Raising Canada Geese

(Branta canadensis)

Dr. Leland Hayes
with permission from Leland Hayes' Gamebird E-Zine #56

I agree with George Allen, Jr. the former editor of the Gazette, that some of his favorite birds were the more common ones. This is true for me especially when I think about geese. Perhaps it is because of the thousands out in the wild or perhaps these were my first geese to get as a young man -I do not know - but I love Canada geese.

There are several subspecies of the nominate family. The main difference is size and coloration and geographical location. I personally love the Giant Canada goose, especially those with the bright white on their head. But then as I think about it, I love the little Cacklers with the rose color on their breasts. Canada geese are undoubtedly one of my favorite geese.

Managing the Breeding Pairs:
If you have several pairs of these geese you will need to think seriously about having several separate pens. You should have 1) separate breeding pen or pens, 2) wintering pens, 3) large general holding pen. Having these pens will really make life easier as your flock grows. This is especially true during the breeding season. Most agree that separate breeding pens make for higher production. Records are easier kept, the ganders fight less, and servicing the pen can be systemized. However, this is not to say that raising Canada geese in large colony type pens is not successful. Once the breeding pairs settle down and have their territory staked out things get quiet.

Several types of nesting sites can be used with these geese. One is made by placing three bales of straw to form a triangle with a depression in the middle. About six inches of loose straw is placed in this depression for the geese to use. Another nesting site commonly used is the wooden structure. This is about four feet high and is three by three feet with some sort of windows near the top to let in light. The front is open with only the roof and the sides closed in.

One year old geese show little response to breeding. They will develop pair bonding if allowed to do so. However, the second year most geese will begin to think about breeding. Planned matings can sometimes work if the single gander and female are penned together but most of the success comes from one and two year old birds.

More young can be raised if the first clutch is taken away from the parents and they are allowed to have a second clutch. Production is more than doubled by using this method of management. It is reported that first year layers seldom lay a second clutch but after that most all will do so if conditions are right.

Gathering the eggs can be dangerous for the keeper. The Giant Canada geese are very large and will defend their nests with much vigor. They will attack intruders especially if they do not know them. Most advise that only one or two people work with the flock as the geese become accustomed to the keepers. When gathering eggs it is a good idea to have a helper to distract the defending pair while the other slips in a gathers the eggs. Eggs are gathered daily with the first two replaced with plastic or plaster dummy eggs. When the goose finishes her clutch she covers the nest with straw. She begins to incubate. When all of the eggs are gathered a piece of plywood should be placed over the nest to cover it for three or four days until the goose loses her urge to incubate. After that the plywood can be removed and she will commence to rebuild her nest and hopefully lay a second clutch. If a second clutch is desired it is best not to let the goose get too far along in her incubation cycle.

Eggs can be artificially incubated or the second clutch at least can be left for the parents to incubate. If they are good parents the goslings can be raised by them or they can be taken to artificially brood. Raising the Goslings:

The wonderful thing about geese is they are easy to brood and raise. You can use any type of brooder box that you like and still have success. My Assembly Line Method of raising gamebirds works just fine with geese. The size of the box needs to be adjusted to fit the size of the birds. You can build your brooder box large enough to accommodate the entire clutch of goslings and raise them in a group with no trouble.

Breeding goslings is not difficult if they are not given too much protein. If more protein is given than they can tolerate their legs go and they will not make it. One of the secrets to raising geese is to give them plenty of greens. They love grass and can grow rapidly and healthy on just a diet of good fresh grass. If you do not have any grass to give them they will appreciate getting lettuce of any other green food. Usually, when the goslings hatch out there is winter grass everywhere that can be pulled and fed to them. If your pens are so arranged to let the goslings out on a lawn so much the better. They will graze and be perfectly content. Years ago I raised five Giant Canada geese in Oregon and was amazed to see how much greens they consumed. Luckily they were on about a quarter acre of fast growing clover which they trashed after about a month. It is best to give them some type of low-protein crumbles to supplement the grass diet.

Most goose breeders agree that the wintering period is very important as the birds need to come through the winter in good condition for the following breeding season.

Canada geese are hardy and require less heat than most other game birds. In Northern latitudes shelters place to face the South can be made to keep the geese out of the deep snow and cold winds. These shelters can be made from any material that is available. The shelter area should have clean mold-free straw for the birds to bed down in. This can be cleaned out periodically. This wintering pen should have a source of fresh, open water available for all of the birds. Although open water is not necessary, it gives the geese a chance to bathe and keep their feathers in good condition to ward off the cold. Some sort of heating system will need to be used in cold climates to keep the water open during cold spells.

The watering system should be designed for easy draining and cleaning when the water becomes fowled. The size of the water pond and the number of birds will determine how often it needs to be cleaned. Some breeders design a drainage system which can easily be used to get the water out without disturbing the birds.

Good feed should be used during the winter. Whole grains such as corn, barley, wheat, oats and millet are satisfactory. Give extra portions of shelled corn during times of stress. It is advisable to supplement the diet with some type of green forage. Alfalfa can be used but care should be taken to get hay which is free from mold and is not steamy. Some sort of hay trough should be designed to keep the hay off of the ground . Sand and grit should be available at all times to help their digestion.

Final Thoughts:
Writing this article makes me want to get some of these wonderful geese. They have a great personality and will inter-relate with their keeper. As a matter of fact mine became pests when they wanted to be fed by nipping me on my leg. This became a problem as my legs got all bruised up from their bites. I stopped this by doing what they wanted - feeding them!

If you want to get some geese, try the Canada. You will enjoy them and get some valuable experience to raise some of the more delicate geese later.

[Canada Geese]


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