Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Raising Backyard Geese: A Complete Guide for Beginners


Thinking about raising geese in your backyard or on your farm? Maybe those adorable goslings at the feed store were too hard to resist.

Or perhaps past encounters have left you a bit wary of these feathered friends after being chased as a child. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in wondering about keeping geese.

Backyard geese can be a fun and rewarding addition. These vocal birds offer more than just honks and hisses. If you haven’t considered it before, now might be the time to get a few goslings and integrate them into your farm life. They can bring an entertaining dynamic to your existing flock.

Why Keep Geese?

Geese often become delightful feathered pets that bond closely with their owners. You can raise them for their large, rich eggs that are great for baking and crafts. Their meat tastes surprisingly beef-like rather than typical poultry.

Geese also act as natural lawnmowers by grazing and trimming grass. In orchards, they help clear weeds and clean up fallen fruit, though be careful as they may nibble desirable garden plants too.

Geese live 15-20 years with proper care, providing long-term animal companions. Just note that goose eggs differ from chicken eggs – they have larger, richer yolks but thinner whites, making them less ideal for recipes needing stiff peaks like meringues. Instead, they shine in custards, cakes, and other baked goods.

Raising geese for meat offers a cost-effective alternative to beef for small farms. However, while geese protect other birds with their guarding instincts, they can still fall prey to common North American predators.

From a farmer’s perspective, geese are surprisingly low-maintenance. They are more self-sufficient than chickens and usually make attentive, capable parents.

Why Keep Geese?
Credit: Exploring Nature by Sheila Newenham

Traditional Goose Butchering

Not everyone gets to butcher their own geese in autumn, but those who do are in for a treat – rich, dark meat and plenty of prized goose fat. Imagine a succulent free-range goose roast for Christmas dinner, plus rendered fat to enrich countless future dishes.

After the initial gosling phase, geese can be fattened either confined or free-ranging. Confinement allows environmental control but increases feed and housing costs. C

onfined broiler geese can reach 9 lbs in just 8-9 weeks, while larger breeds hit 13 lbs by 12-14 weeks. Confinement also enables denser rearing, housing geese on deep litter like broiler chickens, or some use slatted or mesh floors for easier cleaning and parasite control.

Pastured geese need less intensive care – just food, water, fencing and shade in milder climates. While not as efficient at digesting grass as other poultry, they consume plenty along with insects, making up about 10% of their protein needs.

Pasture-raised geese take longer to grow but are leaner, potentially saving farmers up to 48% on feed costs compared to confinement.

Geese are hardy foragers able to roam considerable distances if needed, with a strong flocking instinct that makes them relatively easy to move and manage. They’ll instinctively return home each evening, even from 3 miles away.

For a goose pasture, most grass and clover mixes work except alfalfa which they avoid. A perennial ryegrass, timothy and white clover mix can support about 60 geese per acre with rotational grazing.

Butchering geese closely follows standard poultry methods. A goose yields about 70% edible meat including giblets, or 63% without.

It involves hanging the goose upside-down, making a neck incision to bleed it out, then plucking feathers after a hot water dip to loosen them. Fine down is removed with a wax dip followed by cold water to set and peel off the wax.

To determine optimal slaughter time, pull out some breast and tail feathers from sample birds. If bloody or excessively soft, wait another week. Firm, easily-plucked feathers indicate it’s butchering time.

Preserving Goose Feathers

When processing geese, be sure to save those valuable feathers. The soft goose down makes luxurious pillow and comforter filling – like sleeping on a cloud.

While it takes down from several geese to fill a comforter, even a small pillow needs just a handful. The long flight feathers are great for crafting unique decorations or jewelry.

Down and feathers are highly prized in fashion and bedding. The finest down comes from the breast area and the higher the down content, the more luxurious and valuable the item. Premium down is often mixed with additional feathers.

To collect feathers, one method is to briefly scald the geese in 140-154°F water for 1-3 minutes to loosen coarse feathers for hand-plucking. Remaining down and fine feathers are then removed by hand or machine before drying and sorting by quality.

Live geese can be plucked starting around 9-10 weeks old to coincide with their natural molting cycle, then again every 6 weeks. While all breeds can be plucked, white feathers tend to fetch higher prices.

Foie Gras Production

Foie gras, the “fatty liver” delicacy, comes from geese (or ducks) that undergo forced feeding to drastically expand their livers.

During a 14-21 day period starting around 9-25 weeks old, the birds consume a calorie-dense diet that causes their livers to swell tremendously from the typical 0.2 oz to 21-28 oz.

Proper breed selection is critical – needing birds that can rapidly grow large livers yet remain calm despite frequent handling up to 6 times per day. Favorites include the Toulouse breed in the U.S. and Landes in Europe.

The focus is harvesting the prized fattened liver. During careful defeathering by hand or machine, extreme caution prevents liver damage. Quickly chilling the extracted liver ensures premium quality and minimizes fat loss during cooking.

Foie Gras Production
Credit: D’Artagnan Foods

Harnessing Geese for Natural Weed Control

Geese can be surprisingly helpful for keeping weeds under control in certain agricultural settings.

These herbivorous birds have a strong preference for leafy greens, making them unsuitable for typical vegetable gardens but perfect for navigating through berry patches, bushes, or young trees.

Many vineyards and orchards have turned to geese for natural weed management, avoiding the costs and environmental impact of chemical herbicides as well as the physical strain of manual weeding.

One reason geese excel as weeders is their dietary preference for grasses over broadleaf plants. This allows them to clear weeds and grass close to crops where mechanical tools like hoes can’t reach.

Beyond traditional fields, geese are also employed to manage vegetation in hard-to-maintain areas like dikes and drainage ditches.

They tirelessly work throughout the day, continually removing new weed growth without harming the roots of the crops. As an added bonus, they contribute natural fertilizer to the soil as they forage.

Historically, geese began their role as agricultural helpers in the cotton fields of the United States. Their use has since expanded to include a diverse array of crops such as asparagus, potatoes, various fruits, nuts, beans, hops, and several types of ornamental flowers like roses and peonies.

To control their diet, geese are often fed minimally during the day, with any supplemental grain provided in the evening. This feeding strategy depends on the availability of natural forage and is crucial to prevent them from nibbling on the crops they’re meant to weed.

Young geese, particularly goslings, are most commonly used in weeding programs. They are kept away from lush grass until they are introduced to the fields to ensure they don’t turn down the less appealing weeds.

These goslings are generally prepared by brooding for about six to eight weeks before being moved to the fields permanently. It’s generally recommended not to use geese across seasons, as older geese are less energetic and more challenging to contain within field boundaries during hot weather.

Harnessing Geese for Natural Weed Control
Credit: Tyrant Farms

The breed of geese selected for weeding is crucial; Chinese geese are often preferred for their vigor, although larger breeds like African geese can be used if size is a factor. The number of geese per acre varies depending on the weed density and the type of crop.


For example, a couple of geese per acre are typically sufficient for cotton, while more may be needed for strawberries, especially as the season progresses and weed growth intensifies.

In summary, geese not only serve as effective and eco-friendly weed controllers in a variety of agricultural settings but also contribute to soil health through their natural activities.

They offer a practical solution to weed management that bypasses the drawbacks of mechanical and chemical alternatives.

The Protective Power of Geese on Your Farm

Geese are renowned for their sharp, penetrating honks that echo across the farm, alerting you to any unusual activity.

If you’re looking to boost the security of your property, consider the humble goose—often more reliable than a guard dog, as they’re immune to bribery and distractions.

While they might not fend off all predators, their presence alone is enough to deter many intruders, particularly humans who might be wary of approaching these feisty birds.

These birds are naturally adept at distinguishing between everyday noises and those that signal trouble, thanks to their strong territorial instincts. When something out of the ordinary appears, whether on two legs or four, geese won’t hesitate to sound the alarm.

Employing geese as security isn’t a new concept; even the ancient Romans recognized their vigilance. For optimal effectiveness, it’s best to keep geese in groups, with a single male to avoid any disruptions caused by squabbles.

Not only do geese serve as excellent protectors on their own, they also watch over other birds such as chickens. They excel at chasing away smaller predators and are particularly vigilant against threats from the sky.

Although a goose may not be able to tackle every threat, its alert will give you precious time to step in and protect your farm animals from potential harm.

The Protective Power of Geese on Your Farm
Credit: Hello Homestead

Integrating Geese into Your Poultry Collection

Goose eggs are notably large and flavorful, packing the equivalent nutritional punch of three chicken eggs.

Perfect for whipping up a hearty omelet that can satisfy one or two people, these eggs feature robust yolks that not only enrich the color of your dishes but also enhance their texture, holding everything together beautifully.

Geese lay eggs mainly in the spring and early summer, providing a delicious and substantial food source during these months. Their eggs are especially ideal for crafting homemade pasta, and with geese that graze on fresh, nutrient-rich pastures, you’ll hardly notice any difference in taste.

Beyond their culinary contributions, geese bring a unique charm and liveliness to any setting.

Known for their bold curiosity, geese will often involve themselves in your activities, showcasing their distinct personalities—contrary to their reputation for aggression, many are actually quite gentle and enjoy closeness with their caretakers.

Recognized for their intelligence and emotional depth, geese form lifelong bonds and thrive on routine, offering daily entertainment through their predictable behaviors like bathing, preening, and lounging in the sun.

Those raised by hand from an early age are known to imprint on their human caregivers, following them ardently and expressing their affection vocally and enthusiastically as they mature.

Living up to 20 years, or even longer in some cases, geese are a long-term commitment but also a rewarding one. They provide not only companionship but also practical benefits as egg producers and natural protectors in your yard.

Their dignified presence adds a timeless elegance to any farm scene, often seen overseeing other poultry or resting majestically on one leg. If you’re already a poultry enthusiast, consider the multifaceted benefits of raising geese, which can bring both joy and utility to your homestead.

Learn more about Creating a Multi-Feathered Flock: Tips for Mixing Birds of Different Feathers in Your Backyard Coop

Understanding Geese: Their Feeding and Grazing Habits

Geese have unique feeding habits compared to other poultry like chickens, ducks, and turkeys. They primarily thrive on grass due to their specialized digestive systems.

It’s best to let your geese graze in pastures with grass around three inches tall, as they find it difficult to feed on taller grass.

In addition to grazing, geese need a variety of greens, and you should provide them with non-medicated poultry feed since medicated feed for chickens could harm them.

You can find many feed options, from premium brands specifically made for geese to more generic types available at local stores.

Typically, an acre of land can sustain about 20-40 geese, with the exact number depending on the goose breed and the land’s quality. During colder months, you can supplement their diet with options like soaked alfalfa, vegetables, or quality hay.

Regarding water access, geese don’t require a pond but enjoy bathing. A simple kiddie pool will suffice, especially since geese can make a mess while bathing. In colder regions, it’s practical to provide smaller water sources to prevent freezing.

Geese are robust animals that often prefer staying outdoors, even in freezing temperatures. They generally don’t seek shelter, but it’s wise to observe their typical behaviors to quickly notice any signs of illness.

As for their living quarters, geese need a secure space at night to protect them from predators and the elements. A shelter with an open design, like a loafing shed, is adequate, as geese do not roost. Ensuring the shelter is ventilated and has a mesh front can help keep it dry and safe.

When it comes to breeding, geese mate more effectively in water. They require about three square feet of space each in their night shelter, which should have provisions for fresh water and possibly a gentle night light to aid their poor night vision and reduce disturbances.

Lastly, when female geese lay eggs, they prefer a calm, secure environment. Using a large cat litter pan with pine shavings and hay makes an excellent nesting site, ensuring they have enough material to comfortably lay and cover their eggs until the clutch is complete, usually containing 7-12 eggs.

Breeding Geese: Practices for Successful Rearing

You might wonder if geese can coexist peacefully with other types of poultry. It really varies from one goose to another and from one setup to the next. While some geese get along just fine with chickens or ducks, it’s wise to have a backup plan in case they don’t mix well in the shared space.

Space is crucial; geese can become bullies if they’re cramped. Depending on the breed, some chickens, like the quick-footed Leghorns, can dodge geese better, whereas slower breeds might struggle. Be extra cautious during mating season—geese can become territorial and aggressive.

I’ve had experiences mixing geese with various poultry like ducks, chickens, and even turkeys, with mixed outcomes. For instance, Muscovy ducks and ganders often clash, and turkeys generally don’t mix well with geese at all. However, Crested Guineafowl seem to coexist without issues—they mostly ignore each other.

On the topic of geese being mean, they’re often misunderstood. They can actually be quite friendly, especially if hand-raised and well-socialized.

Sure, they might act tough when strangers come around, but that’s just them being protective. It helps to keep them penned when you have visitors. Just remember, during their breeding season, ganders can be particularly feisty.

And yes, geese are notably louder than most backyard poultry, especially during their breeding season or when they’re excited. However, they aren’t noisy all the time.

If you’re considering breeding geese, they are generally excellent parents and breed seasonally. How often they lay eggs depends on the breed. For example, Chinese and African geese lay in both spring and fall, while other breeds might only lay in the spring.

If you’re incubating eggs, remember it can be complex, and incubation periods vary by breed. Make sure the female can bathe to maintain the right humidity for the eggs.

Once the goslings hatch, ensure they can access food and water without risking drowning. They love to graze and should be fine outside as long as it’s warm, and they aren’t getting into deep water.

Learn To Unlocking the Potential: Embracing Heritage Breeds for Diverse Poultry Selection

What type of goose should you consider?

The choice is personal, depending on what you’re looking for in a goose. Here’s an overview of some popular breeds you might encounter:

Light Breeds

  • Chinese (Brown and White):

Known for their elegant, upright posture and long necks, Chinese geese are energetic and smaller compared to other breeds. They feature a distinctive knob on their beaks and are excellent for tasks like weeding and guarding due to their loud honks and alert nature.

Originating from the wild Swan Goose, they are lighter and have a delicate structure. Known for their loud, alert calls, they lay eggs twice a year—once in spring and once in fall.

Chinese geese
Credit: wikipedia
  • Roman and Roman Tufted:

The Roman Tufted goose, with its noticeable head tuft, is a small, friendly, yet vigilant bird, making it an ideal guard. The plain Roman goose, however, does not have this tuft.

  • Cotton Patch:

This breed shows clear sexual dimorphism, allowing you to distinguish males from females by color.

  • Shetland:

A favorite among breeders, the small Shetland goose is another breed where males and females are distinguishable by their colors.

Medium Breeds

  • Pilgrim:

Pilgrim geese are known for their calm demeanor and are also sex-linked.

  • American (Buff, Blue, and Lavender):

Typically calm, with Buff being a common color. The Blue and Lavender varieties, developed by Dave Holderread, are rarer.

  • Sebastopol:

Famous for their unique curly feathers, Sebastopol geese are predominantly white, though other colors like buff, grey, and blue are also available. Due to their popularity, it’s crucial to verify the quality of the breeder, as some may overcharge for lower quality birds.

  • Pomeranian:

The Pomeranian, particularly in its saddleback variety, is notable for its distinctive plumage, available in grey and buff in the U.S., with some European breeders also offering white and solid grey.

Heavy Breeds

  • African:

One of the largest breeds in the U.S., African geese are impressive in size.

  • Embden:

Large and primarily raised for meat, Embdens are substantial in size.

  • Toulouse:

Available in both a standard and a dewlap variety, which is significantly larger and known for its docility and friendliness. Toulouse geese prefer food over aggression, making them poor guards but excellent pets and prolific egg layers.

Toulouse geese
Credit: Heritage Poultry Conservancy

Selecting the right goose depends on your specific needs, whether for guarding, egg-laying, or simply as a pet. Each breed offers unique characteristics that might fit perfectly with your lifestyle and farming requirements.

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