It is incredibly common to see so many people talking about raising backyard chickens that it is easy to forget that there are other birds out there that are excellent for the small farm or prepper.
Chickens are a great option for a lot of people in town or with a small space but if you have a bit more space then geese are an excellent alternative with a lot of advantages.
Benefits of Geese
1. Geese Can Live On Mostly Grass & Forage
While chickens require varying amounts of concentrated feeds to perform well, geese after they are out of the brooder, can survive on mostly forage. This means that if you have the space you can keep some geese even if you are in a grid down or other collapses situation and cannot get any of the standard chicken or poultry feeds.
I live in western North Carolina and can tell you first hand that my geese will turn down grain at times for forage. Even in the winter time they will choose to forage. If there is something out there than they will do their best to try to find it.
We do give them some grains but this is mostly just when there is very inclement weather like a lot of snow on the ground or if the forage does happen to get a bit sparse due to lack of rain or it just being the dead of winter.
2. Cold Hardy Birds
It is quite amazing to see first hand how little wet and cold conditions bother a goose. On a -5 Fahrenheit day, I have seen them get into a stock tank or our pond and take a refreshing bath for an extended period of time!
3. No Major Housing Required
Since geese are so cold hardy you can raise them without having any major goose housing. Geese do like to hang out under a roof but they prefer to be out and about in the grass and forage areas most of the time.
When they want to rest they can often be found under a tree or just sitting out in the grass with their fellow geese.
4. More Predator Resistant
My husband and I live on a mountain near a national forest and with a lot of undeveloped land above us. Neighboring properties have been let go so they are overgrown on most sides of our property. As a result the predator population can wreck true havoc when it comes to raising any type of bird.
On our mountain, we are prime habitat for Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Raccoons, Oppossums, Bobcats, and Bears. A large goose is harder for birds of prey to get because they are too heavy to carry off. The way a goose honks and flaps their wings makes them a lot more intimidating to predators than an upset chicken.
A goose has a serrated bill that is capable of pinching quite hard. Once we raised a big patch of cabbage and the geese got into it and they could literally saw up a cabbage in no time!
How to Keep Geese
Overstocking geese can be messy. The put down a lot of fertilizer due to a simple digestive track and the sheer amount of green forage they eat which contains a lot of water.
You don’t want more than 25 geese per acre even under the best circumstances. If your forage is sparse then adjust accordingly. Smaller breeds are going to have a larger stocking rate.
While these are official numbers I found when researching geese for our land, I think that more than 15 of the largest goose breed, Emden, per acre is pushing it unless you want to supplement a lot or deal with a lot of bird feces. Rotating birds through several areas can help make sure you are not overgrazing one particular spot.
While you can get a goose up to butchering weight in a season of grazing, they don’t really fully mature and reach a good rate of reproduction until they are 2-3 years old. That doesn’t mean that you won’t get some that set and hatch or that you won’t have fertile eggs for incubation, it merely means that they are not going to have as good a rate of hatching until they are mature.
Geese can live to be 30 years old or more but this is rare because it is not practical or cost effective to keep a bird that long. Combine that with predation and you can see why most birds are not kept past their first year unless being raised to breed.
Choosing Your Breed
I highly recommend getting Emdens due to their size, fast growth rate, and temperament. They lay large eggs due to being the largest breed of goose available.
If you have ever bought a goose at the grocery store for roasting then you are either eating an Emden or a Chinese and Emden cross.
Getting Over the Geese Are Mean Stereotype
When I tell people that we have geese, I often get told that geese are mean or even sometimes a blow-by-blow account of someone’s run in with geese at their grandmothers or the lake. While it is true that even the best behaved goose is probably still not going to be as nice or docile as a chicken, saying they are all really mean is a bit of a stretch.
The main thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of different varieties of geese out there and some are definitely known for being more aggressive than others towards people and pets.
- Emdens, Toulouse, Pilgram, and Buff American are all known for a calm temperament
- White Chinese and Egyptian Geese are known for being aggressive and noisier
Children are the most at risk of injury by a grown goose because the bill is at eye level. Geese also have very powerful wings that can smack. This is something to be aware of, and I do recommend that if you have a goose that is especially temperamental, you should butcher it off.
Most of the time when a goose has been aggressive with me or my husband, it has just been a case of a male during breeding season grabbing hold of our jeans when we are bent over. It is easily avoidable most of the time. Breeding season and when they are hatching out goslings is when there is the best chance of aggressive behaviors.
Geese do not need an extremely high protein starter feed. As long as they have a starter ration that is 16% protein or higher then you are good. I think the 20% protein starters give them the best boost during the first month.
One of the most important things to remember is to not feed any medicated chick starters or other feeds to geese unless it is specifically labeled for them. Commercial medicated chick starters contain medications that can kill ducks, geese, and turkeys.
Read labels yourself before buying. Sometimes feed store employees do not know as much as you might think so check that feed sack yourself.
While our geese are protective of their babies, we still usually take them away from the mothers and put them under a brooder light and start them on feed. They are so vulnerable when young that we have found that the survival rate is a lot better if we do this.
If you have housing to put up mama and babies then you may not feel the need. Our big geese like to be out on grass though. After 3-4 weeks, we can turn the babies back out with them.
When they are really young is the only time they are vulnerable to cold so much so I still maintain that major housing is not a requirement.
Geese and Water
Geese love water and they can sure make a mess of it quick. This is one of the more challenging aspects of raising them. Natural ponds might look pretty with geese on them but the water quality can quickly deteriorate especially during dry periods.
We have a flowing spring that our geese use but sometimes we just use buckets or water tubs that are up to 40 gallons. Changing out water daily is pretty much what you have to do unless you have a natural source that you don’t mind having geese in. We often just use smaller containers for water because if you fill up something big then they will bathe a lot more than necessary and get the water pretty dirty.
Butchering and Yield
If you wait until a goose is more than 6 months old to butcher then they are not going to be as tender. That doesn’t mean they won’t be excellent for roasting or canning. Geese are usually dry plucked so it can take awhile to clean them.
Most geese at grocery stores are in the 10-12 lb dressed weight size so you can expect similar sizes with your own if growing the larger Emden or Emden-Chinese crosses that are used commercially.
Tips on Keeping Geese
We started raising geese so we would have something to graze under our grape vines. We have a steep slope vineyard that is managed organically. Parts of the year we graze the geese under the vines and it cuts down on the amount of mowing and weed-eating we have to do to keep everything in good shape.
Our grapes are on a high wire trellis and geese can only reach up so far. They can also help by removing side shoots and other grape growth we don’t want.
Our Geese Keep Other Birds Away
Geese honk a lot and I do think at this point they help keep large birds like turkeys out of our vineyard and away from the property in general.
You Can Keep Large Geese In Many Standard Fences
Chickens can be a challenge to keep inside a fence. Geese can be the same way but after they are a certain size you can keep them in a lot of fences that would not hold a chicken. Large geese are too big to get very far from the ground.
Don’t get me wrong, they can glide down a hill when they take a notion to but for the most part you can keep them in a lot of fences and definitely in electric poultry netting or similar.
Not Suitable For Those With Close Neighbors
Geese will let you know when something is around. They can be very loud when they are excited about food or anything that is lurking around. Even a few geese are probably going to be too much for your neighbors to deal with in terms of noise if you don’t have a little space between you.
Some breeds are noisier than others but even the quietest geese are pretty loud when something gets them excited.
Geese Are Good For Security
If you have heard about how Guineas are the watch dogs of the barnyard then you are aware that birds are an alert bunch. Geese will absolutely let you know if anything is amiss around your place. If they see an intruder then they are going to honk. If a predator is in the area they will make some noise too.
I know that I sometimes quote Carla Emery and “The Encyclopedia Of Country Living” and I am going to do it again here. Carla had a reader tell her that once she went out to her chicken house and found her geese attempting to pull a fox apart that had tried to get at the mixed flock! Some of the geese literally had bits of fox hide and fur hanging off their bills.
Geese Need Forage To Be Healthy
If you have ever bought a goose to cook at the grocery store, you may have noticed that they are $40 – $60. Part of the reason for this is volume but the actual main cause of the cost is the fact that geese cannot be produced in the same type of confinement operations as a Cornish Cross Broiler chicken.
A goose has to have some green forage for growth and health.
Commercial chicken foods have a lot of corn and waste products from other food endeavours in them. This subsidized feed keeps costs low but also allows quantities of Roundup and other industrial pesticides and herbicides to enter your food supply.
Geese are definitely fed some grains but not in the quantities that commercial chickens are. Geese do not have as many antibiotic residues either because they are not kept in conditions that are unsanitary and unhealthy enough to warrant using them.
As stated before, even if antibiotics are used in goose foods, they have to be only certain ones and used with caution. Most of the time people just only use them if there is actually a problem.
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