Hobby-farm and small-flock owners are increasingly recognizing the benefits that come with keeping geese. Beyond being dual-purpose birds, geese are fabulous poultry-flock guardians, facing off against weasels, skunks and smaller carnivores, and raising an ear-splitting alarm for other kinds of predators. Geese also make wonderful weeders, easily eradicating unwanted greenery growing in gardens, orchards and crop fields. Those interested in rearing geese quickly learn that these waterfowl are self-sufficient breeders, with both parents attentively raising their goslings.
With so many positive reasons to raise geese, it’s only natural to wonder what these birds eat. This is especially true for flock owners who also keep chickens, ducks, turkeys or gamebirds. Can geese eat the same rations as the others?
While formulated feed for geese does exist, it is very difficult to find at farm-supply stores. It can be specially ordered, but the cost would be prohibitive, especially if a hobby-farm flock features only one guardian goose.
Fortunately, most farmers already have plenty of what geese eat on hand: pasture! Primarily herbivores, geese are fabulous foragers. Their digestive systems are designed to efficiently process fiber and, as a result, they can survive on grasses and greens such as bluegrass, brome grass, chicory, white clover, dandelions, orchard grass and Timothy.
Just one acre of fresh pasture can support between 20 to 40 geese.
As with other domestic fowl, geese need grit to aid with digestion. A hopper of poultry grit should be offered near the goose house, but chances are that geese will take in all the grit they need naturally in the form of tiny pebbles as they forage. It’s essential that pasture-fed geese have access to a young, fresh pasture with tender grass and greens. Mature, dried-out pasture does not provide the quality of fodder necessary for goose nutrition.
Baby geese—goslings—have different nutritional needs than their adult counterparts. They grow much faster than chicks or ducklings, and their diets will vary with their age.
Start newly hatched goslings out on unmedicated chick starter crumbles. At two to three weeks, switch them to unmedicated chick grower topped with sprinkles of chick grit and chopped-up white clover and fresh grass. Slowly increase the amount of greens and decrease the amount of grower so that, by five to six weeks, the goslings can be successfully switched to pasture (supplemental chick starter can be offered until the goslings are fully feathered).
Broody geese focus solely on one task: incubating their eggs. A goose setting eggs will rarely leave her nest. Given it can take anywhere from four to five weeks to hatch eggs, Mama Goose may starve since she cannot forage.
It’s therefore vital to offer a broody supplemental food—and fresh water—in bowls she can reach without leaving her nest. Broody geese can eat crumbled layer rations sprinkled with chick grit. This food can be made more enticing by topping them with chopped white clover and grass.
Despite being cold hardy, geese cannot forage successfully if their pasture is covered by snow. During these chilly months, a diet of Timothy hay, shredded green cabbage and kale, and chopped beet and carrot greens will see them through the winter.
Offer your geese special treats such as cracked corn, wheat and oats from time to time—always in moderation. On snow-free days, allow your birds to forage whatever they can but continue to offer them their winter diet until the new spring pasture growth is well established once again.