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Wind Ridge Farm: Geese
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Geese can do well on a homestead, in a wild flock system. They can provide large eggs and very succulent meat. You can even harvest the down for pillows. Remember that geese, like swans, often mate for life, so if you butcher a gander, you might as well cook the goose. They like to eat grass, and in sufficient numbers will mow your lawn for you. From what I have seen, it would probably take about twelve to twenty large geese to keep an acre mowed, at which point they will require feed in the winter. They are often used to mow orchards or weed strawberry patches, because they tend to ignore fruit trees, and seem to prefer grass and weeds, to strawberries.

The larger geese are big enough that they can often, if in a flock, defend themselves against the smaller predators. If they have access to a pond of reasonable depth they often will be able to defend against the larger predators, as well.

The larger geese mate on the water, and therefore will require a pond to mate; the smaller ones might not. The larger the geese, (e.g. Emden and Toulouse) the less likely they will be able to fly away. Our Toulouse can fly short distances as long as they have a running downhill start. Smaller geese can be stopped from flying by cutting their pinion feathers, or, by my preference, use of daily treats. If they know there is ample food readily available, they will have no reason to fly away.

Toulouse Geese

The disadvantages of geese are mainly their attitude and their droppings. Unless you fence them in such a way that they canít get a running start, they may fly over your fence, into some other place, that they think needs mowing. This might mean getting chewed on by a dog, or eating your flowers. If this is in an area such that the droppings are convenient to gather for fertilizer, and you like to do gardening, you will be a instant convert to keeping geese. They eat grass, and leave behind a lot of mostly composted organic material. The smell is not as much a problem as the fact that it sticks to your shoes, and if you donít notice it, it will be tracked into your house.

Their attitude is such that they think they should be the boss, especially during the season of spring, when the geese set, and the ganders strut. A setting goose will usually lapse into a stupor, and as long as you stay more than twenty feet away, will ignore you. The ganders however, even if they are a half mile from the goose, will think you are too close to the nest. Smaller children have reported frightening memories of gander encounters. There are reports of geese or ganders running between peopleís legs, then opening their wings, causing the persons legs to be pushed apart, breaking the personís hips. Granted, these reports are rare, and the exception, but livestock of any sort can be dangerous, under the right circumstances.

The key to dealing with geese, is the same as any livestock. Never, never, never, let them think they are the boss. If a goose lowers its head and approaches, honking, that is its way of issuing a challenge. Raise your arms and look as big as possible, walk towards it and make some sort of annoying sound, like honking. If the goose doesnít back away (like if it happens to be the alpha gander), then push it over with a stick, a bucket, or your foot. Geese are basically round, and this is not likely to physically hurt it. You have, however convinced the gaggle that you are the alpha, or at least someone not to be trifled with. However, if you "dominate it" in this fashion, the other geese may decide it is time to find a new pecking order, and a battle for the crown may ensue. If you are far enough away such that it isnít worth your time to do the dance of dominance, or run away; what will result is the gander explaining to the rest of the gaggle that it was appropriate for them to select that gander as king, and see what a wonderful defender he is. The other members of the gaggle will very vocally respond with their supplication and praise of their king.

Toulouse  Geese

The biggest problem with poultry of any sort (for a Wild Flock System), is finding ones with good parenting abilities. The modern poultry businesses have unintentionally bred out this skill, and like all other forms of modern livestock, they are selecting against stock that can replenish itself. In nature, there will hatch some birds that just donít have it in them to raise a brood. Perhaps they donít quite figure out how to build a nest. Maybe they donít set, in a proper fashion. Maybe they ignore the young ones and donít defend them. Because of this, in nature, these birds would be lost from the gene pool. The hatcheries, however, want to hatch and sell every possible chick, duckling, gosling etc. The eggs are taken from the mother and artificially incubated. All chicks therefore, capable of hatching, will hatch, and many will go on to breed, in this unnatural system. Their eggs, in turn, will likewise be artificially incubated, and they, without any parenting abilities, go on to produce more offspring. Those then get purchased by a farmer, who finds out after a few seasons that there are no new birds hatching from the nests. Birds do fly, and fences do break down. Most hatcheries will sell, at a cheaper price, the unintentional crossbreeds. These birds, although not a particular "breed", tend to be more likely to raise a brood, and can be a good source for initial livestock. If there is an actual breeder in your area you can probably obtain a starting flock of a particular breed.

When you decide it is time to butcher poultry, it is often easiest to grab them when they are asleep (if not on the water). Some use snake snares, others toss blankets over them. Others simply grab them by the head and break the neck by swinging them around. Once you have subdued your poultry, if you hold the legs and if possible with the same hand pin down the tips of the wings, like you are trying to shoot a pistol with the wrong hand, then, with the other hand use a hatchet, or small ax, and decapitate it at a tree stump or section of log. Allow it to bleed out, (some like to collect the blood for sausage). They will convulse, like a "chicken with its head cut off". Pluck it against the grain. Some like to dip it in scalding water first, but I am not convinced that this helps anything, other than making the feathers stick to everything. Alternately, you can skin it, but the meat seems to loose something when you cook it without the skin, if it is a waterfowl. Cut a hole through the skin around the vent. Start with a knife and then use a scissors if you are not used to doing this. Then reach in and pull out the viscera. Save the liver if you like it. Pate De Foie Gras is Goose liver and is considered a delicacy almost everywhere, for a reason; try it and you will probably like it. If you have pastured or free range livestock, you can leave the other entrails for your potbellied pigs. They will even eat the feathers, feet and head. (I know some people who do fry up the feet. I have to admit, I have not tried this, but they say it is a delicacy, and I have seen duck feet soup on a cooking show). If your pigs are penned and you tend to give them commercial food leftovers, there may be salmonella to deal with, so make sure you have cooked everything you are going to eat. Free range animals will have already eaten far less appetizing things.

Some problems with letting geese do their thing that commercial hatcheries complain about include loss of goslings and loss of the mother geese. That's part of why they take away the eggs and artificially incubate them, to be able to sell every possible goose. The problem therein is as mentioned before the perpetuation of bad genes that in nature would be self limiting.
In order to raise a clutch of eggs, you need two fertile adults who are bonded and able to mate. Most geese are large enough that they need a pond of some sort to mate on. That could be as simple as a kiddie pool. If they aren't a bonded pair, the goose will still set a clutch of eggs. She may even seem to set, but will most likely never hatch anything. Obviously if she doesn't set the eggs will never hatch. If she doesn't set, it could be that she's young and hasn't figured it out yet. It could be that it's been bred out of her by the commercial hatchery practices, and she'll never figure it out. There's a reasonable chance that the commercial birds will work out for you, and that is the cheapest route generally. If you want your best chances of having a fertile and properly broody goose, you may want to consider buying a mated pair that has raised a clutch before from an individual, rather than a corporation. With a good gander and a good mother goose, you should not need a heat lamp or an incubator. That's the mother's job. You will need to make sure that they have access to sunlight, shade, water and food.

Assuming you got to the point of the eggs hatching, there are many reasons for loss of goslings. The commercial places insist that ganders will attack goslings. I have never seen this in a Wildflock setting. Even when several geese raise clutches nearby, they all seem to behave as an extended family. There will be honking and here and there some nudging, but the only actual attacks that I've seen were between adult ganders deciding who should be the king. It seems inherently obvious that this behavior of adults attacking the young if genetic would be self limiting. I think it more likely that this behavior is a result of stress and essentially a neurosis brought on by cramped living conditions in commercial facilities.

Another source of gosling losses is what the commercial facilities might call maternal abandonment. Again, if genetic, this would be self limiting. From what I've seen, both the geese and ganders tend to be good parents, but as often is the case in nature, there's a bit of a numbers game. If one gosling wanders off, the parents will call out, but they aren't going to abandon the group for the one. The main time that I've seen this an issue is before the goslings have fledged, they are more vulnerable to the weather. During storms, particularly thunder storms, like young of all species, some goslings will get scared and run. Then they get wet and cold and die of hypothermia. The mother has to decide to either protect the young under her wings or abandon them for the one. It's a numbers thing. You either need to accept those losses or maybe during storms, pen them under cover.

As far as loss of mother geese, there are some factors to consider. With new mothers in particular or any if the season has been harsh, they might not have put on enough fat to live off of during the setting. Those geese can dwindle and die, or end up abandoning the nest. If this is a concern, you can simply take her food and water. Other things that can make her dwindle could be if she's got something stuck in her throat or if her vent has become crusted essentially causing a bowel obstruction. This latter event is normally only seen in goslings and chicks, not adults, but ultimately almost anything is possible. There are a host of diseases that could be an issue, viruses, bacteria, fungal infections and parasites. Finally the last is predation. The mother is more vulnerable when she's setting and the predator and the predator may be a variety of things from your neighbor, your neighbor's dogs, coyote, wolves, bobcat, raccoons, opossums...the list goes on.

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Home Email us Soay Sheep and Wild Flock Management The Pasture Pot Belly Pigs Purchasing Livestock and Meat Pot Belly Pig Meat Breeders Soay Lamb and PotBelly Pig Recipes Hate Mail Geese Guardian Animals The Wild Flock System Article on Wild Farming Prions and Politics Pork Skin Fishing Bait Gallery Links