The Modern Homesteader's Guide to Keeping Geese (New Society Publishers, 2017), by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen expert geese wrangler, tells everything there is to know about raising geese on a farm. From the history of guardian geese to their health and dietary needs, anyone looking to add some farm heroes to their lives will learn everything necessary to raise and care for their own flock. The following excerpt is from chapter 6, “Keeping the Neighbors Happy”, which exposes the secret on how to live with happy geese and happy neighbors.
Keeping geese in an urban environment can be a challenge. They are large birds, with wingspans that measure five feet or more, and as such they need space to stretch those wings. The proper pasture with plenty of room, amusements, and food will help to keep your geese happy even when your neighbors are close by.
Fortunately most breeds of geese are incapable of flying to the neighbor’s or further afield. The majority of domestic geese have bodies heavy enough that even their vast wingspans cannot get them more than one or two feet off the ground. Even totally flightless birds do like to make a show of running, wings outspread, when they find a wide open space. If you keep your geese in a run, the most you should see of this behavior is a daily display of wingspan by beating them and, frequently, calling a celebration of his or her beauty.
Whether you’re in town or the countryside, outdoor space requirements for geese is an important consideration. Adult geese require pasture that allows about 10 square feet per bird. In a backyard urban area, you might be tempted to scrimp on giving up so much real estate to your birds, and while 10 feet per goose might seem to overreach what you have to offer, keep in mind that providing adequate space means that your geese will not only be more content, but they will stand a better chance of maintaining good health. Crowded animals are more prone to being aggressive to the other animals they find themselves confined with. The tighter their space, the higher the possibility of injury inflicted on one of the birds, especially one at the bottom of the pecking order. Birds injured in such situations suffer from wounds that might easily become life-threatening.
Another small-space issue with geese is that when kept in compact quarters, they will quickly eat their vegetation down to the bare ground; however, that isn’t as much of a problem if you keep them happy and amused with a dependable supply of treats. On the in-town backyard farm, the best way to keep geese is often a combination of a smaller fenced area with a gate opening into a yard where they can wander when supervised. Geese do have a tendency to wander, so when you can’t be there to keep at least one eye on them, then it is probably best to hold them in their primary pasture, not only for their own protection, but in case they get curious about what’s next door, or across the street. Besides the dangers of cars in the road, the neighbors might have a dog that would enjoy chasing and catching a stray bird. Don’t let it be yours.
Never forget that geese are naturally curious creatures. It is possible that a flock of geese will stay close to home, hanging out right around their own yard all day and show no interest in walking off. But if they hear some activity a couple of houses away, or the sound of neighbors talking across the road, they will more than likely want to investigate. This is part of what makes them good watchdogs, but it can also be a challenge in an urban setting, and that is why I recommend keeping your geese in a fenced pasture. If and when you are concerned about them not getting the chance to stretch their legs enough, then letting them wander on the yard when you are home and able to watch them is a good option. Chances are, they will prefer staying close to you and your activities and often are like shadows following just behind you all day.
If you cannot let your geese out occasionally to wander, you can make their confined spaces more interesting for them. In confinement, geese will quickly eat down the local vegetation, and a pool for swimming can only keep them amused some of the time. You can build toys for them to play with that might help to stop them gnawing on the fence or coop in boredom. A handful of treats, loose lettuce, or lawn greens will delight them for a few hours. A flake of feed hay regularly tossed inside their fence may not get completely consumed, but they will be fully entertained simply from chewing around the dry stems. Geese also enjoy conventional dog toys or bells to chew on and play with. Nosing around a few toys will not only help keep them amused, it will also keep them relatively quiet. You can also hang a head of lettuce from a rope or in a wire basket inside their run. This not only provides a tasty and nutritious treat, but keeps them focused on the swinging action, and busy figuring out how to get the food out.
Another thing to consider regarding geese on the urban farm is their noise levels. Geese will honk in various situations. For example, if they see anything out of the ordinary, or if they are ready for a meal, or when it is time to come in or out, you’ll hear them telling you (and everyone else) about it. They also sound off as part of normal social communication through the flock. Many geese have high-pitched honks that can be heard for some distance. Although their voices are by no means a reliable method of determining the sex of your geese, the male geese often have a more ear-piercing honk than females, whose voices are usually deeper and less shrill.
To limit the noise your geese make, you can select breeds that are less vocal, keep a smaller flock, or simply try to limit yourself to females. Adding toys to their enclosure can also help to keep them quiet. To promote both their mental health and good behavior, decide to spend plenty of time with them, if for no other reason than your companionship may help to limit their vocality. Geese are smart animals, and they love being able to hang out with “their people.”
Having other birds with your geese will keep them mentally stimulated, but it isn’t always the best way to keep them quiet. Since geese are naturally protective, they’ll be more likely to honk at any suspicious signs of trouble for their duck or chicken friends.
If you’re planning to keep other poultry mixed in with your flock, then having only a few geese is a good idea. A large number will bond together and might bully the smaller birds, whereas one or two will co-mingle with the rest of the group. Geese kept in a pasture with chickens or ducks are usually harmonious companions. They are not as aggressive with their pecking orders as chickens are, although they like to establish a hierarchy and then reinforce it occasionally with gentle, firm nips.
Sometimes geese will be more aggressive towards ducks or chickens, and I like to provide my other birds with areas where the smaller ones can get away from the geese if necessary. I have never feared for my birds’ safety, but it is helpful to provide ducks and chickens with a defensive area where they can relax. Since geese are such big birds and they do not roost as chickens do, establishing a “getaway” space is usually not difficult. An area inside your coop that is walled off with a doorway too small for a goose to pass through, but large enough for chickens and ducks, can provide a safe space, and you can use a similar method in your outdoor run. Roosts are also handy devices for chickens to get out of the way of geese if they want to.
For a farm with plenty of land and pasture space, keeping geese can be remarkably undemanding. It is still worth your time, even in the wide open spaces of a country farm, to spend time with them your birds, especially when they are goslings. Your attention and companionship will ensure that they will not be aggressive, as they remain comfortable and familiar with and around people. In terms of harassing a next-door neighbor, there is less to worry about on a large expanse of farmland.
On a small farm, or in an urban or suburban setting, you’ll have to do more to make sure your geese do not bother the neighbors. I would recommend keeping a minimal flock, no more than two or three geese, on an urban farm. There are two reasons for this. One is that a smaller flock will be happier in a modest, compact space, while a dozen geese on a one- or two-acre homestead are likely to be crowded and discontent. The other is that two or three geese are quieter, and they’re more likely to get along with your other poultry.
When I kept a pair of geese with a flock of chickens on a one-acre farm in a suburb of Portland, Maine, they caused almost no problems. Occasionally, they would start honking all at once, and I felt anxious that the noise would disturb the neighbors. But loud outbursts like that were rare, and we never had complaints about the noise. Notably, as soon as our flock expanded to four and more geese, every day presented problems. Left to free range, my flock would invariably end up in the road or foraging in the flower pots on our neighbor’s porch. I tried keeping them penned in, but being locked in their run full time caused them to complain noisily all day. In addition, the run had originally been built for just the small clutch of chickens, not really big enough for both the geese and the hens. There were more geese than hens, so within the cramped space, the geese continually bullied the hens. Yes. There was trouble and frustration for both the birds and the keeper.
Besides the danger of wandering into the road, our geese left calling cards (goose droppings) on the neighbor’s back porch. In contrast, if I was outside working in the garden, the geese stayed right at my side the whole afternoon, never venturing far afield and rarely making too much noise. If they had been raised more accustomed to the confines of a fenced-in pasture space in the company of chickens, and if I had not expanded the flock so quickly, they would have been more comfortable and more manageable had I provided regular, supervised outings in the yard.
Nowadays, on a larger farm, my geese are very much homebodies. This is partially because they have fewer stimuli. There are no neighbors talking next door, joggers moving past the house, or dogs barking in the distance. There’s not much activity in the surrounding fields to attract their attention. Reducing distractions is certainly one way to keep a flock docile. Sometimes I increase the entertainment value by offering them a flake of hay in their shelter or a pile of fresh greens, to maintain a peaceful, content flock.
Getting just one goose isn’t recommended. Geese are flock animals, and they need someone or something to bond with. There are legends of single geese becoming overly attached to wheelbarrows and watering cans in the absence of another animal. One goose can be a great companion if you have plenty of time to spend with them in place of a “mate,” or if you have a flock of ducks, chickens, or even goats or a horse that they can bond and talk with in place of another goose. However, if you’re looking to limit the number of geese on your farm, consider getting at least two so that they can have each other.
It is crucial to look into your town’s rules and regulations before adding any livestock to your home. Doing your research can prevent fines and the difficult and heartbreaking act of having to get rid of animals that you’ve already bonded with. Visit or call your local town office to see if they have any restrictions on geese or poultry.
Reprinted with permission from The Modern Homesteader's Guide to Keeping Geese, by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen and published by New Society, 2017.
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