Caring for Geese in Winter

Most domesticated breeds of geese descend from the eastern greylag goose, which was domesticated in Egypt over 3000 years ago.  The original breeds of geese were more common in temperate climates, and over time they became part of farms around the world.

Rupert the Sebastopol and Lady Goose, a Brown Chinese, during our first snowstorm of 2015.
Rupert the Sebastopol and Lady Goose, a Brown Chinese, during our first snowstorm of 2015.

Geese have a thick layer of fluffy down around most of their body, which helps to keep them warm even in the coldest temperatures.  This is the same down we use to stuff our own comforters so that we are toasty on long winter nights, and geese utilize it in much the same way.  However, a cozy blanket is not all that is necessary to keep your geese warm in the chill winter temperatures.

If you are keeping your geese in a flock, it is most important to make sure that they are all getting plenty of food and water.  Geese, like chickens, maintain a pecking order, and it is not uncommon for one or a small group of geese to be kept away from the food by the dominant members of the group.  Proteins and fats in their feed are essential to surviving the winter, so set up a separate feeding station or two to make sure that everyone has equal access.

Before snow cover, geese will still find nutrients nibbling on freshly-frozen grass.
Before snow cover, geese will still find nutrients nibbling on freshly-frozen grass.

Since nibbling green grass is not really an option in winter, geese may need some supplementary food to get the nutrients they need in winter.  Consider adding a lose flake of hay to their pen for them to chew on, and providing a bucket of oats or wheat in addition to their regular feed.

Although it’s hard to keep fresh water accessible in below freezing temperatures, geese require that you do so.  Consider purchasing a heated dog water bowl or, if you have a large water tub, a livestock water heater, so that you are not always carrying water and cracking ice.  Geese cannot eat without access to fresh water, and they need to be able to groom their feathers to stay insulated and waterproof.

Geese don't particularly mind snow: they just are unhappy about the freezing temperatures.
Geese don’t particularly mind snow: they just are unhappy about the freezing temperatures.

Geese can often keep themselves warm by tucking their feet and beaks into their rich downy feathers when it is especially chilling.  Sometimes, especially in a place like Maine, it can get too cold for even thick feathers to keep them warm.  During long winter nights keep your geese in an appropriate enclosure.  Geese use about 3-4 square feet per bird, and shouldn’t have extra space in winter.  The added body warmth of sticking together at night cannot be underestimated.

A shelter should also be provided in any in-climate weather.  It’s important that your fowl can get out of the wind, rain, and snow.  The effects of bad weather can greatly increase the chill and a barrier will do wonders to keep your birds warm.

If you have African or Chinese geese, the large knobs on their beaks can be at risk of frostbite.  Having plenty of nutrients in their diets can help them stay healthy, and if any frostbite does occur (which will appear as yellow spots on the otherwise black beak), rub the area with petroleum jelly for relief.  You can also put petroleum jelly on the area to help prevent frostbite, but it is not a cure all.  For these breeds, a heat lamp in the coop on especially cold nights will keep them warm.

With plenty of fresh water, food, and a barrier from the weather, most geese will have a happy winter.  Geese enjoy swimming and won’t be happy that their water access keeps freezing, but they’ll enjoy playing in the snow, and they are surprisingly hardy.


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