How to Care for Geese and Goslings - Natural Ecological Lawn Mowers
Taking care of geese is not so hard
Keeping geese is fun and profitable but you have to do it properly! Why not keep geese? Why cut grass, waste resources and struggle to maintain a noisy, costly lawn mower? Geese make lovely pets but they do have a few special requirements.
You must be able to afford to feed the geese and pay for housing, fencing, straw and medication if necessary. You must 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, your geese will be pleasure and you'll be richly rewarded in so many ways - not least by mowing your lawn for you!
Me and my geese
When I was a child we had a pet goose that we kept in our back yard, (another story), 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, S W France, we have kept geese for the last eight years, mainly to help keep the grass under control, and have loved hatching out goslings and watching them grow. Our guests love them as well, even if some didn't want to get too close.
Geese do have their drawback though. They can be intimidating and they are certainly noisy, but because of this they make excellent watch dogs, but many people don't know just how lovable they can be.
If you have a yearning to keep geese but don't know if it's right for you, then read on and this may help you to decide.
For more about our lives at Les Trois Chenes, Limousin, France, Food and more see Find an article by Les Trois Chenes (Sorry no link - new rules)
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Pictures of our geese
First the bad news about keeping geese
(to save you time if it really is not for you)
- Geese are flock birds. They like company so 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 some are absolutely adorable, (see comments below), others can be a bit 'hissy' and even aggressive, especially if there are eggs or goslings.
- You can't tell the males from the females until they are about 9 months old and start to lay when the females' stomachs drop. Having said this someone on the inter-net pointed out that the males have an 'evil eye' and I think this is actually quite a good guide, and my husband has been saying for ages that this lot of geese are not as friendly as the others (which have turned out to be all female groups). Any hissing at you, their owner, is definitely a sign of masculinity!
- They do make a mess and leave a lot of droppings around. While I don't think it is offensive, like dog dirt, consisting mainly of grass, it is messy and unsightly, so you might want to keep them away from the house and paths etc at least for most of the time, especially as they tend to sit on the doorsteps and, if you have glass doors, tap to be let in!
- They produce quantities of soggy wet bedding
- They eat few things other than grass (chickweed, clover, dandelions, everlasting pea plants ..) but mine snip the heads and leaves of flowers, and they will chew the bark of climbers, even roses, and kill them, so you must protect the base of these somehow - build pretty little fences, wrap with chicken wire ...
- They are little divils for going around pecking and chewing things - like the badges on cars, or plastic table cloths, and shoe laces etc! I think they spend time grazing, and then have to digest the grass, and during this time they get bored and go around looking for mischief. It's this very quality, though, that puts them high up in the pet list alongside dogs.
- They make a noise. They are famous for being good watchdogs. In fact they are infinitely better than dogs (dogs have their own agenda - ours barks furiously, heckles up, - nothing. On other occasions, she cheerfully escorts perfect strangers up to the front door). Geese know a stranger when they see one. They will also call out even if they know the person. They will shout out chattily to greet you. (Not good if you have neighbours). Ours are very quiet, though, at night.
- They are quite delicate and, unlike hens, can suffer from vaious fatal conditions
My goslings feature in my Easter and greetings cards
And the good news about keeping geese
- They are lovable and friendly and can become very tame (females)
- They are elegant and decorative and the goslings are super cute
- They keep the grass cut
- They need only grass from about a month old and from April – October (ie while the grass is growing)
- You can then send them off to be prepared and put them in the freezer, or you can overwinter them and feed them on maize and corn and you'll get the eggs from December /January. Cheap to feed.
- If you do want to keep them as pets, they are long-lived, around 30 years.
- They are easier than hens to look after as you can herd them around. You can, for example, put them to bed at 6pm in the summer if you want to go out for the night. I can't enjoy being out after dark if I am fretting about the fox getting the hens and 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 blow the eggs and decorate them.
- They make a delicious dinner and you will know they have fed on good food and had a nice life
- The quantities of soggy wet bedding make excellent compost material
What you need to care for geese properly
- About 100m2 of good short grass per goose
- The grass must be short at first, approx 4”. So if you have long grass, cut it first and remove the cuttings.As they don’t eat most weeds, you will need to pass the mower or strimmer over periodically. Also try to reduce the weeds and increase the grass – selective weed killer (but be careful as this will kill the dandelions and clover, wild mint, violets, daisies etc as well as the nasties)
- 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 can be bothered to clean out paddling pools, or you have a lake or large pond this is ideal. They might pollute a small, natural pond though – take advice and take care when giving them access to water.
- A fox-proof place to sleep which is dry and not draughty and is about 1m2 per goose. You must be able to clean it out comfortably. I give them a bucket of water at night and if you can make this so they can’t tip it up – so much the better.
- They need clean straw putting down at night for bedding.
- If you need to contain them, sheep fencing about 4’ high is fine. They can fly over if they want to, but don’t generally bother.
- You don't need to worry about cold if your climate is like Limousin or anywhere in Britain. They love cold and rain.
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.
Care of goslings
- Choose a reputable breeder. If you can see where they are reared, check it's clean and spacious.
- Do make sure, though, 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 unpecked ones are the peckers!!
- Which breed? Here in the Limousin white ‘Poitou’ and grey geese are kept. The white are for the table and ‘eider down’, the grey, the locals tell me, are best for roasting. I have no experience of keeping the fancy breeds, although, if I have more time, I'd love to.
Caring for goslings
- They don’t make good mothers so it's best to give two eggs to a broody hen, who will then be very perplexed when they will not scratch around for food, 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 75cm x 75cm x 60high with a base and a removable wire mesh lid. (In fact, it was designed as a car box for our pointer, but proved more useful for chicks and goslings). You should be able to keep 4 or 5 goslings in this for 3 or 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, such as newspaper, to stand on. Slippery surfaces can lead to damaged leg development. Ideally, lay down thick base of newspaper, and cover that with an old towel. When this is soiled, take it out and shake it, then hang it up to dry and replace it with another one. Other breeders advise wire netting, making sure it is free from any wire that could injure the goslings. Again, when soiled, take out and brush off.
- They need to be kept warm. Much will depend on the weather, but you will probably need an infra red lamp specially designed for the job. Suspend this over the box – or in the box, as necessary. You might have to devise some contraption with chairs and brooms. I have a nail in a beam and put my lamp on a long chain. When it is in the box, put it at one corner, so the goslings can site directly under it, but can also escape the heat if necessary. To gauge the distance away from the goslings (and so gauge the temperature) watch their behaviour. If they huddle together, they are cold, if they disperse to the edges of the box they are too hot. When the walk around or sit around the middle, not too close together – that is the ideal temperature. Then raise the lamp a little each week, as necessary. They should not need the heat after 4 – 5 weeks – perhaps only at night if it is warm or if they can be put out on a sunny day. You have to play it by ear.
- Buy unmedicated chick crumbs for the first few weeks of life. It is important to check that it is unmedicated, as the goslings will eat much more food than the chicks do. They need water but shouldn’t be allowed into water until they get their feathers. I use a cat bowl for their food and another, a little distance away, for their water.
- They need something to peck at. I tried raising goslings and chicks together, and 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 (or for that matter why they shouldn't get wet, for that matter,) as if their mothers were looking after them they would eat grass from hatching! Anyway – I am not an expert, but have friends who put their goslings out on grass after two weeks, and when I did that – on a sunny day – they were happy and healthy. You will need a safe environment – no dogs like our intrepid hunter, Molly!! – or anywhere they can get trapped or escape. You might want to make a run for them, or use a rabbit run if you have one. Also choose a warm, dry, sunny day. We delight in getting the goslings out if we have lunch or aperitifs outside. They won’t run away, but will pick grass and chunter charmingly, and sit under the chairs or tables or on your feet. They love to nibble (or nip) your toes, and fidddle with and chew the hems of your skirt, shoe laces or the buckles on your sandals. This for us, was one of the delights of the warm days and evenings of spring in France.
- As soon as you think they can defend themselves against rats, and don’t need the heat any more, 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 them with pellets for the next stage on. Check with your animal food supplier to make sure you are giving them the correct ones, or add in slowly 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 perhaps don’t namby-pamby them too much!
- If they do look the least bit off colour, and this manifests itself as being sluggish, not rushing to eat, sitting or staying alone, limping or falling over, get them straight to the vets.Two years running I lost one just as they seemed to have become, nice, big healthy adults. The vet gave me antibiotics to put in the water – very cheap – and if I had acted quickly I could, possibly, have saved the first one. The vet didn’t seem to know, though, what is was or how I could prevent it happening in future.
- If they present any odd symptoms, get on the inter-net or to the vets or check a book, like Katie's.
- I don’t worm or medicate mine, but it is good practice to move them from old grass to new, clean areas periodically. Here this occurs naturally – from the lawn to the play area, from the play area to the gite, from the gite to the field. Always be aware of when you might have guests, especially children using the grass, and make sure you move the geese off in plenty of time.
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 and will devour the grass and some herbs, but other plants, such as docks and nettles, they won't touch.
You'll still need to mow the lawn with a normal lawn mower, but 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 loved having ours.
Many people will keep their geese as pets and love them forever (they live quite a long time 20 - 30 years!) but others will keep geese for meat.
Geese make a fabulously luxurious Christmas dinner, but remember you'll also have goose liver (pate), goose fat (roast potatoes) and goose gizzards. In France the gizzards are called 'gesiers' and I use them to make a typically Limousin salad or, if I have lots, I make gizzard curry. Goose gesiers will probably take longer to cook than chicken gizzards but are super meaty and tasty. This is my gizzard recipe below - why not try it?
You can use goose gizzards to make this tasty and unusual curry
- Curry Chicken Gizzards Recipe
Chicken gizzard curry is a super healthy, budget-fiendly dish for all the family. Good food is becoming even more precious to us in these hard times. Money is tight but we don't want to compromise on nutrition, so what could be better than a deliciou
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