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6 Uses for Geese on the Homestead

Updated: Dec 21, 2022


"What do you have geese for?"

is a very common question from first time farm visitors. Truthfully, like many starting homesteaders and farmers, they weren't high on our list, or even ON our list of animals we expected to acquire.


Historically, geese could be found on just about every farm. The Egyptians domesticated geese 5,000 years ago and in more recent times, the Cotton Patch goose was used to weed cotton fields in the south prior to the introduction of herbicides. They have since become the forgotten livestock. Since we've added them to our farm, I'm convinced they are one of the best kept homesteading secrets.


Sustainability at its Best

We define "sustainability" in a farming sense to mean any entity, in this case an animal, that can produce a useful product or service and be sustained by resources on your farm. The more inputs something requires to be trucked into the farm- feed, processing, etc- the less sustainable it is to grow, maintain, and produce.


Unless you grow and harvest significant amounts of grain or amend your property and have the climate to offer a diverse range of food sources year-round, poultry require significant grain inputs to stay productive. In typical pasture settings chickens can supplement 5-10% of their diet, ducks can supplement 15-25%, and turkeys can 10-20%. While there are no studies to give us exact numbers, these ranges come from pastured poultry farms overseen by poultry nutritionist Jeff Mattocks. Of course, these numbers can be affected by breed, genetics, pasture quality, climate, and availability of other natural food sources.

Geese are grazers and given the opportunity, can provide up to 90% of their diet on pasture alone. That makes them uniquely different than any other poultry and arguably, the most sustainable.

Another key to sustainability is a low attrition rate. Growing a replacing livestock is expensive. While chickens often need to be replaced every 1-3 years to maintain productivity, geese have a longer productive lifespan, reducing the need to stock replacement birds. It's not uncommon to have individuals live 20-30 years. Egg laying and reproductive characteristics vary by breed.


In comparison to other types of poultry, geese have a far lower expected yearly mortality rate. They are very hardy and not prone to disease. They are also generally more predator resistant than chickens or ducks. Fox and coyotes are the most troublesome, but if given a space to be locked in at night, geese take fewer losses in comparison to other poultry. For homesteads that have access to a large yard or pasture, geese may be the most sustainable poultry choice.




Six Homestead Uses for Geese:

1) Grass fed meat

Geese grow out incredibly fast on a primarily forage diet, making them an extremely cost-effective meat source rich in Vitamin A and Omega-3s. They can be processed at a preference of 9-11 weeks; 15-17 weeks; or 22-26 weeks for fewer pin feathers. Carcass weight can range from 5-15lbs and varies by age and breed. Their meat is a dark meat is more similar to beef than poultry. In a blind taste test study by the University of Vermont (found here), participants preferred goose over any other type of poultry. There's a reason goose was reserved traditionally as the centerpiece for Christmas and other holidays!


2) Eggs

Geese are seasonal layers and lay far fewer eggs than chickens or ducks, but do so with little input. A goose egg is quite large and one goose egg is the equivalent of 2-3 large chicken eggs. Egg laying rate varies largely by breed with each goose producing 10-50 eggs each breeding season (early spring to early summer). The yolks are much larger and richer, but because they drink so much more water than chickens, the white tends to be runnier. Avoid recipes such as meringue, that needs a stiff egg white. The yolks, however, make wonderful custard.

3) Down

There's a reason winter coats are filled with goose down. It's soft and has great insulation properties. It's makes geese very tolerant and productive in cold weather climates. Down can be saved for filling pillows, blankets, and clothing. Often, feather mills will curl the down so it will keep it's "spring" inside pillows and comforters. If Sebastopols are your breed of choice, the feathers come naturally curled as an added bonus.


4) Aerial predator guardian

Geese are susceptible to predators, particularly larger predators like fox and coyote, but can be a good aerial predator deterrent. Geese have been used successfully by many pastured poultry producers who keep chickens or ducks in open paddocks to keep hawks away. An important key to success is raising a single gosling alongside chicks to bond the goose to their new flock. Goose pairs or flocks separate themselves from other poultry types and are generally not effective. A guard goose is a cost effective alternative to a livestock guardian dog when other measures, such as electric poultry netting, are in place.


5) Orchard and berry patch weeding

Used strategically, geese can be used to keep orchards, berry patches, and other larger crops grass free and fertilized. Historically, breeds like the Cotton Patch were bred and used exclusively for this purpose before large scale use of herbicides. Geese love short grass and the small pieces that pop up around larger crops are their preferred food.

While they are primarily grazers, geese do enjoy some produce. In our experience, they love lettuce and tomatoes. While their webbed feet won't scratch up some seedlings, they will crush them. Geese in most cases would not be an appropriate option for small vegetable garden weeding. If you opt for small kiddie pools, the water makes an excellent mild fertilizer for the garden and fruit plants and trees. (This short documentary is great illustration of using waterfowl for this purpose on a commercial scale: Regenerative Farm Combines Ducks and Blueberries | Parc Carreg Duck Eggs, Wales - YouTube)


6) Lawn mowing (fuel free)

Geese are easily herded and moved to new locations. We use electric poultry netting to set up paddocks for our geese that allow them to "mow" a targeted area. In the summer, you will find our goslings in the front lawn keeping it tidy. They avoid most weeds, but if you have primarily lawn grasses, they do an excellent job of maintaining and keeping it short without having to crank up the lawn mower.





Caring for Geese

We have found the needs of our geese to be simpler to meet in some ways than our chickens. However, they do require some special considerations, especially during breeding season.


Housing: Geese sleep on the ground rather than roosting like chickens. They prefer a straw or shavings lined flat floor in a secure shelter. They will not go to roost at night like chickens, but they do herd easily. Because we feed them in the evening, our gaggle has learned to come when we call. This system works well for our family and gives us the flexibility to lock them up earlier if we have plans to be out in the evening.


Feed and Water: While the geese generally take care of their own food needs through grazing, we supplement them by feeding a feed formulated specifically for geese. It meets their niacin requirements that is often deficient in chicken feed. In the breeding season, it ensures the yolks have the correct vitamin and amino acid levels to support gosling growth. If you live were snow covers the ground a significant portion of the year, you might consider offering hay or leafy greens. We've been successful feeding our geese Timothy hay if introduced to them early in the brooder.


Geese need water deep enough to bath and dunk their heads in to flush their nasal cavities. We provide plastic kiddie pools that are dumped and refilled daily. If we need them to be penned up and keep an area dry, a bucket with a hole in the side for their heads to fit through allows them to dunk their heads without making the ground around them wet. It works well for brooders, travel, or inside their shelter at night.


Breeding Season: Geese absolutely need their own space during breeding season. Ganders can be fiercely protective of their mates, nests, and goslings. They should be separated from other types of poultry and fenced if you have young children or visitors around. We have found that females seek out deep straw for burying their eggs while producing a clutch. Geese are generally good mothers and will hatch their own.


FAQ

1. But aren't geese MEAN?

In short, no. Geese are generally not aggressive, although some breeds are far more docile than others. People that have had negative experiences with geese have usually wondered into their breeding territory during their breeding season. Our geese free range the farm with our kids in the non-breeding season without incident. If aggression is a concern, choose a breed know for it's docile demeanor. A breeder can be a great help in helping you decide if a breed is right for you.


2. Can I house my geese with chickens or ducks?

Given space, geese can coexist with other poultry in the non-breeding season, but should be separated before their hormones begin to stir in late winter. A single gosling bonded to chickens or ducks as a guard goose can stay with the flock.


3. Are geese loud?

Geese can be loud when alarmed. They have a very loud "honk" when startled or excited. Generally they are quiet throughout the day. Geese have the great advantage of not crowing in the early morning.


4. What breed should I get?

As with other type of livestock, this greatly depends on your goals and location. Pick the breed that meets the needs of your farm. The Livestock Conservancy is a great place to start familiarizing yourself with the variety of heritage breeds out there. We chose Sebastopols for their calm demeanor, flightless characteristics, and bonus of beauty and curled feathers for bedding and crafts. You can see their breed profile here.


Further Resources:

The Livestock Conservancy has a list of threatened and endangered goose breeds worth exploring. Many of the heritage breed retain characteristics desirable to a homestead.


While this video by the Livestock Conservancy highlights a specific breed, the Sebastopol, it covers a wide range of topics about keeping geese from a homesteading and sustainability perspective. Jonathan Thompson is a long time breeder and a wealth of knowledge to share!



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