Permaculture Animal: Australian Settler Geese

geese
Photo by Tabitha Bilaniwskyj-Zarins

Australian settler geese (previously ‘pilgrim geese’) were developed for Australian conditions. They are hardy medium sized geese. Males are born white, and females grey.

The breed is becoming rare: it has lost popularity to larger exhibition breeds and slender Chinese geese. It has also been crossed with other breeds, so establishing a pure flock may take a few generations. As geese can live for over twenty years, you may be lucky enough to find an old generation living on a family farm somewhere.

HABITS AND PERSONALITY

Geese are not for the faint hearted: they are noisy, poo a lot and need plenty of fresh water, particularly during summer. They have razor sharp teeth, sharp claws and very strong wings.

However, they are rewarding and magnificent birds to include in a permaculture garden: they clean up fallen and rotten fruit, preventing the spread of fruit fly, while fertilising and grazing understorey plants. Take care to protect young plants and trees, as the geese can damage stems and kill plants.

Geese mate for life or form various combinations, such as one male to two females, or three males to one female. They are extremely loyal, so try to buy already bonded geese, or start with separate young birds.

HOUSING

Although geese are strong and boisterous, they can’t protect themselves from predators such as foxes and eagles; as with other domestic breeds, they can’t fly away.

Provide shelter and good high or electric fencing. Provide protection on a dam by making a safe space, such as a pontoon.

FEEDING AND BREEDING

Geese are pleasant for most of the year, but when the breeding season begins you’ll feel like you’re keeping dragons – Australian settler geese are aggressive and boisterous then! However, these geese are very good parents, and generally hardier throughout the breeding season.

They usually breed from late winter and continue through to early spring. The geese will be ravenous at the beginning, and will need copious supplementary feeding. Extra protein (e.g. poultry pellets, wheat, meat meal, soaked lupins and pearl barley) is needed for the production of winter plumage, and later for egg production: grass and natural foraging is not enough. High feed intake usually settles in mid-winter, then resumes mid-spring when goslings emerge. The female loses condition while setting her brood.

Provide largish fresh water troughs. These geese don’t need dams or ponds to breed successfully; they can breed on the ground.

Geese will lay sporadically over two to three weeks, and females can share the same nest. They will lay a clutch of twelve to twenty-four eggs. Incubation of the whole nest starts when the goose sits permanently; she’ll only come off briefly to drink and eat. It takes twenty-eight days and the gander(s) will dutifully stand guard the whole time.

Once hatching is complete you can resettle goose and goslings, or remove gander(s); one of the hazards is having goslings crushed by exuberant parents.

Give young goslings a selection of weeds and grasses that you want them to eat so that when they are fully grown they will source those first!

ENJOY YOUR GEESE!

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