Keeping Wildfowl Geese
GENERAL POINTS (information from the British Waterfowl Association)
All geese originate from the Northern Hemisphere. Known as “true geese”to distinguish them from the ‘look a like’ Sheldgeese of the Southern Hemisphere, they can be divided into two groups;
1. Grey Geese, all in the genus Anser, such as the Greylag, Bean, Pinkfoot, White-front, Snow, Ross, Emperor, and Barhead;
2. Black Geese, whose generic name is Branta and include Canada, Brent,Barnacle, Red-breasted, and Ne-ne. Greygeese are easy to distinguish because of their coloured feet and bills. The black
geese group all have black feet and blackbills.
The two groups make up a total of fifteen full species plus a variable number of subspecies, according to which authority youconsult.
In the wild, geese are gregarious,particularly so out of the breeding season, on migration and on their wintering grounds. In captivity a single pair of most species will thrive and
breed. If space and other factors permit it may be more natural to keep more than one pair of thesame species or different species. Ornamentalducks and geese may be kept together, usually without difficulty.
Sheldgeese and some Shelducks are less likely to mix successfully unlessyour enclosure is very large, one hectare ormore (two or three acres)! Swans are probably better kept on their own, or with
a few ducks.“White Snow Geese and White Swans do not a happy enclosure make.”
Barring the exceptions mentioned above, flocks of geese of the same
species, or mixed, can be run together. The area that you have for grazing
and the water area will dictate the maximum number you can keep.
Assuming extra feeding, in addition to grazing particularly in winter, a
rough guide is ten pairs per acre. If you want all pairs to breed and rear
their own young then reduce the number of geese that you keep.
For the sake of the geese, and your sleep, it is essential to have a 2 meter
high (6′ – 8′) fox proof fence. Details are given in the BWA information
leaflet “Starting To Keep Wildfowl”.
Geese bond for life. While the sexes look identical they can breed in
captivity in their third year. Unlike most ducks, both parents rear the
young. Only the female incubates, but the gander plays a vital role in nest
site and family protection. All true geese need a pond.
Almost all species display and copulate on water. A pond of sufficient
depth, say 50cms (18″), and an area for two birds to bathe and turn over
on their sides at once is a minimum requirement for a contented pair of
captive geese. For ease of maintenance the pond should have flowing
water or be easily drained and cleaned.
Geese will choose islands, piles of logs, rocks, even willow wigwams to
build their nests. And, when at their most infuriating they’ll nest alongside
or even in the middle of a footpath!. Given that, you should note that if a
pair of geese incubate and rear their own young, they are likely to re-use
the same place year after year. Generally pairs of geese will tend to
choose some cover on a slightly elevated site, ‘with a view’. There needs to
be space for the gander to loaf and keep vigil nearby. They don’t
necessarily nest alongside their pond, and if you have more than one pair,
it may be a good management to dissuade them from doing so. The
dominant gander is likely to keep others from the water and reduce
Geese are vegetarians and graze short herbs, grasses and clovers. A few
species with big bills such as Greylags and Greater Snow Geese may dig,
looking for roots and tubers. Those with very short bills such as Ross,
Redbreasted and Lesser White-front prefer sward, or will create one in time,
something akin to a bowling green. These are points to bear in mind in the
planting and maintenance of enclosures. Up to a point judicious hand
mowing can be used to manipulate the spread of different species in a
In addition to their own grazing, geese should be given wheat and poultry
layer pellets, with 15% protein, twice a day. It is recommended that each
pair should be given individual feed containers. This keeps the food clean,
helps ensure a reasonable share for each pair and reduces the parasites
such as gizzard worm. From February to the end of the laying season a
higher protein pellet (18% max) may be given to enhance egg production.
Grit, both in quartz and limestone form (or oyster shell) should be
available for food breakdown and digestion and eggshell production. Grit
for waterfowl should be in smaller particles than that provided for
ARTIFICIAL INCUBATION AND REARING
Handrearing can be a practical, if time consuming, solution to frustrate
predators such as magpies, crows and gulls. By allowing the breeding pairs
to recycle and lay replacement clutches, it is likely that the total number
that will be reared will be increased. It is unwise to attempt three or more
clutches a year from any pair.
Broody hens and incubators, or both in combination, can work well.
Remember a broody hen not only incubates, but also fosters and rears. For
rearing small numbers of birds you cannot better a good broody hen. All
young geese need access to grass and chick crumb 24 hours after
hatching. Confinement in a small brooder on a lawn with a broody hen
usually ensures this. Parent geese with goslings can miss finding artificial
foods or wild birds take it first.
Having sung the praises of good broody hens, there are many pairs of
captive geese who gain experience over successive years and do an
excellent job in rearing their own young. It is more natural and there
should be no misguided goslings that believe their parents are chickens.
The initial expenditure of pond digging, water supply and fox-proof
fencing is high for any waterfowl collection. However, once constructed,
the day-to-day maintenance of a collection of geese and wildfowl is
relatively simple compared to most other livestock keeping. Geese are
knowing, relatively intelligent and rewarding birds.