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Of the seven types of poultry listed, Dave Holderread only rates ducks and geese as “excellent” for herdability and resistance to disease in Storey’s Guide to Duck Breeding. The chickens, on the other hand, only received a “good-fair” rating. He also notes that geese are great additions to the farm for those looking for quality meat, feathers, lawnmowers, “guard dogs” and aquatic plant control. Geese, like ducks, can also do well in cold, wet climates.
Tammy Morrow, owner of Bittersweet Branch Farm in Kidder, Missouri, currently raises six breeds of geese, including Brown Chinese, African, Sebastopol, Large Dewlap Toulouse, Regular Toulouse and Buff.
“But I want more,” Morrow laughs. “I’m still in the Pomeranian market.”
She sells most of their eggs online to people who want to hatch their own goslings. Occasionally they collect a few eggs a week to put in their own incubators just to check fertility. All infertile eggs are blown out and sold for the Ukrainian tradition of Pysanka painting.
“It’s so exciting to hatch a gosling. These are by far the cutest babies in the poultry world. When you look at those big webbed feet and see them all swollen up after drying out, you’d never believe they came from that egg. They look huge!” Morrow adds, “They’re the ‘gentle giants’ of the bird parks.”
When it comes to raising goslings, Morrow finds that goose eggs are slightly more difficult to hatch than other poultry eggs.
“My best hatch percentages come when I let the goose sit down first,” says Morrow. “I let her brood and fill her nest with the eggs I want to hatch. I let her keep the eggs for about 3 weeks then I collect them and put them in my incubator or hatcher. When I take them, I give her new eggs and let her start again. I can fill about 3 nests before we are done for the summer. But nothing beats letting her sit on her eggs for the entire duration. I’ve never hatched a mother goose!
Geese are excellent mothers. So good in fact, that they will adopt and steal neighboring goslings. While in the past she wanted the mother geese to raise the goslings from day one, Morrow found that all the females wanted to mother the babies.
“I’ve lost too many goslings to being trampled on as all the mothers try to claim it,” Morrow recalled. “I even have to separate some of them during the nesting season. No one seems to want to bother building their own nest when another goose has already made one. By the end of the season, if I don’t separate them, I will have 3-4 geese sitting in the same box. You will end up with cracked and broken eggs. If you have the space and time, separate your breeding pairs and you can let Mama Goose raise them herself.
Artificial brooding goslings
If you are raising goslings artificially, you will need a heat lamp. A brooder for goslings should initially be kept at 90 degrees. As with raising chicks, reduce the temperature by 5 or 10 degrees each week until you have reached 70ºF.
According to University of Missouri Extension, a gosling’s rapid growth and early plumage means it doesn’t need to be in a brooder for as long as chicks. Any type of brooder sold for chicks is suitable for goslings. However, due to their size, reduce the brooder’s rated chick capacity by half for ducklings and one-third for goslings.
“We like to use pine shavings in our box. We also raise the drinker. If you don’t, you’ll have to clean the pine shavings every few hours.
Morrow simply adds a piece of 2×6 board under the trough to elevate it. The waterer should be deep enough for them to wash their nostrils.
Feed the goslings
The University of Missouri Extension recommends using a crumbled chick or poult starter for the first week to 10 days. A pelleted producer’s ration plus cracked corn, wheat, milo, oats or other grains may be given after this time
“Our local AMF sells game bird starters. It’s non-drug. It has a higher protein percentage than chick starter,” says Morrow. “We actually feed it to all of our babies, not just the goslings.”
Provide access to food all the time. Offering an insoluble grain is also beneficial. To avoid damaging the legs, use rough paper or deep plates for the first few days. Avoid slippery surfaces, including food dishes.
The Extension also insists on making sure the feeds you use contain only additives approved for ducks and geese. “Certain types of drugs that are sometimes included in chick starter and grower mashes for the control of coccidiosis are harmful to goslings. They can cause lameness or even death.
Morrow has noticed that sometimes goslings need someone to show them where food and water are.
“Chicks are perfect for that. We also raise ducks here. If you don’t have to, I don’t recommend raising your goslings with ducklings. It looks like you should be able to since they are both waterfowl, but I have found that while geese like water, they don’t like to play in it. They like to bathe and they like to swim. Ducks like to make a mess and goslings like to be clean and dry. The ducklings are super busy, the goslings are calm and relaxing.
In Missouri, Morrow may move goslings outside of the goose house after their fifth week.
“They have all their feathers at this age and the night temperatures are around 70 degrees. I move them to an above-ground cage with a wire-mesh bottom for a few weeks. The cage is connected to the goose yard. The reaction of the geese adults is quite amazing. They are so excited. Even though they haven’t seen the goslings for 6-7 weeks, they become very possessive of them. Some of the goslings have hatched in the house and the adult geese have never seen them. Some of the goslings aren’t even of the same breed All the adults protect and guard the cage above ground, including the males They patrol the perimeter and warn anyone who comes near to stay away Geese are “super parents” ready to take in all the orphans. After a few weeks, I release them from the cage directly into the goose yard, and I never have to take care of them again. They are immediately accepted into the flock.