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Keeping geese

So you want to keep a few
geese, but don't know where to start? Let's start with some little known facts:
(1). geese are easy to raise; (2) they grow rapidly; (3) geese do not require
much expensive feed; (4) they are highly disease resistant. How is that for a
few good points for starters? Geese can create one problem if allowed to do so
by their owners: they can be dirty if confined to a very small area.

What breed of goose?

What size of goose do you
want? Five breeds are available. The following table gives some indication of
the size and color as well as the names of the five breeds.

If you wish to raise the
birds as a hobby, the choice of breed is really one of your fancy. If you are
raising them for a market, you are raising for someone else's fancy.

Generally, people who buy
geese for the consumers' market want birds that are large, young and generally
white feathered. Probably the most popular breeds for marketing are Toulouse
and Embden.

Where are they?

Very little research has
been done with geese, especially in selective breeding. Most of the geese in
the United States are raised in the west North Central States. According to the
past U. S. census reports, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota
have been leaders (with much fluctuation) in goose production with Washington,
California, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania also raising and selling some geese.

If you want to buy a few
goslings, your county Extension office may know of someone in your area who
keeps geese. These growers may have goslings to sell or may know where you can
obtain them. If you cannot locate them in this manner, a note to the Poultry
Extension Office, Anthony Hall, Michigan State University, East Lansing,
Michigan 48824, may help you in locating some goslings.

Goslings: care and feeding

You have obtained some real
live goslings, a day or two days old— aren't they cute! Now the care starts.
Questions, questions, questions! What do they eat? How much heat? How often do
I—? What kind of housing? Etcetera. Etcetera!

First, order goslings to
arrive in the late spring or early summer (late May or June). The birds require
much less care at that time of year as the weather is more favorable than
earlier. Goslings require a warm dry place for one to four weeks, depending
upon the weather.


An area six feet by eight
feet will house ten young goslings nicely. Very young birds need to be kept
free from drafts, wet and cold. A 250-watt heat lamp (the type used for young
chickens and young pigs) suspended 15 to 18 inches from the floor will provide
plenty of heat. You can test the heat at the floor level by putting your hand
on the floor directly under the lamp. If it is too hot for your hand, it is too
hot for young geese.

However, it should be warm
enough for the birds to be comfortable without piling up on top of each other.

Goslings will move away from
a draft but they will be evenly distributed on the floor in a ring around the
heat lamp if they are comfortable. If drafts are a problem, a shield or corral
of chicken 
wire covered with newspaper,
or one of cardboard, will stop drafts. The corral should be at least 12 inches
high and 4 to 5 feet in diameter. Another purpose of the corral is to teach the
goslings where mother (the heat lamp) is—they do notknow that the lamp is
mother, and it will not talk to them.


The pen should be covered
with litter such as straw (chopped straw is better than long straw), sawdust,
shavings and crushed corn cobs. The litter material must be dry and must be
capable of absorbing moisture, as geese tend to mess in the waterers. Keeping
birds out of the waterers will help keep clean floors. They also tend to
produce wet manure, so a litter material capable of absorbing moisture is a

The pen should be covered
with a rough paper for the first four or five days. The paper prevents the
goslings from eating the litter material. As soon as they find the feed and
water they will not eat the litter.

The paper should be removed
at least by the 5th day. Be sure that the paper is rough, as smooth slippery
paper produces spraddled legs. This means that the leg dislocates from the
socket where it attaches to the body. The spraddle- legged gosling almost never
recovers, and is a complete loss.

Feeding goslings

A feed for starting goslings
should be 20 to 24% protein. If you can't find any kind of goose feed at the
feed store, you can feed the birds baby chick starter or a duck or waterfowl
starter feed. Give them all they want, at all times for the first three to four
weeks of age. Keep the birds out of the feeders to keep feed from being wasted.
Chick starters may result in leg trouble for the young goslings; because they
grow so much more rapidly than chicks, their food requirements are different.
This is why they must get outside to forage.

If at all possible (if it is
warm and not raining) get the young goslings outside during the daytime. They
need this opportunity to pick up some bugs and grass to help properly balance
their ration. Very young goslings should not be left out in the rain because
they become waterlogged: their down soaks up water, and their tiny legs can't
support the added weight. Some say they have "drowned"! After they
develop feathers, waterlogging is no problem.

In spite of the fact that
there has been no selective breeding done with geese, they do grow more rapidly
than most other birds. It is not unusual for them to weigh 10 pounds in 10
weeks on commercial feeds.

In the late 1940s, E. L.
Dakinof the Poultry Science Department, Ohio State University, kept a flock of
200-300 adult geese. After starting the goslings for three to four weeks on
chick starter and grass, he turned the birds out to a bluegrass pasture that
was at least six to eight inches long. He also made sure that the birds had
clean water and whole or very coarsely cracked corn feed for energy. The grass,
bugs and soil provided necessary protein, minerals and vitamins. These birds
did not grow as rapidly as they would have on a well- balanced commercial feed;
however, the feed cost was relatively low. (If you wish to try this way of
feeding your geese, an evening feeding of a little mash or three weeks of
cracked corn and starter mash mixed together in equal parts will make the shift
to the pasture and corn diet easier.) Geese will eat a lot of grass, and are
sometimes used to weed crops like strawberries, asparagus and sugar beets, as
well as orchards, because they will eat most weeds. When strawberries start to
ripen, however, geese should be moved out of the patch so they will not eat or
ruin the ripe berries. Older geese may damage the crop by walking on the
plants. Drinking water should also be available to keep the young geese cool.
The birds will do a better job of weeding if they are hungry - a very light
evening feeding of grain (whole corn) is sufficient.

Breeder geese

Young females (approximately
one year old) will lay eggs. They will produce better the second and third
year. Numbers of eggs will vary widely per female—from 10 to 60 eggs per
season. In the northern part of the United States a flock will start to lay
eggs in late March and stop in June. You can induce females to lay eggs during
the winter by at/owing a total of 15 hours of light (daylight and
incandescent). The females will begin producing eggs in about 30 days after
lighting them. For your small breeder flock, a pelleted chicken breeder or
layer mash will be adequate, if the birds have access to the outside.

The ganders (males) will be
much more active and better breeders after the first year of age. Geese can be
very selective of mates. Many large flocks use one gander to three to five
females. You may run into fertility problems with a flock of two ganders and
five to ten geese. It may be necessary to have several ganders available so
that each female can select one that suits her.

A goose for the holiday?

How do you kill and dress a
goose? Tie the legs firmly together and hang the bird over a rafter in the
garage or over a tree limb. With the feet up in the air and the head down at
waist level or higher you must cut the jugular veins. There is a jugular vein
down each side of the neck. It is common for the bird to flop its wings, so you
may want to confine its body in a burlap bag.

Dunk the bird immediately
after it stops flopping into hot (145-160°F.) water for one to two minutes. It
would be well to add some detergent to the water in order for the hot water to
more easily penetrate the oil on the feathers. It may help to ruffle the
feathers with a stick (hold on to the feet with one hand and stir the feathers
with a stick in the other hand). Removing the feathers can be difficult for the
inexperienced. Success will come with time and practice. Hang the bird up
again, grab feathers, and start pulling! Don't grab too many feathers at one
time or the skin may tear. There are a lot of down feathers—and there may be
some pin feathers. It might be smart to dip the bird a second time after some
of the outer feathers have been removed. With perseverance you will get the
bird picked.

Ready to cook!

To prepare the bird for

1. Cut off its head and

2. Lay the bird on its back.

3. Cut a hole in the abdomen
(around the vent) and remove the viscera (intestines, heart, liver, gizzard,
lungs, etc.). Be sure that the intestinal cavity is clean (wash).

4. Turn the bird on its
breast. Slit the neck skin from the head end to about even with the point at
which the wings join the body. Peel the skin off of the neck and remove the
neck at its base.

5. Remove the windpipe and
esophagus (connection between beak and stomach) from either the neck or the
neck skin. Both of these tubes should also come free from the inside of the

6. Clean up the heart, liver
and gizzard, and the bird is ready to cook.

Determining the sex of geese

It is helpful to know how to
determine the sex of geese, and you can do this using a technique called
"vent sexing." Start with geese that are at least two years old.

When lifting geese, grab
them by the neck (it is strong and you will not choke them) with one hand and
lift their body with the other hand. Lay the bird on its back with the head
held between your legs. The vent or cloaca will be pointing away from you. You
must extend the tail of the bird out over the edge of the table. Bend the tail
head down over the table edge and apply pressure on the sides of the vent and
side towards you. Some people use Vaseline on their finger (a rubber glove may
be used), which is then inserted into the vent a half to three quarters of an
inch. Rotating the finger in a circular motion will tend to relax the muscle
that surrounds the vent. The penis (after you learn how to sex geese) in a two
year-old male will extend two to three inches and will have a corkscrew
appearance. The penis in a six-month- old gander will look like the end of an
earthworm, and is about three-eighths of an inch long. The vent sexing
technique is not difficult— but you do need practice. The females have a
genital eminence in the vent. It is small and not easily confused with the male—after
a little practice.

By The Michigan State University Extension

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