Following our decision to keep geese (see Keeping Geese Part 1), we prepared carefully for the arrival of the goslings. We read up on the finer details of goose keeping (Keeping Geese by Chris Ashton was our go-to book). And we made sure that we had all of the equipment and feed we needed:
We decided to keep the goslings in the cottage with us for the first month, where they would be warm and safe from predators. We knocked together a (rather rustic-looking) brooder for them to live in. This was much less costly than buying a ready-made brooder or converting an animal cage. A basic frame made from cheap, untreated wood, clad on all four sides with strips of recycled pallet wood, and resting on the newspaper-covered base of another pallet. It had an open top, so that we could get food and water in and out easily, and an open bottom, to make cleaning-out quicker. We also included a wire mesh viewing pane along the front, which enabled us and the goslings to see each other more clearly. This was something that turned out to be deeply important to the goslings, who imprinted almost immediately (meaning they began to think of us as their parents) and liked to have sight of us as often as possible. The brooder fitted neatly under the open staircase in our lounge and gave the goslings more than enough space to grow for the first few weeks.
Our Keeping Geese book recommended using chopped barley straw for bedding in the brooder initially (as goslings have a habit of trying to eat their bedding, and barley straw is less easy to swallow than wood shavings), but for some reason we couldn’t find anywhere that sold it. Instead, we covered the newspaper in the brooder with old towels, which we had heard was a good alternative as they soak up droppings and have a tactile surface that is easy for little webbed feet to grip. It didn’t work as well as we had hoped though. Goslings produce surprisingly splashy poos, and we were forever washing and replacing the towels. We were glad to move on to wood shavings a week later, which are much better at soaking up moisture and smells. In the end, the goslings didn’t try to eat the shavings at all. They were much more interested in nibbling the side of the brooder, which was luckily fairly beak-resistant.
Heat and Warmth:
We spent a lot of time dithering about how to keep the brooder suitably warm for the goslings (they need a constant heat source of around 36°C for the first week, which gradually reduces in temperature as they get older). A heat lamp seemed like the obvious solution, but we had read a few horror stories of the bulbs overheating and shattering, falling into the brooder and squishing or overheating the baby geese, and even causing fires. Plus, most of the heat lamps we came across weren’t designed for use with such small numbers of birds. In the end we bought an electric brooder hen instead and it worked a treat. A brooder hen is basically just a square warming plate on legs that mimics the warmth of a mother bird. We scoured various smallholding forums and review sites to help us choose, and eventually bought this Comfort Brooder, which worked really well. We found it to be much safer and cheaper to run than a heat lamp. Our goslings loved it both for the warmth it provided and its second use as a viewing platform (the curious little birds liked to clamber on top of it in order to keep an eye on what we were up to or spy out of the window). We’ve since used it very successfully for rearing chickens too.
Food and Water:
We used a chick drinker for water, which we hung from a piece of wood that straddled the top of the brooder. We were then easily able to raise it higher as the goslings grew (too low and they would spill and fill it with bedding). We also gave them a second water source that was just big enough for them to dip their head into for bathing; a sturdy ceramic ramekin to begin with and then a large Pyrex jug as they got older.
Their feed (organic chick crumb for the first few weeks and then organic growers pellets), was also suspended from the top of the brooder in a chick feeder and then transferred to a ceramic bowl as they got bigger. Finding food that is specifically formulated for geese seems to be extremely tricky, but the Organic Feed Company make some that can be given to waterfowl, so we used that. We would also hang bunches of frilly dandelion leaves and sticky goosegrass for the goslings to peck at, which caused a great deal of excitement and cheeping. In addition, we gave them a little espresso cup of poultry grit and another of sand to help them digest everything.
The Daily Routine:
The goslings soon settled into a routine. We choose not to keep them awake with artificial light, so they would get up when we opened the curtains nearest their brooder, flooding the room with light, and go to bed at the same time as us (when we switched out the light). In the afternoons after work, as long as the weather was mild and sunny, we would pop them in a wicker basket and carry them out to the garden where they would toddle about on the lawn, eating the grass and exploring the flowerbeds. We assembled a makeshift pen to ensure that they didn’t wander off, but quickly realised it wasn’t needed as they followed us everywhere and came running over to be picked up if anything startled them (passing cars or horses on the nearby road, aeroplanes, and other birds flying overhead always caused great alarm). Being so little, they tired quickly and liked to climb on our laps or snuggle up our coat sleeve for a quick power nap before continuing with their garden adventure.
We also gave them the occasional swimming lesson (in lukewarm water) in our old bathtub, which they enjoyed immensely, splashing, diving and paddling about as much as they could. Bath-time was usually over quickly because of the speed at which they managed to dirty the water with their relentless gosling poos.
At bedtime most of them learnt to settle under their brooder hen as soon as we switched out the light. The exception was the littlest gosling, who would stand on the top of the electric hen pipping at the top of his voice in the hope of calling us back downstairs. We aptly named him Pippin. We learnt it was best to ignore him until he tired himself out and eventually went to bed (if we went to see him the others would wake up and join in the chorus).
The goslings grew fast and, before long, were ready to move outside at around four weeks old. We’ll share more in our next goosekeeping post.