Geese

Adult geese vs goslings: which should you get?

Adult geese vs goslings: which should you get? thumbnail
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What are the pros and cons of getting adult geese vs goslings? Find out which option is best for YOU and what to plan for when you bring them home!


Hopefully, you’ve read my previous goose articles:

Thus, you’ve had a chance to consider the pros and cons of getting geese. 

Now you’ve decided that having geese in your life can only be a good thing. The next question you might have is: should you get adult geese or goslings?

In this article, I’ll share the pros and cons of getting adult geese vs goslings. You’ll also find out what you should have prepared AND what you can expect when you bring your geese — whether big or small — home for the first time.

A gosling enjoying an outdoor field trip at Hoof and Feather Farm.

A gosling enjoying an outdoor field trip at Hoof and Feather Farm.

Option 1: Getting goslings

There are many reasons to start with goslings, not the least of which is that they’re possibly the cutest baby bird on the whole planet.

Where do you buy goslings?

There are three ways you can find and buy goslings:

1. Online hatcheries

You can purchase goslings online through reputable hatcheries, such as:

2. Local farm stores

If you have a local farm store (Tractor Supply, IFA, etc), they usually have baby waterfowl arriving as early as March (check with your local store to get a schedule of arrivals). Some stores will order specific breeds on your behalf, but you will likely need to place your order months in advance.

3. Local breeders

You might also be able to find goslings via local breeders. Craigslist, facebook marketplace, or other websites are a good place to search to see what’s available in your area.

What is imprinting? 

Most goslings are sold at 1-3 days old, and will quickly imprint on you.

In case you’ve never heard of it, imprinting is a remarkable learning and survival mechanism that keeps goslings magnetically tethered to their parents’ (biological or not) every move. While it is technically a learning mechanism, it is also a powerful bonding experience.

If you buy goslings, you will be the parent. Be prepared for little fluff balls scurrying after you every time you take a step.

Imprinting, and the chance to bond with your geese as they grow up, will help set you up for success in their adult years. Starting with goslings also allows you to build trust with them from the beginning, as well as train them to eat particular weeds you need maintained.

While the imprinting of fluffy, awkward little goslings is one of life’s most heartwarming experiences, there are many things to consider before committing to the care of baby geese…

How to raise goslings (or: all the work and all the mess)

Now let’s dive into the details of raising goslings:

1. Goslings need a brooder.

A brooder (aka more money to spend and a space to set it up) is a safe place to raise baby birds.

A proper brooder consists of:

  • a heat lamp (the primary aspect of a brooder),
  • water dish,
  • food dish, and
  • *pine or aspen shavings.

*Pro tip: There’s a reason I specify pine shavings: goslings won’t eat them. Aspen shavings are even better, if you can find them (low dust), but they cost more.

I don’t love pine pellets (the goslings would try to eat them; they crumble when they get wet and look a lot like chick starter), although some people use them.

Don’t use newspapers. Or pee pads. Geese – at any age – love to chew, and they will chew these items into oblivion. It may seem like a less messy option than pine shavings, but it is not. Yes, I speak from experience here!

The brooder can be any wide, open-top container, but it will need to be waterproof and easy to clean.

Your brooder should also:

  • Be tall enough that your goslings can’t jump out.
  • Provide about one square foot of space for every two goslings. (And you should be starting with at least two goslings; one gosling will be a sad, lonely gosling!).

How long do baby geese need a heat lamp?

Your goslings will need a brooder with a heat lamp for the first 5-6 weeks.

One heat lamp can keep up to 20 goslings warm, but keep in mind that goslings grow quickly and will need double the space after about 3 weeks (and possibly another heat lamp to cover the extra space).

The heat lamp should be secured 18 inches above the floor of the brooder. You may also use brooder lights, which are less of a fire hazard. Either way, the floor of the brooder (where the goslings are) should register about 95°F (35°C).

If you position the heat lamp off-center, this will keep one side of the brooder slightly cooler and allow the goslings some space to self-regulate. 

How to set up a gosling brooder. Goslings snuggle together under the red glow of a heat lamp.

Goslings snuggle together under the red glow of a heat lamp in their brooder.

2. Goslings have special nutritional requirements.

What do baby geese eat?

The easiest thing to feed goslings is Mazuri waterfowl starter, which you can order from Chewy.com. It is formulated for baby waterfowl, so you don’t need to worry about niacin supplementation.

Goslings can be given unmedicated chick starter, with a little water and brewer’s yeast (for niacin) added to it.

Chick starter is formulated for chickens and lacks the amount of niacin that waterfowl require. You only need a tiny bit – the ratio should be about ¾-1 tsp of brewer’s yeast per 1 cup of feed.

Goslings can start eating greens and grass from day one. Once the goslings start to forage, they should be able to get all the niacin they need from grass and weeds. However, this is only possible if they’re fully free-ranging, which isn’t likely if you’re the parents, instead of adult geese. 

 By six weeks old, they can forage exclusively in good pasture. (See this helpful list on weeds to avoid.)

This one-day-old gosling contemplates an offering of clover and lettuce, while simultaneously receiving lap snuggles as mom’s human toddler naps in the car.

This one-day-old gosling contemplates an offering of clover and lettuce, while simultaneously receiving lap snuggles as mom’s human toddler naps in the car.

3. Goslings are incredibly messy.

Waterfowl babies are possibly the messiest baby birds out there.

Do not underestimate how incredibly clumsy goslings can be and the mess they will create with their wildly amusing lack of grace. Also, do not underestimate how much they will poop.

You will be cleaning soggy, poopy shavings out of your brooder constantly, and replacing their water 20 times a day (at least, it will feel like you are).

On that note… 

Providing water for goslings

The water dish needs to be deep enough and positioned so that the goslings can submerge their entire bills into the water. This allows them to clear their sinuses while eating.

You can keep them out of the water by elevating the dish slightly so that they can not stand or poop in it. Even so, their food will inevitably murk up the water (and they’ll manage to get pine shaving in it too), often within a matter of hours.

A chick waterer can suffice for the first couple weeks of life, but this system may not allow a proper depth for submersion as their bills get longer. It will also require constant monitoring and cleaning.

And, as your goslings grow, the mess increases exponentially.

4. You will be a gosling nanny: swim lessons, cuddle time, field trips

Swimming in the sink (or bathtub), supervised field trips to graze outside, and frequent snuggles are all part of the charm of raising goslings. It is also a time commitment.

When can goslings swim?

In the wild, goslings can start swimming within 24 hours of hatching. However, unless you’re a goose, you shouldn’t try to immediately swim your goslings. 

Once they’re 10-14 days old, goslings should have at least one swim lesson a day. This is an adorable and fun time, offset only by the fact that they will frequently poop in the water.

Goslings do not yet have the feathers to repel water, and they can get hypothermic quickly. You will need to promptly towel-dry wet goslings and place them back under the warmth of the heat lamp after every swim lesson.

Unless you have a goose parent to warm them, you will need to get your goslings under a heat lamp after their pool time.

Unless you have a goose parent to warm them, you will need to get your goslings under a heat lamp after their pool time.

It is also nice to chop up some greens (lettuce, weeds, grass) and add these treats to the water.

When can goslings go outside?

Foraging field trips can start on Day 1 with goslings so long as it’s not cold and/or rainy. Goslings need sunshine and the opportunity to forage on their own. They should have this opportunity, ideally, for a couple hours every day, and should never be left outside unattended.

Thankfully, imprinting will keep them from straying too far from you, but you will still need to supervise: baby goslings can run surprisingly fast and get into trouble quickly!

Can goslings imprint on humans? Always supervise your goslings on their foraging adventures — which isn't so hard if they've imprinted on you!

Always supervise your goslings on their foraging adventures — which isn’t so hard if they’ve imprinted on you!

I recommend keeping a deep, open-top box or basket nearby in case you need to scoop them up in a hurry.

You can place them in a wire enclosure (with an open bottom so they can nibble grasses and dandelions) if you need a little more freedom, but they should still be within your sight.

Remember to keep water nearby during outside escapades.

Gosling snuggles

Both you and your goslings will benefit from frequent lap snuggles. Goslings have the instinct to burrow under mama’s wing, so they will love tucking their heads under your arms, or climbing up your shirt to find a cozy spot on your chest.

Baby goose cuddling on person's chest. Baby geese love to burrow. Tucked away in your shirt is a very cozy spot for them.

Baby geese love to burrow. Tucked away in your shirt is a very cozy spot for them.

This is a positive, dopamine-producing experience for you, and it also calls for time out of your day. Sitting and chilling with your little honkers is time wonderfully spent, but be sure you have time to give.

And they will poop on you. So there’s that.

You can get them little gosling diapers, or simply use old towels to catch the mess, but you will experience goose poop somewhere on yourself, your floors, or furniture (or all the above) at some point – I guarantee it. Here again, I speak from experience! 

Option 2: Getting adult geese

One of the best parts about adopting adult geese is that you’re providing a home for birds that might otherwise be dumped in the wild or at a city park.

Sadly, there is a huge problem with farm stores overselling waterfowl: many people buy them because they are cute and inexpensive, but do not understand the commitment required to keep them through adulthood.

Most shelters will not take birds, so geese and ducks often end up being “released” at local ponds or out in the wild. Domestic waterfowl have neither the instincts nor the physical ability to survive in the wild (this includes public ponds).

Most waterfowl cannot fly because they were bred to have bigger, heavier bodies. Many were not raised to forage, kept only in enclosures and fed grain.

In addition, some cities will cull (kill) the dumped bird population if they think it is affecting the health of the pond.

So if you happen to come across adult geese looking for a new home, I would encourage you to provide a much needed service by adopting them.

What can you expect when you bring geese home?

Geese dislike, and are quite suspicious of, change. You will need to be patient.

Establish a safe space for them, with clean bedding, food and water. Provide a tub for them to bathe in during the day. Offer them treats such as fresh lettuce, cabbage, grapes, apples, or sweet potatoes (chopped into ¼ -½ inch cubes or thinly sliced).

Do not feed geese bread. Minimize whole grains, such as red wheat.

Try to be around them as often as you can, without getting too much in their space. They will learn that you are the source of food and fresh water, and that you are not so terrible.

Maverick, a Toulouse-African cross, eyes me warily as I take her snapshot on her first day at Hoof and Feather Farm.

Maverick, a Toulouse-African cross, eyes me warily as I take her snapshot on her first day at Hoof and Feather Farm.

It will likely take a year for your adopted adult geese to eat out of your hand, but they will eventually come to trust you.

Integrating new geese into an existing flock

Whether you are adopting geese from two different locations, or adding new geese to your current flock, introductions should be made relatively slowly.

Where ducks tend to accept new ducks fairly quickly, geese need a little more time – especially if you are doing introductions in the spring, when males are feeling a bit territorial and protective of their mates.

Ideally, keeping the unacquainted geese separated from — but visible to — each other for a week or so is sufficient.

The exception to this is when introducing one female to one male (and these are your only two geese). Love at first sight, guaranteed.

For all other introductions, there may be some honking and a few tussles when you let them all come in contact; just supervise and let them figure it out. You can stand ready with a hose of running water to help break up any fights that seem too intense.

Our adult goose adoption (and integration) story

We adopted a mated pair of mixed breed geese (along with 14 ducks) in December 2018, which was about seven months after raising our first American Buff goslings into adulthood. It was a calm time of year.

We kept the new geese in our dormant garden, which is in full view of the orchard (where our existing flock spent much of its time).

When it was time to integrate everyone (after about 10 days), we simply opened the gates and let everyone gradually figure out their way around the fences. There was some honking, and they didn’t become best friends right away, but it was surprisingly uneventful.

It did, however, take nearly a year for our adopted pair to fully integrate with the flock, although everyone remained civil in the meantime.

Geese as pets?

I, too, have seen pictures of enviable lap geese that enjoy cuddling with their human friends. It is possible, with daily handling, treats, and attention.

The degree of how much your goose will be a “pet” depends on the breed and personality of your goose. Some geese breeds (like Pilgrims, American Buff, Sebastopol) are more docile; others (like Chinese, bred as “watchdogs”) are more flighty and nervous.

And, of course, the temperament of individual geese will differ within a breed as well.

If you adopt geese, you will have less influence over how they tolerate humans. Like any adopted animal, their past is entirely outside of your control.

A new location does hit the reset button a little, but understand that having the “perfect” pet goose will take more time to build trust and reset behaviors with an adult goose, than it will if you raise goslings by hand.

Tame geese; goose being held by person; pet geese. More likely than not, your geese will tolerate being held - if you can catch them.

More likely than not, your geese will tolerate being held – if you can catch them. 

Geese have lots of benefits, even if they aren’t pets

Just because your geese may not hop into your lap, doesn’t mean they won’t be a wonderful addition in your life.

Geese don’t have to be puppy-dog friendly to live a happy life and provide you with services. They are tremendous weed eaters, lay delicious eggs, sound the alarm at intruders, and provide entertainment with their inquisitive nature.

So… geese vs goslings: which is the best option for you?

Should you get adult geese or goslings? At the end of the day, the answer to that question is all about the work you are willing to put in, and what you need geese for.

  • If you simply want some pretty alarm systems or to collect goose eggs, you may want to consider adopting adult geese.
  • If you want very tame geese that follow you around, you may want to start with goslings.

As a caveat, I will say that — even raising geese from goslings — if you decide to let them hatch their own goslings, some of that bond you fostered will be severed. You will not be trusted around your goose’s nest or their offspring.

Our goose matriarch, Leia, and her gander were my best friends until they hatched their own goslings. Leia and Solo are still my most docile and trusting geese, but our relationship has changed since they became parents.

The relationship with their goose flock (not humans) will always come first for geese, as it should. But with positive interactions, food, treats, and space you can have great success with geese regardless of how old they are when they come into your life.


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