Homestead geese are not the first animals that come to mind when you consider homestead livestock. That award usually goes to backyard chickens, or dairy goats with the occasional pastured pig thrown in. But geese deserve to be fourth on that list in my opinion. Geese are entertainment, lawn control, homestead guardians that also happen to taste pretty darn good. Goose fat is prized among top chefs, and many a hawk or fox has been scared away from a chicken dinner by the threatening wing span of an angry goose. You might share that opinion if you encountered an aggressive goose in childhood (or adulthood for that matter).
However, geese raised by you, from goslings (a young goose), can be as friendly as the family dog and twice as formidable when strangers or predators happen on to your homestead! There's nothing quite like a group of 10+ lb birds rushing at you with wings spread, loudly honking their irritation at your presence. I know our UPS driver respects them, as do the hawks that fly overhead checking out our free range laying hens.
Which Goose Breed Should I Get for My Homestead?
When I first decided to get geese, I wasn't sure which breed I wanted so I ordered the random mix “Weeder” package from a hatchery. We ended up with Africans, White Chinese and a single Embden (also spelled Emden). While I've enjoyed them all, our Embden is the sweetest and most interactive of our geese (he's shown below).
Toulouse and Pilgrims are also highly recommended for calm, gentler personalities. They might not be *quite* as effective as guardians due to their laid back nature, but they'll still give an alarm honk when something is going on!
For a full list of domestic goose breeds, visit poultrykeeper.com “Domestic Goose Breeds”. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has a priority list of goose breeds that are considered Critical, Threatened, under Watch and under Study. On the Critical list are American Buff, Cotton Patch, Pilgrim, Pomeranian, Roman and Shetland. Sebastopols are considered Threatened. Africans, Chinese, Toulouse-Non-Industrial are on the Watch list.
When Should You Get Your Geese?
We ordered ours for delivery in the spring from Murray McMurray hatchery, but they are available from a variety of online hatcheries. If you have a particular breed in mind, place your order early as they sell out quickly!
Just like you would with young chicks, you'll want a sheltered brooding area, safe from predators, until they feather out. This is a great cheap, DIY waterer for young geese or ducks.
What Do Geese Need for Shelter & Food?
Our adult geese prefer to free range 24/7, and even with coyotes and foxes in the nearby woods, we haven't had any issues. They stay close to home and don't wander off. While I've tried providing shelter for them, they have rejected it at every turn…which is something I've seen from other goose keepers. Editor's note: My mom raised large flocks of geese and ducks for years. I would highly recommend putting them inside for the night, whether they like it or not. Over time, or under stress, predators will get bolder. One night when I was a girl, I forgot to lock the shed door where the geese and ducks were kept. The neighbor's dogs came over and ravaged the breeding stock. It was horrible, and I will never be able to get those images out of my mind.
The big thing you need to keep your geese happy is a place to bath and play in water. We have a plastic kiddie pool that they adore, but in the winter it's difficult to keep it from freezing solid. So I keep a deep rubber tub filled for them to play in, and of course, there are always a few 5 gallon buckets to dunk their heads in. Water = happy geese.
As for food, they are big time grazers and spend most of their time walking around and nibbling on greens with a few bites of chicken food mixed in. During the winter, we've been feeding ours a free choice mix of field peas, black oil sunflower seeds, oats and cracked corn. When they were goslings, we had them on a chick starter crumble, and fed LOTS of green grass while they were confined to the brooder. They would devour that grass faster than you can imagine!!
Can They Free Range Geese with Your Chickens?
Yep! Ours do, and the only big warning I'll provide is making sure your chickens have a safe area for water. The geese tend to be bucket hoarders and won't let the chickens in to drink. Bullies!
Aren't Geese Aggressive?
That is dependent on breed, gender and whether it's breeding season or they have a nest nearby. Two of the breeds we own are commonly known as the most aggressive, and with the exception of a minor goose pinch to the UPS driver that didn't obey their honk warnings, we haven't had any incidents. They tolerate the chickens (but protect them), and they'll chase our cats/dogs if they come too close to the geese. I prefer to say they have a pretty wide personal space bubble, rather than being “aggressive”!
But that said, I've worked really hard socializing them from a young age with the cats, dogs, kids, adults and so on. They love to follow me around when I'm doing chores and nibble on my clothing or jacket if I stay still long enough. It's both endearing and annoying, depending on what you're doing! Editor's note: I had a pair of pet geese one summer as a teenager. They hatched out late and were raised separately until they grew large enough to join the main flock. They were named Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and they followed me everywhere!
More Information About Homestead Geese
I've found The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery a great resource for geese and all backyard flock questions. More and more people are adding geese to their homestead flocks, so I'm sure more online information will be popping up on blogs and social media as well. There are quite a few posts about our geese experience on my blog, with these in particular recommended for the prospective goose owner: Goose Timeline: In Videos, A Gaggle of Geese: Why We Like Ours, and Goose: It’s What’s For Dinner.
I will warn you that geese are QUITE loud, varying by breed, and messy. If those things bother you, it's possible geese aren't for you. But if all else fails, you've just raised up a Christmas goose for roasting, right?
This is a guest post by Erin Kelly of Blue Yurt Farms. Erin and her husband, Mike, left their stressful urban lives a few years ago to live in a big blue yurt on 22 rolling acres in rural Southwest Virginia. A rag tag mix of farm animals keeps them company, from oinking pigs to honking geese. They’re slowly using sustainable methods and animal power to rehabilitate their land…one acre at a time. You can find her blogging at Blue Yurt Farms. Also, on Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest.
Don't miss the rest of the posts in our Getting Started Homesteading series. We cover chickens, rabbits, beekeeping, gardening, food preserving and more.
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