Geese form a tightly knit flock and will often graze close to one another without scattering. When they perceive a threat they will bunch together like a group of sheep. This makes housing relatively simple. Geese can be allowed to free range during the day and herded into a pen at night to keep them safe from predators such as stray dogs, foxes and coyotes.
Since they are covered in down, they don't need a fancy enclosure. A shed that keeps them dry and buffers them from the wind is enough. Some people have built pens out of hay bales with a braced board on the front as a door.
If you let your geese out daily then don't provide food or water inside the pen overnight. They will make a mess out of the water since they don't sleep through the night like chickens, and they might choke if allowed to eat feed dry.
If you are keeping your geese in a pen, make sure that the fencing is at least five feet high to discourage predators from jumping inside. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to create a predator-proof fortress without spending a fortune, but a pen can still be made on a budget.
2x4" cattle fencing is perfect for geese, but can be disasterous for goslings under a few months of age. Very young goslings can pop through the lower wire, and goslings that have yet to fully feather out can get their necks stuck. Always assume that if a goose can stick his neck into a hole, he can find a way to harm himself. We had one gosling that managed to stick his head through the cattle wire, only to stick it back through another hole and get it caught on his bill. When we found him he was nearly dead and had deep grooves where the wire had dug into the flesh.
The safest way to avoid these problems is to line the bottom 18" with chicken wire if you plan on keeping goslings inside the pen. Otherwise simply keep the goslings elsewhere until they are old enough to go in with the adults.
During the summer months, a stock tank or kiddie pool is useful for swimming, bathing and keeping cool. This water will become dirty quickly, with kiddie pools needing to be dumped and refilled every few days. This water is rich in nutrients and shouldn't go to waste. Attach a drain to the side and run a hose to your garden to water your plants. This water is great for anything, especially during dry months and growing/harvest times when the plants need more nutrients.
If you use a stock tank it will not need to be dumped nearly as often. To keep the work from piling on, and to make sure you keep mosquito larvae in check, get a few feeder goldfish - the cheap ones (or better yet, get a few ducks).
Once winter has arrived the fish will become more sluggish, but will be fine. A pond heater that leaves a small hole in the ice for the geese to drink out of will also be used by the goldfish for fresh oxygen.
Growing gosling require a high protein content to keep up with their fast growth, but once they are grown the protein needs are reduced by half, if not more, to 12-16%. Feeding a high-protein diet to older geese will result in a disorder known as Angel Wing. Angel Wing causes one or both wing feathers to jut out at an angle instead of being held smooth along the sides. Whether a high protein diet causes Angel Wing or causes individuals who carry an Angel Wing gene to sprout the deformed feathers is still unknown. Enough studies have been done on flocks of Canada Geese to know that, for whatever reason, individuals on a high protein diet are more likely to come down with Angel Wing.
If your feed store does not provide a goose or waterfowl feed, chicken laying pellets, oats and some horse and cattle feeds make good substitutes. When experimenting with feed, remember to do so slowly. Like most animals, geese do not like a change in their diet. Mixing the new feed with the old over the course of a few days will make both them and their digestive tracts more agreeable to the change.
During the laying months, chicken laying feed will give them the calcium they need to produce strong, healthy eggs. A handful of corn or oats are also apprecated, as are grass clippings if your geese are unable to be let out to graze. Geese love grass and providing grass clippings both keeps your yard clean and feeds your geese for free, cutting down on their costs.
In late summer, grass loses a lot of its nutritional value as it dries up. By now the geese have stopped laying and a layer feed is no longer necessary. Some horse and cattle feeds are very cheap while still having everything the geese need to make it through the winter. Our geese are particularly fond of "sweet feed," a molassass coated pellet with bits of corn throughout.
If you are interested in having your geese mostly grow on grass, then a pasture of some variety should be provided. Geese will make short work of the grass inside their sleeping quarters, and it tends to be too expensive to put a roof and floor on an entire pasture. Letting them roam in a field during the day and be put up in a pen at night is ideal.
How much grazing space each goose needs is ultimately up to where you live and what type of pasture is being provided. Bad weather and what type of seasons and temperatures you have will all factor in. .
Ideally, you want your geese to be able to mow the grass for you without bald patches showing up in the field. If you are constantly having to mow then block off an area to decrease the amount of grass they have to keep trimmed (or get more geese). If the grass is looking bare and well worn then give them more room or move the geese to a separate pen or pasture until the grass has recovered. Using the goose water on these pastures can help give them a boost to keep up with more geese.
If supplemented with egg laying pellets in addition to grass, a Pilgrim goose is able to lay anywhere from 30-45 eggs in a season, starting around mid-February and dwindling off by May. The exact times your geese start and stop laying depends on the weather.
If you have problems hatching goose eggs then you're not alone. Relatively speaking, goose eggs are more difficult to hatch artificially than chicken or duck eggs. For a good hatch either let the geese set the eggs themselves, or put the eggs under a broody duck or chicken. These eggs will hatch in 30-31 days. If you collect the eggs to put in an incubator, under a different goose or under a Muscovy, the Pilgrim will keep laying throughout the season. Once a goose has laid enough eggs in a nest to satisfy her she will not start another nest until after the goslings hatch and after she has raised them.
Allowing the goose to both hatch and raise her own offspring means you will get one full clutch of goslings per year. During particularly good weather, you may be able to get two clutches. If you take the goslings away once they are born she will begin working on another nest, allowing you to get a second clutch of babies in before the season is over. For maximum egg production (either for goslings or to eat the eggs), collecting her eggs once or twice a day will keep her laying all season.
Geese are notoriously good at hiding their nesting sites and if they are allowed to free range then finding and gathering the eggs in time is virtually impossible. Confining the geese to a large pen will make it easier for your and for the goose, since it will keep the eggs or the setting goose from being discovered by a predator before she is finished sitting.
After the eggs hatch, you can opt to let a broody hen raise them, let a goose adopt them, or hand rear them. By hand rearing them, the goslings will be much more relaxed and friendly around people, which is oftentimes worth the extra work.
Once you have your goslings, make sure they stay warm and dry: easier said than done. Like ducklings, goslings love to play in their water. While they aren't as bad as "yucklings," they can still make a mess.
Keep the temperature at around 95 F for the first week and lower it 5-10 degrees for each week thereafter. Goslings are very hardy and their down grows quickly, meaning they need to spend less time in the brooder. After two or three weeks your goslings will be ready to move outside into a grassy pen.
When feeding, make sure you use a non-medicated formula. Medicated formulas have not been tested for waterfowl and can be deadly. Also buy food with an 18%+ protein to keep up with their rapid growth. Gamebird or a broiler/fryer feed works the best if you cannot find feed specifically formulated for waterfowl.
You may also want to supplement the feed with cut grass from the yard or 1-2" tall grass grown in cups (by the way, this supplemental feed is free and helps cut costs while making your goslings happy). When goslings can't pull at grass, are too confined, or are simply bored, they will begin pulling the fuzz off of the backs of their companions. The assaulted gosling will cry out in pain/for help and try to get away from the onslaught, but never actually snaps at the attacker, which means he never stops attacking.
Vitamin supplements, sugar and/or honey can be provided in the water to give goslings an extra boost of energy. This is particularly important during the first few days after hatching, and is good to do for the first week or so. A tablespoon of sugar or the equivalent honey is mixed per gallon of water. If you are using vitamin supplements, take the recommended dose for poultry per gallon and HALVE it. Goslings drink far more water than chicks and can overdose on vitamins and medication placed in the water.
Water must be kept in front of goslings at all times. As obvious as this may seem, since they like to splash around a quart or gallon of water won't last as long as it should. Be prepared to check them more often than chickens. As a general rule of thumb, assume they have been given half of what they actually received: so a gallon waterer becomes a half gallon.
If the goslings run out of water keep a VERY careful eye on them when water is put back in. They can suffer from "drunken" syndrome, where they over-drink and drown themselves. When this happens, the gosling will stagger around and act intoxicated. Immediately remove him from any water and wait for his body to catch up to the water intake. More often than not this is fatal, but success stories come around often enough to make it worth trying to revive the little guy.
If the goslings are making too much of a mess out of their water then try swapping to a water bottle. 32oz water bottles made for rabbits are perfect for goslings (though as day-olds you may want to use a smaller 16oz bottle to keep too much water from gushing out at once). Place the water bottle inside the pen with a bowl underneath. Any extra water that drips down into the bowl can be dabbled at while the goslings eat. If they still make too much of a mess out of the extra water then put a screen top over the dish.
Pilgrims can be successfully kept in pairs and trios. For larger flocks, one gander to every 3-5 geese keeps the girls from being run down too much.
Geese do not need water to breed in, but they definitely appreciate having one available. A wading pool, or even a tub almost large enough for two geese to be in at once will be used by the pair and will help increase your fertility.
Some geese will become protective during breeding season, which begins in mid February and ends in May. Normally docile geese may hiss at you on occasion, which shouldn't be considered a problem. Any Pilgrims that display actual aggressive behavior probably shouldn't be kept for breeding. These can be culled out and either butchered or sold. Explain to the new owner why they are being sold to make sure they don't keep that line going. The best thing to do is to sell them to someone who wants meat or weeder geese and doesn't plan on keeping a pure pair. Crossing either breed with an Embden or Toulouse creates excellent meat offspring. Crossing them with Chinese makes a more delicate looking weeder goose with a meatier body.
One of the cheapest and easiest ways to make a nest box is to take an old tire, throw it on the ground and provide straw. If you can place the tire under a tight-fitting shelter it will help immensely. Geese don't want to hatch out goslings in the open, and become protective of "their" hatching grounds (as small as that may be per pair). Potted weeds (really, really long to discourage too much eating) and/or having a cheap old dog house over the tire will keep the rain, sun, and snow off of the goose while making her feel more secure about the nesting site.
Don't be surprised if you make the perfect nesting area and the geese decide to lay in a really boring, wide-open spot six feet away (or right on the outside). They'll choose a spot that looks good to them. If you want to encourage them to use a particular nest then place a goose egg inside the nest and pen them up inside (give room to roam outside the nest). They'll get the hint.
The goose knows how many eggs she can comfortably sit on. For some geese it's only 5-6, for others it's a dozen eggs. Unless you're concerned about the weather or plan on incubating the eggs under a different goose (or muscovy) or artificially in an incubator then don't bother disturbing the nest. Your geese will be much happier knowing that they've cleverly picked out a nesting site that no one knows about.