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Some thoughts on geese.

 
Landon Sunrich
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Location: Western Washington
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Well it's raining. I'm not working on the farm, and I'm taking a pretty easy day here, so I thought I'd put down some thoughts and observations about geese I've had over the last bit. I spend a good deal of time observing thing and am pretty minimally interaction (ie little 'forcing') with things so if anyone has any goose questions I will give my best and honest totally amateur opinion. But feel free to ask. I am totally more qualified and expert on geese than Firefox Vol. 3 or The County Living Encyclopedia. Which is not to say that both of those books aren't worth owning. They are and I do.

Geese as eaters:

I've had my geese since April '13 and let them totally free range since then. I have up to this point, feed them 1 50 lb bag of cracked corn, during the deep freezes. I am now switching over to a 5 stage paddock shift system for two primary reasons. First, when given free choice the geese will go only for their most favorite foods grazing them heavily and ignoring other options. Second, when they run out of their favorites they will go to the neighbors or the other neighbors on down the line. They will travel remarkable far. Most people are cool but it only takes one jerk to call the cops and I would prefer to avoid such troubles.

Geese will eat a remarkable variety of vegetative material. They are most partial to young shoots and succulent plants. Young green grasses, baby kale and other green, horse tail ferns. That's their jam, bread, and butter. They are also quite partial to seeds and seed heads from a number of different and unfortunately unknown (to me) weeds around here. Finally, they will eat roots. Generally this seems to be more of a last resort thing for them but they will tear them out of the ground and eat them with gusto if they need to.

I have my geese currently in the first paddock, which I have chosen because it is the least well suited for geese, this will give the grassier parts of my property more time during this critical early fall 'yay! it's finally wet again and the sun hasn't totally disappeared yet!' 50- 65 degree growing period, so that they will have the most forage possible available to them as we progress into fall and winter. I am because of this providing them with supplemental feed. But not every day. I think this is important. Geese store a bunch of fat. They are built to go on for stretches when the food is scarce. By only feeding them once every 3 to 4 days they get hungry enough to try foraging on new things. Geese are long lived and smart. I want to give mine as much experience at learning whats edible as possible so that they can pass that knowledge down to their progeny and I end up with a better adapted goose. This is how I found out they will eat buttercup roots. I am also fairly certain that they are eating nettle roots. They went for the nettle seeds, which I taught them about last fall, immediately. This may sound gross to many, but if you have a place where your geese usually sleep toss in a sheet of plywood for a couple days and then check out what's coming out the back end. It will inform you what their diet is mainly consisting of, and it changes greatly though out the season. At this time of year I am feeding my geese about one good handful of cracked corn per goose 2x a week.

Geese as weeders: I've heard people comment to geese as being 'weeders' which to me suggest that they can weed your garden for you. I wouldn't really put that to the test. At least not yet. To many common plants they like to eat for one. Also, they will totally weed out things which are of no use to them. For instance squash. I planted a bunch of squash. The geese tried them and found that they couldn't eat them, so they went around and pulled out every last one by the root and laid them out for the sun to fry. I had babied these squash from seeds sent to me by fellow permie Deb S. and they were looking awesome and I had hit my timing on them perfectly. I almost ate the bastard birds that week.

Geese as planters:


One thing though I think geese are great at is planting a poly-culture bed. This was a though I had and I tried it this year with pretty damn good success.
What I do is to scatter an enormous amount of seed mix into a bed, water it in, put the geese on top, and repeat. Part of this seed mix is sacrificial. Generally big seeds like vetch, or sprouted store bought popcorn or beans. The geese will dig out and eat nearly every one of those seeds, but in the process they mix the less desirable (to them) carrot and mustard and beet and pepper and whatever seeds into the bed at a bunch of different depths. Thus with one round of seed planting you build and diverse seed bank at varied depths. The seeds figure out their own timing. Now that the rains have started I have the next succession popping up exactly when it wants to with no extra work. I would bet my boots on the same thing happening again in the spring. I pitched a metric shit-ton of seed.

anyway those are a few thoughts I have on geese. If anyone has any question or things to add they should
 
Will Holland
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Location: CT zone 5b
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I don't have much to contribute here, but thanks for the info! I'm thinking about getting geese sometime.
 
Eric Thompson
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Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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Thanks for the writeup on your experiences... I would add "geese as dinner", for which they are great! Somehow nature made them large and tender at exactly the same time they start getting loud, aggressive, poopy, and annoying!

I have heard geese are effective grass weeders infields like peppermint where they don't easily take a liking to the crop. They may have been eating the tender tips of your squash until they pulled out the tough stalks? Just a thought - I like squash tips too
 
Landon Sunrich
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Geese eat apples. I have never seen this mentioned. Good thing too as the ground is frozen solid again. They go after them with a gusto which can be pretty hilarious
until they're able to really break into them, especially if you happen to be on a slight slope.

Also using a dry feed when it's wet one can lightly scatter or dust an area and the hungry geese will dig that area and just that area up to get at the feed. good for prepping beds.

Eric, it's a thought, but these weren't seedlings popping up these where plants I had pampered on a heat matt next to the window for 6 weeks. Several true leaves, big plants. It looked tome like they where grabbing them at the base and ripping them up and spitting them out. The even made the annoyed chirpy noises they sometimes make when they where doing it. Damn ecosystem engineers.
 
John Saltveit
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Great post, Landon! I am not raising geese, but I found it to be information packed and interesting. You never know who is raising them, who wants to raise them, or who will start to raise them after reading this post.
John S
PDX OR
 
Will Holland
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Hey Landon,

You mentioned using a paddock shift system. What kind of fencing are you using and how high does it need to be?
 
Landon Sunrich
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A three foot high fence is more than adequate. Though geese can fly some, mine at least need a good runway. I have seen my lady goose top out a flight at about 7 feet high and 30 feet long but this was after a 150 foot waddling sprint downhill on a 20 degree paved roadway - it just doesn't happen in the confines of a yard paddock. Far more important is the size of the mesh as geese can pretty easily slip through some astoundingly small holes. I would not consider a 4x4 grid to be enough. Right now I'm using electronetting but I think I am going to move onto a steel 'combination panel' where the bottom grid is small and the top grid larger. I have a couple lying around and the damn things last forever and for me at least are easier to move around alone than a couple hundred foot of tangley netting.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Location: Western Washington
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For those who missed out on that class in School:

Geese are totally dinosaurs. Or at the very least the fill a crazy similar nitch. They even eat dinosaur food.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equisetum_arvense

Which happens to be the last in it's line and extremely persistent.

http://extension.psu.edu/plants/green-industry/news/2012/weed-of-the-month-field-horsetail-equisetum-arvense

Way much cooler than the pesticides the above extension is pushing.

Artistic rendition courtesy of:

http://www.hdwallpapersinn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/dinosaurs5.jpg
Goose!.jpg
[Thumbnail for Goose!.jpg]
 
Dale Hodgins
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Landon, you are in the perfect environment to gather slugs. Geese will fight over a juicy slug.

If yours aren't prone to running away ,you could lead them into the forest where you have layed out boards at intervals. During the sunny part of the day,  you will find several slugs under each board.

This is one of the most efficient ways to gather protein from the forest in the pacific northwest.
.......
I have done this around a garden and within a garden. When I was a kid, we had chickens,ducks and geese that ate the slugs. Now, I have wild crows that follow me to the boards.

If you pick every slug from a garden, new one's will inevitably migrate in. The geese could be fed while you're protecting your garden.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Yes, well, I may just lead them to the board in the woods one at a time.

But first its breeding season and I need to call up my neighbor since I have to Ganders and only one Goose. For the moment anyway.
 
Jennifer Smith
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I am planning to get geese to run in my orchard areas. Fencing it now then what do they like for a house?
 
Landon Sunrich
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Hmmm, USDA zones aren't my specialty but zone 5 is pretty cold right?

I would say if you could give them two walls and a roof all with a little insulation you'd be doing fine. I've seen people basically just make boxes for them to go into at night and they seem fine with it but it makes them a bit more tame and skittish I think. Mine like being able to spread out and nap in formation. Their always ready to form up into a phalanx and don't like feeling trapped. Thus the 2 corners open opinion. I don't know. It's not rocket science. Put down a couple boards as a slab if its going to be a pretty permanent dwelling. Something a flathead shovel will be easy on like a sheet of plywood would work just fine. Put down some straw on top of that and change it sometimes. Not too much to know.

Good luck! Let us know how it goes and what does or doesn't strike your fancy about 'dem geese. Have you decided on a type yet?
 
Landon Sunrich
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Oh and they'll love you if you give them a night light, it can be pretty dim, but it totally isn't necessary.
 
Jay Angler
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Thanks for the great info Landon! I just (as in 5 days ago) adopted an 11 mnth old mated pair of ToulouseX geese. My friend thinks the "X" part could be Emden, but she may be biased as she likes Emden. Our farm totally tries to do the "portable bottomless shelter approach to animal husbandry". However, we've been free-ranging a flock of Muscovies and were hoping the geese would help protect them from eagles. Which leads to questions which I'm hoping you and others will express opinions about:

1. Approximately how large are each of your paddocks for how many occupants? - At the moment, I've got 14 Muscovies (3 males and 11 females) free-ranging approximately 3 acres, but I'm concerned that if I don't create some sort of a paddock-shift system they will begin to "unimprove" the field.

2. I need good ideas regarding portable fencing: As you commented, poultry netting is a pain in the ass - doubly so with the rocks in our field - and I can't manage it independently. How do you keep the panels you mention vertical? Knowing safe densities would help.

3. Nesting - Do you have any ideas for an easy nest box that's light enough to hang in a portable shelter? I was wondering about the bottom 12 inches of a plastic 45 gallon drum - the inside diameter would be ~22 inches, but I'm not sure they'll stay round (less plastic than the old days and this has been an issue). We have some metal drums also, but then I worry that the metal will be too cold. Wood that's strong enough for the weight of Mama Goose is going to get heavy quickly. If I put something right on the grass, it will kill it, so that's why I need ideas for light but effective. Even if they start out with a nest on the ground, ideally I move a broody bird to some sort of protective custody due to mink/raccoon/raven pressure. Last year the Muscovy that wasn't protected had 2/8 ducklings survive whereas the girl that had even minimal protection had 6/7 survive and the loss was more or less a still-born. I've been told that Papa will be protective and improve the odds, but I know someone local who lost all the young to raccoon despite male protection. Those birds were using an old dog house as their home.

4. Housing - There are lots of ideas for portable shelters for chickens on the web, but they are sooooo.... much smaller birds and have very different needs than ducks and geese. I've had the Muscovies for getting on to 2 years and I'm still searching for a better Permaculture way of managing them (mind you we started with two rescue males, added two females, then were given more of both genders that needed re-homing, then some got eaten by raccoon and eagles, then they reproduced and we got to eat some of the results so there have been some ups and downs in their population!)

Any and all ideas are welcome. This hadn't been a planned extension to our farmyard, but opportunity knocked and now I'm playing catch-up - keeps life interesting!

Thanks!
 
alex Keenan
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Over the years I have found geese very useful for eating fallen apples and pears. This helps with insect control somewhat.
Also geese are grazers if you have good grazing they can get most of their feed from grazing with grain added as needed.
In the fall collected pumpkins after Halloween that were intact. We would store these in the basement and take them out and split them in half for the geese.
They ate everything but the hard shell. They also cleaned out most of the clove, dandelions, and other common plant people consider weeds from the grazing areas.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Jay,

You have a much larger flock than I have!

I mentioned this elsewhere - my paddock shifting has been less than successful in fully materializing as my geese seem totally content to wonder and roam and do so at every opportunity. Lacking the capital to make the necessary investment in durable fencing they are free feast on the flap.

I would be totally over my head speculating with your sort of numbers without knowing anything about your property. I'm not even much of a poultry guy. There's just a shocking amount of published material about watching and keeping geese. Or maybe it's not that shocking,

...

Anyway. I would go with a durable produce that you can afford. I like the idea of steel hog panels as a one time expense for small scale suburban to town and country type settings. They are durable as all git, rough and tumble, light, easy to set up and tear down. I like them. I've done plenty of fencing. Enough that saving up all my hard earned money to do more of it for myself hasn't been bearable. T-posts. Another one that is great if you've got the right ground for it. If not, they can be a little cheep, but in the right situation an 8 foot T-post driven 3 feet into the ground will hold most things unless they've been demonically possessed. Which happens. Reason I avoid steers and unknown horses.

Sorry I can't be of more help.

Also, alex is totally right about the gourds. They don't like them, but they'll eat them. The goo-flesh at least. Not so big on the seeds and defiantly no rind.
 
Landon Sunrich
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As for nesting. Mine likes to nest in a clayey little fern spot under a ceder tree.
 
Jay Angler
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Hi Landon,

Thanks for the info. Do you collect the eggs or just let your girl hatch what she lays? The Muscovies are notorious for hiding their eggs (can't blame them) which becomes a problem when raccoon and other critters start stealing them. That increases the risk when we do want a broody bird to be successful.

One local company had cattle panels last spring, but I don't think they were even as long as 12 ft and were almost $100 each. It makes it difficult to invest in enough panels to do much good. We're kind of an awkward size of not big enough to justify certain capital expenses, but too big to keep faking it. We're surrounded by tall cedar/fir forest, so the birds are less inclined to wander off than they might be in some settings. I'm trying to convince the other half that we need to plant something other than grass that will supplement the animal's diet. I didn't get an objection today when I suggested some apple trees, so maybe we're getting there. I would love to plant the fence lines and some cross lines/guild plots with bird forage-friendly plants to supplement the grass particularly for when the grass isn't growing well. I'm hoping that the birds will play the broody game early in the season this year when there is more natural good food for them. It's all a learning process.

I think as an immediate step I'll just let the two geese free range tomorrow. They've had 6 days to get to know us and the Muscovies that they will have to share space with, and it is a big space. I haven't seen any sign of the female laying eggs, but it's still pretty early. I'll finish building the Muscovy nest boxes that I know we'll need soonest and hope that by the time they're done, I'll have come up with a good idea for helping Mama goose with a safe place to set and raise a clutch.

Jay
 
Liz Hoxie
Posts: 50
Location: Ellisforde, WA
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Hi Jay! How's it going with your geese? Just a few thoughts. Our goose chose her own nesting place. My husband thought she would like to nest in a dark, enclosed space. The place she chose was exactly the opposite. We share a long shed with the ranch owner. (We rent.) There's a double fence separating their buck goats from our does and geese. It's also fenced on the south side from the horses. This corner is where she chose to build her nest. We made a pallet wall with a gap that the geese come and go through. We put used hay/straw in there in March,she chooses what she wants. A few days before she hatches, she'll ge very protective of the nest, will start biting, and the ganders will support her in this and they won't stop. They ALL take care of the babies. The babies will get what is called 'angel wing' if fed too much protein at the wrong time. The adults keep them away from protein at this time. The adults will only let them graze where they are safe from predators.

The geese share a pen with the goats and eat the wasted hay all winter. I throw them a handful each of whole corn when the temps get low. I throw their corn in their water pan so the goats don't eat it. I use 2 water pans in winter. Goats prefer CLEAN water and the geese get it dirty.

That's all I can think of right now. They pretty much take care of themselves.
 
Jay Angler
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Thanks for your info Liz. We have found the same thing - geese like a pile of hay out in the open - but the problem with that the first year was raccoon predation. We had huge problems last summer with a trap savvy raccoon and family which we eventually had to solve by borrowing a dog trap. By the time we had that under control, we'd decided that like it or not, all the birds needed to be locked up at night. This spring I set up a 10 x 12 ft shelter with two 4'x4' dog run enclosures to use for Muscovy duck sitting on eggs, and there was a nice gap between there and the wall that was about 3' wide that I tossed a pile of hay in and Margarete moved in and reliably laid her eggs there. We removed the eggs and tried to substitute some plastic eggs, but that wasn't terribly successful. Eventually, she decided she'd sit and we gave her 8 eggs or so, but she wasn't successful. 2 1/2 weeks in, she seemed to get bored and tended to stand over the eggs or let them stick out at the edge but not be under her. Because she'd seemed to be laying unreliably, we actually gave 6 of her eggs to a friend with an incubator to see if they were fertile. Four out of 6 hatched and did well and were eventually fostered by the other geese. Before we'd done that, again since Margarete didn't seem to be getting serious about sitting, we'd bought some Embden eggs and had one of our reliable Muscovy moms try and hatch them for us. She managed to hatch 3 and after about two weeks, our adult male started fostering them during the day and eventually insisted on going into their night shelter with them. I was *very* impressed about how good a dad he was. The geese are mostly raised on grass, but we use some chicken feed to entice them into their shelter at night. As mentioned earlier in this thread, they do *love* apples. Our young Muscovy are small enough to sneak through the fence to scrump the neighbor's windfalls (they don't mind), and the geese are quite annoyed they can't follow. One of my goals for February is to graft some better apples onto wild apple trees along the fence line. Most of those trees are on the neighbor's land, but they're OK with that.

I will let Margarete try again next year. I'm not convinced the housing was an issue although having to go in there to service the Muscovy moms may have been too much for her. My husband has promised me better Muscovy nesting areas for next spring, but I'm not holding my breath. The Muscovy are incredible at hatching and raising young, and it far too easily gets out of hand. I think the reason my husband didn't realize that last year was because we lost so many birds to the raccoon. This year we haven't lost a single bird and it isn't that there aren't still raccoon in the area. If they don't get a taste, the electric fencing on the outside of the shelters seems to be enough to keep them away.
 
steve bossie
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my father always kept a few chinese geese with the chicken and duck flock. they make great guard dogs and make a heck of a ruckus when a predator comes around or someone pulls in the yard. i saw one of the males fly after a fox that was getting to close to HIS chickens!  the whole neiborhood heard the ruckus! was funny as hell to watch! goose got a break full of fur! fox never returned either. you got to really socialize them tho. or they will treat YOU as a predator! geese bite hard!
 
Liz Hoxie
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Location: Ellisforde, WA
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About coons:don't worry. The setting goose has what I call a "strike zone", that area around her nest that she can reach. She hisses when you get within a few feet of that area. Her hissing will change as you get closer, and then the gander comes running in. He is really intimidating! Running on tip toes, wings outspread, neck stretched straight up, looking as BIG as he can. I'd pity the predator that thought he was getting an easy meal.
That hide is TOUGH. I tried to skin an adult last year, couldn't cut it with a SHARP knife. When geese bite, they latch on and twist. It doesn't even draw blood on another gander.

Geese don't lay as often as chickens, they will lay about every other day. Once she's setting, she'll get off the nest for about an hour to stretch, eat, and swim. I still feed her, but I give her and any others corn to keep them healthy while they're running a "setting fever".  I knew nothing about raising geese, so I let her call the shots. I've never seen hens leave the nest as often as she does, but she sets until they hatch. When I'd see eggs sticking out, I figured they wouldn't hatch, but they did. Whenever she takes a break, she covers the nest with down and straw. It seems like I stress more than she does when she's setting.
 
steve bossie
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geese are tough birds for sure! got a story for you. had a kid from next door was coming to my shed and stealing gas for his atv. so one day i left the fence to the front yard open and had the wife and kids leave. hid my truck in the back yard and waited. about 15min. i heard yelling and cursing outside. i looked out just in time to see that kid running down my driveway with the gander attached to his butt! never laughed so hard in my life! he let him go at the end of the driveway honking and shaking his head with a victory dance! never came on my property again!
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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