Goslings and Brooders
By Kirsten Lie-Nielsen
Now if you’ve decided on beginning with goslings, and you know where you’ll get them, it is time to get the brooder ready! Goslings are much hardier than baby chicks, but they still have special requirements to ensure they will grow up into healthy, happy birds.
Lighting and Temperature Control
Day-old goslings need a brooder temperature between 90° and 95°F. The easiest way to accomplish that warmth is to use one or two regular 60 or 100 watt light bulbs. You can also use special purpose heat lamps; however, the risk of fire is much greater with these lights. Regular light bulbs will keep an enclosed space warm, and as long as the light is not coming into contact with hay or shavings, the fire risk should be minimal.
You can reduce the temperature in your brooder by about 10 degrees per week until it is the same as the room temperature, by removing one of the lights or continually raising the height of the light source. In order to make sure that your goslings have a comfortable temperature throughout their growth period, put a thermometer in the brooder and monitor its progress.
If goslings are panting with their beaks open and not huddling up together, they may be too hot. Similarly, if they are constantly in a tight huddle, you might want to increase the temperature in the brooder a few degrees. Keep a close eye on your new baby birds in their first few days of life, and you will quickly learn how they behave when they are happy and comfortable.
Food and Water
Goslings need constant access to food and water. When they first arrive, they may have difficulty eating or display a lack of interest in dry crumble, so it is a good idea to soak their food in water before offering it. Wait until you have a soupy consistency, and your goslings will be sure to gobble up the crumble. Never give goslings medicated feed or chick starter, which is not formulated for them.
In order to eat, geese need to be able to submerge their beaks fully in water; otherwise, their nostrils can become plugged with remnants of food, preventing them from breathing. A classic chick waterer with a plastic trough, which is available in any feed store, allows them to dip their beaks fully underwater. A homemade alternative is an empty 5-gallon milk jug with small holes cut into all four sides, large enough for your goslings to fit their heads through comfortably. Fill the gallon jug up to the holes with water, and this will allow them to douse their beaks without creating a mess.
Goslings should not be offered swimming water at first. Their downy feathers do not have the waterproofing that adult goose feathers have, and they can easily catch a chill if they get soaked. Wild goslings are able to dry off in their moth- er’s downy wings after a swim, but goslings in a brooder can lose body heat quickly.
After a week or two, you can start introducing the young birds to supervised swimming. Just remember to towel dry them gently after they bathe. When their pinfeathers start coming in, they should be able to swim regularly, as long as the water is shallow and easy for them to enter and exit without assistance.
Keeping the Brooder Clean
Pine shavings, hay, peat moss, and straw are all suitable bedding options for young geese. Although I use straw for my adult geese, I recommend a thick layer of pine shavings in the brooder because they are highly absorbent and won’t hold an odor, which is very helpful with goslings’ messy droppings and poor table manners. The most absorbent bedding is peat moss, but is often exorbitantly expensive. Pine shavings and straw are both available at garden centers and feed stores in large bales.
Geese are naturally messy creatures. Even without open water, there will be spills that soak through the shavings quickly, meaning regular changing of their bedding is required to keep the brooder smelling fresh and to prevent possible diseases. Be prepared to do a quick clean and refresher at least once or twice a week — more often as your geese get larger. Once they are 4 to 6 weeks old, it will be time to start transitioning them to their adult housing.
Treats and Outside Time
Because they are hardier than chicks, goslings can start exploring the out- doors earlier. With your close supervision to keep them from getting lost or attacked by a predator, baby geese can enjoy an hour or two out on the grass within their first few days of life. They will love being able to stretch their legs outside the brooder, and relish the opportunity to munch on fresh grass stems. Taking the time to sit with them during their outside activity also helps to ensure that they will imprint on you.
Unlike ducks and chickens, geese are vegetarians. Some geese will nibble up mealworms, but their favorite treats will always be fresh greens. Keeping a good supply of green leaves in their brooder is a great way to ensure they get the nutrition needed to grow up healthy and strong. You can offer them fresh-cut lettuce or spinach from your garden, or even regular grass clippings. My geese have shown a particular proclivity for Swiss chard and beet greens. You can even try hanging a head of lettuce from the top of the brooder for them to nibble on as they desire. Plants rich in vitamins and minerals, like beet greens or kale, are also especially healthy for your goslings to enjoy.
Raise a gaggle of geese, the unsung heroes of the small farm
While chickens preen in the spotlight, geese are the historic unsung heroes of small farms and homesteads. Providing weed control, large eggs, and entertainment, and acting as “security” over other animals, geese are the ultimate modern homesteading companion.
This is an except from The Modern Homesteader’s Guide to Keeping Geese, which covers everything you need to know to raise geese, including:
- Profiles of breeds and how to select the best one for your needs
- How to “imprint” goslings on a person
- Feeding, housing, animal health, and cold weather care
- Using geese for weed control, soil improvement, and as “watch-geese”
- Cooking with goose eggs and meat
Additional coverage includes a look at the rich history of geese on farms in North America and Europe that will enhance any goose keeper’s enjoyment of these intelligent and unique birds.
This practical guide is a must-have essential for the kitchen table of homesteaders, small farmers, permaculturists, and professional farmers looking to add the power of geese to their land.
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