keeping you and your property safe by alerting you to any unwanted guests… they will also help protect your flock.
Geese will sound off as soon as they see a predator which makes it more difficult for the predator to continue hunting your flock and alerts your flock to danger and once everyone is making noise, the predator usually won’t even bother.
- They Provide Delicious Meat Inexpensively
Most geese breeds do not typically lay many eggs per year and while their eggs can be highly sought after and go for a decent price, they are typically raised for their meat, and it’s delicious. And fairly inexpensive to produce.
As I said, geese are foragers. When left to their own devices with some grass and weeds to forage, they will put on weight. They’ll put it on fairly quickly and relatively inexpensively. Meaning… they don’t need a ton of expensive, supplemental feed to grow to butcher weight.
Geese are pretty big birds. Depending on the breed they can weigh anywhere from a mere 8 to a whopping 26 (or more) pounds. Which produces a great deal of meat for very little investment of money or time.
And goose meat? It’s more like steak than it is like chicken and absolutely delicious. Which gives you all the more reason to raise your own gaggle, huh?
- They’re Healthy & Live a Long Time
Like most waterfowl, geese are hardy animals that aren’t susceptible to the diseases that chickens are. A breeding pair can live 20 years or even longer which is pretty awesome, in my book.
They will produce plenty of goslings for you to either grow your own gaggle or grow to butcher and keep (or sell) the meat. They can be lucrative in the right market, but they also make it easy to just have a breeding pair and not have to worry about losing them in a few short years to disease or death.
Starting Your Flock of Geese
Geese are loyal to their partners and typically mate for life, so buying a pair (or a trio) to start with is fairly common practice. We plan to purchase a pair of day-old goslings and raise them.
Some people choose to purchase a trio, which can work equally well. You simply purchase one gander and two geese to breed. In larger operations, you may pair up a few geese to each gander, but not typically more than a few. And for our small homestead, a pair will provide us with plenty.
Generally, you will purchase day-old goslings in the late spring or early summer. They will, of course, need a brooder without parents. And, just like ducklings, they aren’t fully waterproof at birth.
By purchasing them in the late spring or early summer, though, they are infinitely easier to care for since the weather outside is favorable. You can put them out to forage and do their thing as long as they are fenced and it stays above 50 degrees. They can be brought in when the weather is cooler or, you can simply brood them in an outdoor brooder as long as the temperature isn’t too cold for them. We don’t like keeping brooders in our house for long, so I prefer this.
Goslings also only require about 4 weeks of a warm, dry place before they can begin to be introduced to full-time outdoor living (with a house or coop, of course). Like ducks, they do not roost, so a simple house with bedding on the floor will suffice.
Goslings will need some heat for the first few weeks, most people simply brood them like any other waterfowl and keep a heat lamp on them while increasing the distance of it until it is no longer needed.
Goslings can eat chick starter or waterfowl (duck) starter as long as it is not medicated. They grow very quickly (like ducks) and can run into leg trouble if they aren’t able to get outside and forage while they are young. So, make sure you get them out as soon as they are able to, but don’t let them get wet, as they can become waterlogged until their feathers gain the waterproofing they need.
Geese do not lay near as many eggs as laying hens do. A goose of around a year old will lay eggs, though. How many depends on the breed and age of the goose. The production in the first year is generally pretty low and then it will increase from there. Geese do not lay year-round, typically only a few months out of the year. One goose can set on about 10 eggs a year.
They can be very selective when choosing a breeding partner, but a pair of them for your typical small, backyard homestead shouldn’t run into any issues. They will be more fertile and productive in their second year than in their first.
Heritage Goose Breeds to Choose From
I am very passionate about utilizing heritage breeds that our ancestors worked so hard to develop. Not only any heritage breeds but heritage breeds that risk extinction.
Since a lot of heritage breeds are not conducive to commercial farming, they are becoming harder and harder to locate and becoming less and less prevalent. So, I try very hard to make sure I am helping continue the heritage and possibly even saving a breed from extinction.
There are many, many heritage breeds of geese to choose from depending on what size of goose you want and the main purpose of the goose (meat, weeding, or guarding).
We originally planned to raise cotton patch geese. This breed is listed as critical by the livestock conservancy. They were originally used to weed cotton and cornfields until the 1950s.
Cotton patch geese are an auto-sexing breed. This means you can tell the sex of the bird by the coloring in both goslings and adults.
Once commonplace, they are exceedingly rare. They are fantastic foragers and are used primarily for weeding and meat. They grow to around 8-12 pounds at market weight.
Pilgrim geese are the breed of our little adopted gaggle. This breed is considered threatened by the livestock conservancy. Like the cotton patch, pilgrims are an auto-sexing breed.
Our pilgrims are really sweet and personable. They’ll definitely sound off when they see or hear something abnormal (even a car just driving down the road), but they’re not overly aggressive and have already learned that we are their caretakers and don’t come after us like we’re intruders.
This breed is typically used as a meat and grows to about 10-14 pounds at market weight. They lay about 40 eggs a year.
African geese are on the watch list of the livestock conservancy. This breed, along with its closely related Chinese goose, is considered great as guard geese.
They are usually raised for guarding as well as meat. They grow to about 16-18 pounds at market weight. It is said to be important to make sure you get good breeding stock and that they are not just oversized Chinese geese (which look very similar, only smaller).
African geese can be especially aggressive, particularly some of the ganders. So, if you select this breed keep that in mind.
What do domestic geese eat?
Domestic geese are primarily grazing animals. Their typical diet is more in comparison with a horse than a chicken. Providing them with plenty of forage is important.
If you don’t have a lot of grass available for them to forage, you can supplement their diet with quality grass hay that has not been sprayed as well as fresh vegetables.
While forage is important and ideally should consist of a large portion of their diet, it should be supplemented with grains. What type of grain you choose is a bit more personal. Organic corn can be a great grain to choose from or simply wheat or even oats. Alternatively, a waterfowl grain mix can also be used.
Geese eat a lot, and frequently. The amount of grain and supplemental feed you have to feed them is going to depend on the availability of grass and temperature.
Making sure your geese have ample forage, sunshine, and exercise is essential to their health and longevity whether they are goslings or grown adults, so make sure you plan accordingly.
Can you raise geese with chickens?
Absolutely! Like just about any backyard fowl, geese can live with chickens (and ducks, and even turkeys and guinea fowl). We have a mixed flock of chickens, guinea fowl, and ducks right now and they all get along really well.
The only real concern with mixing waterfowl of any kind with chickens is that 1) male waterfowl can kill your hens if they try to mate with them. We have never had this issue personally and as long as your males have a female or two to mate with, they should be fine.
And 2) waterfowl obviously like… water. Which can be messy and unpleasant for your chickens. We provide our waterfowl with swimming pools when it is warm out and we utilize buckets so that they can dip their heads in, even in the cold months. The ability to completely dip their heads is important, by the way.
We do not put water inside the coop. We actually never have, even before the addition of waterfowl a couple of years ago. Water and coops are just asking for trouble. Our entire flock must go outside to eat and drink, regardless of the weather. The water inside during the winter can contribute to frostbite and water and food at any time can contribute to pest problems that no one wants to deal with, so we keep it out at all times.
The easiest way to mix a flock is to have a flock that is similar in age. Of course, this isn’t always possible. When we add new flock members, regardless of species, we separate them by a fence so that they can all see each other, but not actually interact. Once everyone gets used to each other, we remove the fence and everyone intermingles and establishes their new pecking order without incident.
Aren’t geese aggressive?
I was attacked by a Canada goose as a child and used to be scared of them. So, yes, geese can be aggressive. Different breeds have a larger tendency to be aggressive than others.
Ganders can be especially aggressive during the breeding season, regardless of breed. They will also become aggressive if they feel their offspring are threatened after they hatch.
However, raising them from goslings in a gentle, polite way can help them develop into docile, fun birds.
For more information, the cackle hatchery has a great article about dealing with goose aggression.