In Eggs and Poultry Made at Home (Firefly, 2012) by Dick and James Strawbridge is an ideal read for poultry farmers. Learn more about what it takes to raise and keep poultry such as chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. If you have any questions about poultry this the book for you. Find this excerpt in Chapter 5, “Geese.”
Why keep geese? Keeping poultry tends to not be the most glamorous lifestyle choice. However, when it comes to geese, there are not many domestic animals that are as splendid. Geese are amazing to rear yourself and demand a degree of respect due to their size and impressive wingspan. We find them hardy, tough and surprisingly self-reliant. Furthermore, we like the fact that our geese are multipurpose birds. They are first-class grazers and excellent guard animals, and they usually start laying enormous eggs in early spring. One thing to bear in mind is that geese can live to 25 years old and are a real commitment – unless, of course, you are rearing them for the table.
Successful goose keeping starts with choosing the right breed for you. There are a staggering variety of different geese, all with their own special appeal. You can buy them as egg producers, table birds, lawn mowers and/or guards. It’s important that you keep a breed that you like, one that makes you smile, as they can live for 25 years.
Make sure you imprint yourself on goslings when they are young by being around when they hatch and over the first few days. This will make it much easier to put them away at night when they grow up!
Keeping geese requires more space for grazing than ducks or chickens. A small orchard or paddock is perfect for them. Try to avoid long grass, as this can cause a problem called crop-binding. Scythe or mow the grass so that it’s approximately 10 cm (4 inches) tall. The geese will then take over mowing responsibilities. The more free-range they are, the less you will need to spend on feed. We give our geese cracked corn each day, but they seem to much prefer the grass. Geese that are fed on good short grass should be fine if they are given less corn over the summer months.
Although they are officially classed as a type of waterfowl, geese don’t absolutely need a pond – all they require is access to clean water so they can keep their nostrils and eyes clean by immersing their heads. We have found that a large container will do until you can make something a bit more permanent, like a small pond, but only as long as it is at least 30–60 cm (1–2 feet) deep and you change the water regularly. The difference between a pond and not a pond is that the geese will stay much cleaner, which reduces the chances of parasitic insects or disease.
In the past, rearing geese was linked with the annual growth and decline of grass. This old method makes good financial sense and reduces the amount of time needed to mow the lawns. Goslings begin grazing when the grass is fresh in mid-spring, and when the grass slows down around mid-autumn we slaughter them. It is a harsh natural cycle but incredibly cost-efficient. However, you can still supplement their grass diet with the occasional corn feed if you want to fatten them up and keep them healthy.
The methods for slaughtering, plucking and drawing geese are the same as for ducks, so see pages 54–57 for advice on these topics.
As well as being intently curious, geese also seem to be fearless. Our geese will often chase away our dogs if they stray into their enclosure, and they love to attack the wheelbarrow when we are cleaning out their bedding. However, we have always provided our geese with a covered shelter to provide them with privacy when laying eggs and to protect them from bold predators.
Geese are very hardy birds that don’t get ruffled even when it’s snowing. A goose shelter is important so that they have a good place to lay eggs and as a protection from predators, rather than from harsh weather conditions. We have always chosen to reuse a large, old shed for a goose house because they are readily available in local papers and advertised in poultry magazines. The key is that there should be at least 1 m2 (10 square feet) for each bird. The height should be above the birds’ head height, and the larger the pen the easier it will be to clean out and collect eggs.
Waterfowl can be kept in standard poultry housing, but heavy domesticated breeds prefer the entrance and exit to be at ground level – they find it harder than chickens or ducks to jump up to an entrance or walk on ramps. Installing a solid floor for the goose shelter not only makes it easier to sweep clean but also enables you to keep it dry. A dry layer of bedding will prevent the birds from getting arthritis in their feet. Use layers of cardboard, newspaper or straw and replace when damp. Geese, like all waterfowl, make a fair amount of slippery poo, which is messy but great for the compost heap.
A goose shelter should be situated in a large area that is close to a water supply. It needs to be surrounded with netting or fencing to protect the geese. Geese can be noisy, so site their shelter away from your house, and those of your neighbors, to reduce the noise pollution.
Erecting a shelter for your geese can be cheap and easy. Straw bales are a perfect base for your structure and can be composted when, or if, your geese are slaughtered. Construct the walls using overlapping bales, as you would if you were laying bricks, providing enough floor space per bird.
Then on top, at an angle sloping towards
the back, simply place a wooden or corrugated metal sheet roof. You can secure this roof with hazel spikes, which you cut to approximately 60 cm (2 feet) in length, sharpen and drive down into the bales. This will create a hut in which the geese can live and lay their eggs.
Each night when you put your geese away, position an old wooden door or a wire grill in front of the gap to prevent most predators from getting in (but you’ll need a strong latch to keep raccoons out). If opting for this low-impact shelter, it is still worth placing a solid floor inside for health reasons. A standard garden shed with added ventilation holes drilled into the walls makes a good alternative.
Putting geese away every evening may at first seem like a nightmare chore, as geese can be difficult to herd. Yet, after some patient practice you will find that they can be easily trained. Use a walking stick as an extended arm to guide your flock of geese towards their house. Gently guide them in, using a familiar sound that they will quickly learn means “bedtime.” Geese are very sensitive to unusual changes in their routine, so try to keep a regular time and approach for putting them away – varying it according to the changing seasons.
When cleaning out your geese’s shelter it is worth using the straw and poo mixture as a mulch around the base of your fruit trees. The nutrients from the poo will feed into the surrounding roots, boosting the trees’ growth, and the straw acts as an excellent mulch to reduce weeds and keep the base of the tree warmer in winter. Just remember to leave a small gap so there is no direct contact with the trunk.
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