Poultry: Geese (New with animal welfare information)
Geese are part of the duck family but are much bigger than ducks and, unlike ducks, they feed entirely on grass and other herbage and spend very little time in water. When they do swim, they do not dive.
A goose can live in excess of 20 years, so if looked after and managed properly, it is an easy domestic animal to keep and can be a cheap and productive asset. They have a reputation for being very good askaris, and some farmers keep them penned with livestock at night as they make a lot of noise if they are disturbed and can be intimidating if they attack as a flock.
Geese were one of the first animals to be domesticated, probably in Egypt about 3000 years ago (Buckland and Guy, 2002). They are found in most parts of the world, and can adapt to both hot and cold climates- as long as adequate shelter, especially shade, is provided.They are especially well suited to aquatic areas and marshlands and are completely at home in warm, shallow waterways. However, commercial production of geese is currently important in only a few countries in Europe and Asia.
Limiting factors for goose farming in developing countries are that geese are not fully mature until two years of age and, except for the Chinese geese, they are not prolific layers. Their overall reproduction rate, therefore, is comparatively low. In addition, the processing of geese is more complicated than processing chickens, particularly if down and feathers are involved. Technical skills are needed to pluck the birds efficiently and some equipment may be necessary in order to handle the down and feathers properly.
Geese belong to the family Anatidae, and were one of the first domesticated animals. The name "Goose" itself has its origins as one of the oldest words of the Indo-European languages - the proto-Indo-European root, ghans, from which the Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Germanic, Norse, English, Irish and Russian names for the goose are derived.
A majority of wild geese of Europe, Asia and North America are migratory. There are two main types of domestic geese, derived from the wild Greylag goose (Anser anser) in Europe, and from the wild Swan goose (Anser cygnoides) in Asia. The FAO's Animal Genetic Resources database (AnGR) identifies 204 different breeds or varieties of geese. Many of these are thought to to have little economic importance because of their relatively low production or performance levels, or a limited geographic distribution.
Domestic geese come in a wide range of colours, sizes and shapes. In general, domestic breeds are much larger than their wild ancestors although they have in many cases retained their ability to fly. There are two main types of domestic geese. The first are thought to have their origins in Europe, descendants of the wild Greylag goose (Anser anser) and the second are thought to have their origins in Asia, descendants of the wild Swan goose (Anser cygnoides). Crosses between the domestic breeds which have originated from these two species of wild geese are fertile and in fact have resulted in a number of recognized breeds.
Understand geese as animals
Geese are tremendously social animals and form flocks. They are highly communicative - which we perceive as 'noisy'. They can live for many years. They are monogamous and loyal to their partners, as well as in their flock. They establish a pecking order, and once having established that, they do not need constant fighting. They can become territorial in their breeding season. Unlike most birds, most geese species have males and females with similar feather coats. Males often protect females, and they protect their goslings, and can be very aggressive to humans. Even though they are prey animals, their size and strength and the fact that they can fly make them quite bold animals, which can and dare to protect themselves. They thrive on habits and tranquillity and do not like changes, including new people around. Especially in their breeding season, they are very sensitive to change. They are water animals, and should have access to a pond or somewhere, where they can swim. They forage and should be allowed grazing. Geese have been shown to be imprinted by humans, to see humans as their fellow animals and parents, and follow humans, if they were influenced by them during a certain sensitive period after hatching. Even if not imprinted as such, they can become very bonded to humans and greet as well as 'talk' to their keepers. They have a very good memory, as domesticated animals for example regarding how different humans treat them.
Keeping geese in East Africa
Scarcity of land, labour and capital obliges small holder farmers in Africa to reorient their livestock production towards species that are cheap and easy to maintain and that provide animal protein as well as cash income. Geese are particularly well suited to such systems. Mature geese are independent, larger than other poultry species and thus less vulnerable to predators. When kept in small flocks and allowed to roam the farmyard or field, they are adept scavengers, requiring less attention than any other domestic bird. Geese adapt easily to captivity, and if small quantities of supplementary feed are provided in the evening they will even return home by themselves.
Geese require extensive space to become profitable. They cannot be economically raised in confinement. Where farms have swamps or large water pools, such lands can be made profitable by means of geese. The birds practically feed themselves on pasture. All the breeding flock needs is a dry place to sleep and moderate feeding.
Geese are among the fastest-growing avian species commonly raised for meat. Goose meat is fatter than other poultry meats, but it is well accepted by many local populations, including some in West Africa. In Egypt, geese are found widely as scavengers around the village. Geese also huge eggs and rich fat for cooking, as well as soft down and feathers for bedding and clothing, which makes them particularly appropriate for providing farmers with a supplementary income. Geese can also be used as weeders and are good guard animals.
Breeds of geese
There are two main types of domestic geese, derived from the wild Greylag goose (Anser anser) in Europe, and from the wild Swan goose (Anser cygnoides) in Asia. The FAO's Animal Genetic Resource database (AnGR) identifies 204 different breeds or varieties of geese. Many of these are thought to to have little economic importance because of their relatively low production or performance levels, or a limited geographic distribution.
This goose is a white goose with orange shanks and an orange beak. It is also known as the Bohemian goose. It has a relatively small body size, with the males weighing 5.0 kg and the females 4.0 kg but its egg production, averaging 45 eggs with an egg weight of 140 g, is fairly good for Anser anser type geese. This means it can be useful as a female line in the production of a crossbred commercial goose.
The Embden is a white goose with relatively tight feathering, an erect stand, orange shanks and an orange beak. Most strains of Embden can be sexed on the down colour of the goslings, as males are a lighter grey than females. This difference is evident until the goslings are two to three weeks of age. The breed has been relatively popular for many years in both Europe and North America. It is one of the larger breeds with males weighing up to 10.0 kg and females up to 9.0 kg. It has a moderate egg production producing 40 eggs per year with an egg size of 170 g. The Embden is suitable for heavy type meat production but is probably of more value when used as a male line in the production of a crossbred commercial goose.
This breed was developed at the Kuban Agricultural Institute (southern Russia) by crossing Gorki and Chinese geese. The feather colour is brown which results in relatively dark pin-feathers and thus an unattractive carcass. These birds have orange shanks while their beaks and knobs are black to dark green. The adult body weight for the male is 5.2 kg and 4.8 kg for the female. The advantage of this breed is that they have a relatively high egg production of between 50-60 eggs with an average egg weight of 150 g. This makes the Kuban suitable for use as a female line in a crossbreeding programme provided it is used in such a way that the resulting commercial crossbreeds are essentially white and that the poor body conformation associated with the Kuban can be overcome.
Both the males and females of this breed are grey and their shanks and beaks are orange to yellow. This breed originated in France but has been widely used in a number of other countries, notably Hungary, for the production of fatty livers (Foie Gras). Today there are a number of lines of the Landes that have been selected for their ability to produce fatty livers. They originate from the grey Toulouse geese, but today their feather phenotype is similar to the wild Greylag goose although they are much larger in body size. The adult body weight of the male is 6.0 kg while that of the female is 5.0 kg. The annual egg production is 40 eggs per female per year with an egg weight of 170 g.
Pomeranian geese originated from the north-western part of Poland but they are also present in northeastern Germany and the south of Sweden. They come in three colours: white, grey or white and grey. In all cases, they have orange shanks and beaks. The Pomeranian as been described as a solidly built goose with the adult body weight of the male being 6.0 kg and that of the female being 5.0 kg. The average egg production is 40 eggs per female with an average weight of 170 g.
The White Italian is a very popular breed in Europe and one often finds reference to it in the formation of local stocks. It is also a breed that has been well researched. The White Italians reported on in this publication are those kept at the Koluda Wielka Experimental Station in Poland where they have been under genetic selection since the 1960s and where separate male and female lines have been developed.
Goslings of both lines can be sexed during the first ten days of life on down colour, as males are lighter in colour than females. As the name indicates, the adult plumage is white while the shanks and beaks are orange. In the male line, the average body weight of males is 7.0 kg and of females is 6.5 kg, while in the female line the average is 6.5 kg for the males and 6.2 kg for the females. Annual egg production for the male line is 55-65 eggs while for the female line it is 60-70 eggs and egg weight for both is 160-180 g. The White Italian, at least for these strains, has the highest egg production of any of the Anser anser type breeds. Thus these lines can be used directly as male and female lines respectively to produce two-way commercial crosses or the female line can be used to produce a crossbred female parent line. The White Italian and, particularly, these lines are therefore one of the breeds of choice for anyone wanting to produce geese for meat production.
For more information on goose production see the publication by Buckland and Guy, which includes sections on reproduction, breeding, flock management, housing, meat production, killing and processing. This publication also includes papers on goose production in South America, Indonesia, and Poland and Eastern Europe. References and Further Reading Buckland, R. and Guy, G. (2002). Goose Production. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 154. FAO, Rome. FAO's DAD-IS: Information system for the Global Strategy
The most important aspects of goose production are the management and feeding of the breeder flock as these can have a major impact on the reproductive rate, including the number of eggs produced, percent fertility, percent hatch, and subsequently the number of goslings produced per goose.
The total number of eggs laid per year by geese is very low compared with most other poultry species. Anser cygnoides geese generally have higher egg production than Anser anser geese. But for most breeds, the total number of eggs per year does not exceed 30-50, and sometimes less, even if the birds are under good management conditions. Furthermore the laying period is highly seasonal which is why producers use artificial lighting programmes to prolong or change the natural laying period. The birds should also have a natural dark period of at least 6 hours to keep them in a natural way.
The selection of the males and females for the breeder flock is particularly important and is normally done 2-3 months before the birds begin to lay (link to sex determination). For spring-hatched goslings in the northern hemisphere, under natural lighting, this means that the selection takes place in November or December. Egg production in the flock will begin the following February. The following guidelines will assist in the selection of birds for the breeder flock:
- the sex of each goose selected must be known;
- select one male for every four females;
- ensure that each goose selected is identified;
- select only geese with a sound body and conformation which will enable them to remain in the breeder flock for 4-5 years;
- cull all geese that have any defects such as crooked keelbones, bad legs, crooked toes, deformed beaks or deformed eyes.
In some cases, it may also be desirable to select geese for the breeder flock based on body weight and/or egg production. If body weight is being considered, then all females selected should have a body weight of at least the average female body weight for the flock and the males selected should be 10-20 percent heavier than the average male body weight for the flock.
If egg production is being considered, the individual mothers of the geese being selected for the breeder flock must be identified and the geese (males and females) selected should only come from mothers with a high egg production. To do this means that the geese being considered for inclusion in breeder flocks can only come from flocks that are in their second or subsequent year of lay so that production records of the mothers will be available. For more on record keeping, click here.
When selecting geese for breeding, the sex of each goose must be determined. With breeds such as the Pilgrim which are autosexing by feather colour (adult males are white and adult females are grey), this is simple. For Chinese breeds of geese, the sexes are readily identifiable by the size of their knob, with those of mature males being larger, more prominent and associated with a larger head. Most strains of Embden and some strains of White Italian can be sexed by down colour as goslings, since the males are lighter in colour than the females. After a few weeks of age, these sex differences in down colour disappear, so sex identification of individual goslings must be done at hatching.
Most other breeds of geese lack distinctive secondary sex characteristics and therefore to sex geese of these breeds it is necessary to examine their sex organs. However, even though geese can be sexed by examination of their sex organs, either as gosling or as adults, it is recommended that they be sexed as goslings at hatching. When this is done, a good system of identification is required (see Geese Identification) to ensure that individual geese can be identified throughout their life. The sexing of goslings at hatching also allows for the disposal of surplus males, not required for breeding, at market age. It is recommended that one male be kept for every three females to ensure there are enough males to make up breeder groups with a ratio of one male to four or five females.
Method of holding day-old goslings to expose their reproductive organs
(c) Hunter & Scholes
Male (left) and female (right) reproductive organs of day-old goslings (much enlarged)
(c) Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food
Vent sexing of day old goslings is not difficult and a little practice will make the sexing of day-old goslings a fairly easy task. In the figure is shown how to hold a gosling so as to expose its reproductive organs. This process of exposing reproductive organs should take place under a strong light in order to better identify the sex organ. The figure shows the male and female reproductive organs of goslings much enlarged.
If geese are to be sexed as adults, the recommended procedure is that each goose be caught, lifted by its neck and laid on its back, either on a table or over the operator's bent knee, with the tail pointed away from the operator as shown on the picture.
Method of holding adult geese for sexing
(c) Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food
The tail portion of the bird should be out over the edge of the table or over the operator's knee so it can be bent downwards easily. The operator then inserts his/her index finger (sometimes it helps to have a little Vaseline on it) into the cloaca about 1.0 to 1.5 cm and moves it around in a circular manner several times to enlarge and relax the sphincter muscle which closes the opening. Next, pressure is applied both directly below and to the side of the vent in order to expose the sex organ. In some birds the male organ is somewhat difficult to unsheathe, particularly if the birds are either immature or not in semen production. For this reason an inexperienced sexer can easily mistake a male for a female if, after slight pressure, the phallus is not exposed. Only the presence of a female genital eminence will positively identify a female.
Exposed reproductive organs of mature male (left) and female (right)
(c) Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food
After the breeders have been selected, they may be kept with other geese until about two months before the start of lay, when they should be moved to a separate flock.
Putting the breeders into a separate flock before the breeding season is important to achieve a high level of fertility. Sometimes, however, a breeder flock formed immediately before the laying period will produce a high number of goslings. It seems that most problems occur in flocks used to produce crossbreed offspring, especially when the physical characteristics of the parents are very different eg. birds with white and grey plumage. Setting up the breeder flock just before lay begins can result in fighting, a decrease in breeder performance and increased mortality. Such cases would justify establishing the flock two or three months before the beginning of lay.
In all cases it is necessary to check the behaviour of the birds carefully during the first few weeks that they are together as a flock. It must be remembered that although wild geese are naturally monogamous, with domestication the objective is to have promiscuous geese and thus a ratio of approximately one gander to four geese must be maintained to ensure a high level of fertility. In forming a breeder flock the objective is to establish a social structure in the flock, so that all geese are mated regularly. Once a breeder flock has been established, they should stay together as a flock for their entire reproductive life.
If the number of geese permit, it is recommended that breeder flocks be made up of four sub-flocks with one sub-flock in each of their first, second, third and fourth year of lay (assuming they are kept for four years of lay). This will permit the replacement of 25 percent of the breeder flock each year. This is also a good way to balance the total number of goslings produced each year, as geese are much more productive in the second and third years of their life.
Small village breeder flocks may consist of no more than one or two ganders and 4-10 geese. The standard recommendation for introducing new breeders is to establish a new flock to replace the old. However, this may not be possible with small breeder flocks and instead new females can be introduced as the old ones die or are culled. In this case, it is important to identify the eggs from these newly introduced geese so that the fertility of their eggs can be tested to see whether the gander is mating with them. When replacing ganders in an existing flock, it is necessary to change all ganders at the same time and to do this at least two months before the breeding season. If necessary, a flock of geese may be divided into two flocks with one flock staying with the old gander(s) and the other receiving the new gander(s).
The management of geese destined for breeder flocks is the same as that for market geese in intensive and extensive management systems, including the feeding management for the brooding and growing periods although sometimes geese for breeder flocks need a higher level of feed restriction to ensure that they do not put on excess fat during the growing period.
It is possible, but probably not relevant under normal commercial farming conditions, to artificially inseminate geese and in this way produce fertile eggs. Natural incubation produces the best percentage of goslings hatched. Most female geese, if given the opportunity, will become broody and sit on and hatch the clutch of eggs (generally 10-12) they have just laid. Using geese to hatch out their own goslings is expensive, since geese are not laying while they are sitting on the eggs. Turkeys, hens and ducks may be used satisfactorily to hatch out goslings -- best results will be obtained from Muscovy ducks (which are really geese). Goose eggs can be hatched artificially, but results are better if ducks are used.
- Eggs should be collected at least twice (preferably four times) daily, and, as geese lay most of their eggs in the morning, the bulk of the eggs will be collected in the morning.
- Eggs for incubation should be stored in a cool room at 15degC -- an air-conditioned or refrigerated cabinet is ideal. Turn eggs daily. The longer the eggs are kept over 7 days, the poorer the hatching results.
- Select only uncracked eggs weighing at least 140 g and no more than 200 g. Clean those eggs that are dirty by lightly rubbing with steel wool and wiping with a clean damp cloth. Eggs will need to be handled and stored in this manner regardless of the method of incubation.
- Eggs can be disinfected by fumigating them immediately after collection.
- The actual period of incubation of goose eggs varies slightly with the breed. Some eggs from the lighter breeds may start pipping after 28 days, while eggs from the larger breeds may take 35 days. It may take up to 3 days for hatching to be completed.
If natural incubation should be used, the goose eggs should be set under a broody hen, duck, or turkey for incubating. If it is known in advance that natural incubation will be used, sufficient broody birds must be identified in order to incubate all the expected goose eggs except for the last 10-12 eggs of the laying season which the goose can incubate. Normally a hen can incubate between 4-6 goose eggs, a duck 8-10 and a turkey 10-14.
The nest for the broody female should be clean and in a relatively dark area where she will not be disturbed. Food and water should be available. Eggs for incubation should be collected and stored as previously recommended. The eggs can then be placed under the hen, the duck or the turkey when she is broody. It should be noted that because of the size of the eggs, some hens could have trouble turning them. For this reason the eggs should be marked on one side nd if it is noted that the eggs are not being completely turned, they should be turned manually, to 180 degrees, two or three times a day in addition to the turning that the hen can achieve.
A broody bird may be able to care for newly hatched goslings for a few days. However, the recommendation is to remove them from the female at hatching and transfer them to the gosling brooding facility.
As with all geese, the breeder flock can be kept under a variety of systems. In organic herds, all animals should have access to an outdoor area, and since geese are waterfowls, they should have access to a pond, if in any way possible. The primary objective for housing the breeder flock is to maximise the number of goslings produced per goose and it is important to have well designed, clean nests in order to get clean eggs. The recommended nest size for geese is 50 cm wide, 70 cm deep and 70 cm high. Nests should be installed at ground level for easy access and have a retainer of 3-6 cm in height across the front of the nest to hold in the nesting material. There should be at least one nest per five or six geese. Eggs should be collected preferably more times per day to ensure that the eggs are neither broken nor soiled by other geese entering the nest.
In warm climates, the provision of a simple roof over part of a fenced area to provide shade, protection from the rain and a slightly darker and quieter area for the nests may be adequate. The major disadvantage with such a low-cost system is to keep the geese from dirtying the nests, and often there is no opportunity to use artificial lighting to increase egg production. This, however, would be the system of choice for an extensive scavenging-based systems.
A popular system of housing in larger flocks is deep litter combined with access to an outside yard and/or pasture. The geese would need 0.5 m2 per bird inside on the deep litter and a minimum of 1.0 m2 per bird in a yard or run. The geese will graze and forage and can use much more space.
Again, it is desirable to place the feeders and particularly the drinkers in the yard in a way that the litter is kept clean to ensure cleaner eggs. When this system is operated in conjunction with a pasture, a stocking rate of 150 birds per hectare of pasture is recommended, depending upon the quality of forage.
A more traditional type of intensive housing is the deep litter system. For this system it is recommended that each bird be given approximately 1.0 m2 of floor space. It is important that the drinkers are designed and placed in such a way that the litter does not get wet. Wet litter can contribute to a substantial increase in the number of dirty eggs.
Geese are seasonal breeders with males and females becoming sexually active under increasing hours of daylight. Close to equator, the seasons cannot be formed by varying day length. The subsequent laying season will last approximately four months with egg production being quite low during the later part of the laying season. In big herds, artificial lighting programmes are used to enhance the productivity of geese, like in other poultry, and can be used to create breeding seasons, although the animals should have at least 8 hrs darkness per 24 hrs.
On small holder farms lighting programmes are not always possible for the goose breeder because of the high capital cost of buildings, and/or the erratic supply of electricity. This does not mean that nothing can be done to improve egg and gosling production. In the temperate areas of the northern hemisphere, after the natural start of the lay, it is possible to increase the total number of eggs by prolonging the laying period. To do this, it is necessary to restrict daylight to nine hours per day up to a 25 weeks after the beginning of lay. A simple way to achieve this is to shut the birds in a dark building every evening, and to release them the following morning (the geese must be kept inside in the dark for a total of 15 hours). This is not practised in tropical countries where daylight averages 10-12 hours, although it would be useful to determine if such a lighting programme would increase egg production in this area.
Brooding is the management practice to which young poultry are subjected, in for geese, the first three weeks of life when artificially incubated. The most important aspect of brooding is to provide extra heat so that there will be no temperature shock when the newly hatched goslings are moved from the incubator to the area where they will be brooded and grown. To ensure that the temperature in the brooding area is stable, it is important that the heat sources be turned on at least 24 hours before the goslings arrive.
Success in raising geese depends to a large extent on the care and attention the young birds receive during the brooding period. Frequent management checks to make sure that the goslings are comfortable and have enough feed and water is one of the surest ways of raising healthy goslings.
Almost any building can be used for brooding geese providing it is dry, clean and free of draughts and vermin. It is important to remember that the colder the ambient temperature of the room or building where the goslings are being brooded, the more heat will be required from the localized brooder heat source to maintain the temperature where the birds are located. Any brooder heat source that can be used for chickens can be used for goslings with the recommendation, depending on ambient temperature, that the number of goslings does not exceed one-third to half the number of chicks recommended by the manufacture.
Energy sources may include electricity, oil, coal, natural gas, propane or other organic fuel. Normally the areas where the brooder heat sources are located will have a protective guard placed around them to reduce draughts and to ensure that the goslings will not stray from the heat source. This guard need only be in place for the first 2-3 days of the brooding period. A circular area is preferable for this purpose as it prevents the goslings from crowding into a corner. In areas where electrical interruptions are frequent, an alternative energy source should be used for brooding, although goslings are resistant to temperature drops during the brooding period as long as they do not crowd and smother each other.
When goslings arrive, the temperature at bird level directly under the heat source should be 36-37degC which can be reduced to 32-33degC at the end of the first week and to 23-25degC by the end of the second week. After the third week, no further additional heat source should be required unless the ambient temperature in the building is below 20degC. The behaviour of the goslings will show whether they are comfortable. If they are too cold, they will be huddled together close to the heat source and if they are too warm they will be far away from the heat source.
The goose has the fastest initial growth rate of birds kept for meat production. This rapid growth rate, combined with the fact that they are susceptible to overcrowding, means that it is very important that geese have adequate space during the brooding period. On average, maximum density per square metre should not exceed 14-20 birds during the first week, 7-14 birds during the second week and 4-5 birds during the third week.
Even during the brooding period when the goslings are two weeks of age, they can be let out to graze, provided the weather is warm and it is not raining. This can reduce the building space requirements per gosling. Goslings should not be permitted out in heavy, cold rain until about five weeks of age, since before that they do not have sufficient feather cover to protect them.
Almost any material can be used as a source of bedding for goslings e.g. straw, wood shavings, rice hulls etc. provided the material is dry, highly absorbent and that it is not easily compacted. These points are important for goslings as their droppings are moist and they tend to spill water onto the litter. It is recommended to place the water on wire mesh or slats on a frame to prevent spilled water from wetting the litter
In large flocks the watering space during the brooding period should be at least 2 cm per bird and this can be provided by either a circular drinker or a linear drinking trough. Goslings require 1.5 cm of feeder space per bird which can be provided either with a double-sided linear feeder or with a circular feeder. For the first 24 hours after hatching, it is advisable to provide additional, more accessible feed to ensure that all goslings start to eat immediately. This feed can be put in egg trays which are placed on the litter in the brooding area for easy access.
After the brooding period geese can be grown to market weight. In organic herds, they should not be completely confined, but have access to some range-type conditions or a mixture of outdoor and indoor facilities. The growing facility can be simple since these birds are not demanding - a simple wooden shelter should be adequate. The most important factor is to ensure that the goslings are protected from sun, heavy rain and predators, especially during the night.
When they are grazing, geese consume not only grass, but also insects, snails, worms, etc. which can provide about 10 percent of their total protein intake. Furthermore, the strong legs of the goose combined with its aquatic tendencies means it can travel long distances if required to consume forage both on land and in the water. Finally, the production of geese on extensive pasture type conditions eliminates the need for expensive housing and equipment and requires only drinkers, feeders, fencing and shelters for shade.
Broiler type geese, in totally confined systems, can go to market at 8-9 weeks of age at a body weight of 4.0 kg and heavy type geese can go to market at 12-14 weeks of age at a body weight of 6.0 kg. This means that geese produced under these systems are generally not plucked during the growing period (see Feather and Down Production).
In non organic intensive systems they may also be grown on deep litter or on a raised floor of wooden or plastic slats, heavy wire mesh or expanded metal without exhibiting any of the problems of breast blisters etc.
At six weeks of age, the density of geese raised on deep litter should not exceed four geese per square metre, and only three after 13 weeks. For those raised on a slatted floor system, the respective values are seven and five birds per square metre. It must be noted that large geese in hot weather may require more space.
When relying mostly on indoor feeding and using the outdoor area mostly as a run (not grazing a lot),
geese should receive 15 cm of feeding space per bird. If at any time restricted feeding is practised, it is vital that sufficient feeder space is provided so that all birds can eat at the same time. If this is not done, the more timid birds will simply not get any feed as it will be all gone by the time they get to the feeder.
In large flocks the watering space per bird should be about 5 cm per bird. Drinkers must be of a durable nature and should not be large. A drinker 20 cm square and 10 cm deep to contain about 3 cm of water is recommended by some producers, while both commercial hog and cattle drinkers have been reported to work very well with geese. It is important that the drinker does not spill a lot of water. When automatic drinkers are not available, it is possible to use any ordinary container, but it must be filled often to provide abundant fresh water. It is useful to adapt the containers so that the birds cannot bath in them.
Rates of digestion of acid digestive fibre for the goose are from 15-30 percent depending on the material. The digestive system of the goose is able to digest this high level of fibre primarily for two reasons. The first is its large and muscular proventriculus and its extremely well-muscled gizzard that can develop high pressures. The action of these organs results in the release of cell sap and the crushing of the cells so that they can be subject to further digestion. The second is the microbial breakdown of fibre in the extremely well developed caeca and large intestine of the goose. This efficiency in fibre utilisation exists despite the fact that feedstuffs pass through the digestive tract of the goose relatively rapidly.
Geese are more like grazing animals than any other type of poultry. Their beak and tongue are particularly well-equipped for grazing. The beak has sharp interlocking serrated edges designed to easily cut and divide grass and other plant tissue. The tongue at the tip is covered with hard, hair-like projections, pointing towards the throat, which quickly convey the pieces of grass and other vegetable material into the throat. This rough covering on the point of the tongue enables geese to bite off plants even closer to the ground than sheep can. Because of this, overstocking must be avoided as the ground will become bare.
Recent research from a number of sources has shown that the feeding programme for a breeder flock during the 2-3 months prior to the laying period can have an important effect on the number of goslings produced per female. The results appear to apply equally to breeder flocks coming into lay for both their first and subsequent lays.
The basic principle of feeding breeder flocks during this pre-lay period is to control body weight. The general recommendation is that at two months before the beginning of lay, geese in the breeder flock should have an average body weight of 80-85 percent of their adult weight. This reduced body weight is achieved by restricting feed intake during the holding period. The amount of feed fed to the flock will then be increased two months before lay so that by a month and a half and one month before lay, the birds will be at 90 percent and 100 percent of adult body weight respectively. This increase in body weight can be achieved by increasing the amount of holding ration fed and/or by changing over to a breeder ration.
When putting geese on reduced feed for the holding period, two points should be noted: geese approaching their first laying period are normally transferred to a holding ration at between 9-12 weeks of age while geese completing a lay cycle are transferred from the breeder ration to the holding ration at the end of the laying period.
There are a number of ways to provide geese with an appropriate level of nutrient intake during this holding period, but in all cases body weight must be monitored closely.
- The first is to give the geese a complete feed rations with 120 - 140 grams of crude protein per kg and 9.6 - 10.9 Mj ME/kg of energy. This can be fed in conjunction with pasture or as the sole ration for geese in confinement. In both cases feed restriction must be practised to prevent the geese from overeating. The normal approach to feed restriction would be to feed between 100-200 g of the complete ration per bird per day. The objective is to avoid any sudden change in body weight and to gradually bring the birds to 80-85 percent of adult body weight by two months before the beginning of the laying season.
- A second approach is to replace the complete ration with either mixed grains or a single grain that is readily available. The geese should also have access to pasture since a diet of limited grains may be deficient in some essential amino acids, vitamins and/or minerals. The forage consumed on pasture will normally help provide these. Again, the guide for the amount of grain to feed is based on body weight. If the growth of forage slows or stops in either autumn, winter or the dry period, the geese can be provided with good quality preserved roughage such as hay, silage or root crops.
- A third possibility with good quality forage is to meet the entire nutrient needs of geese during this holding period from pasture alone. The body weight of the birds must be monitored. If they start to lose so much weight that they might fall below the target of 80-85 percent of adult body weight two months prior to the laying period, they must receive a feed supplement of either grain, kitchen waste or whatever other source of energy is available.
Restricting feed during this pre-lay period to a moderate level of 2.9 Mj ME per day per bird (320 g per day bird of a 9.2 Mj ME/Kg diet) resulted in a non-significant drop in subsequent egg production and an increase in fertility (4 goslings per female more). The authors also concluded that a body weight gain of 1.0-1.2 kg per bird during this period of two months is optimal. These results are valid for geese in their first year of production as well as for subsequent lays.
An experiment that examined feed restriction during the lay period to a level of 3.15 Mj ME per day per bird led to a slight decrease in egg production, but an increase in fertility. On balance, the number of goslings produced was higher with the restrictive feeding suggesting that the nutrient requirement may be different for male and female breeders. However, the very small sexual dimorphism of geese does not allow different feeding programmes for ganders and geese in the same flock.
The feeding of geese during the egg laying period is perhaps the most important feeding period in the entire cycle of goose production. Poor nutrition during this period will adversely affect egg production and the low rate of lay of geese is already one of the major constraints in its production. It must be remembered that the geese must ingest adequate nutrients both for body maintenance and egg production.
Energy requirements per day for the laying goose is between 3.3 - 3.5 Mj ME per bird. Geese are unable to regulate their feed intake according to energy needs. Therefore, taking into account the energy level of the ration, the body weight of the birds and the ambient temperature, care must be taken to ensure that:
- breeding geese do not consume too much energy;
- the daily crude protein intake during the laying period should be between 45-50 g per day depending on rate of lay and egg size. Of this 25-30 g are required solely for egg production;
- the goose must also consume between 10-12 g of calcium a day, depending on egg size and rate of lay, to meet the needs of egg shell formation which constitutes about 12 percent of the weight of the egg;
- the intake of essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals is important and must be sufficient to support both egg production and subsequent embryo growth.
Specific breeder rations have been developed which normally contain 9.2- 10.5 Mj ME/kg, 130-150 grams crude protein and 26-30 grams of calcium per kg. The feeding value of some local feeds are given in table 1.
Table 1. Amount of metabolizable energy, protein and minerals in some poultry feeds
Cassava, tubers, fresh
Cotton seed meal, high oil, high fibre
Cotton seed meal, high oil, low fibre
Fish meal, high protein
Fish meal, medium protein
Sorgum grain, ground
Sorgum, bran and milling offal
Some recommends more concentrated rations for breeders during the laying period with energy levels of 11.7 - 12.3 kcal ME/kg, 180-190- grams crude protein and calcium levels of 36-38 grams. It may depend to some extent on the concentration of other nutrients in the ration, the ambient temperature and the rate of lay. Breeder geese (6.5-7.0 kg) including the gander, should normally consume between 3.3-3.5 Mj ME per bird per day irrespective of the ration.
Recommended energy, protein, amino acids and minerals in g/kg for geese in laying period
Crude Protein g/kg
In most cases, rations for laying geese will include access to good quality pasture. The pasture will usually provide adequate levels of protein and vitamins, but care must be taken to ensure that the energy intake does not drop below 3.3 - 3.5 Mj ME per bird per day. Free access to limestone or oyster shell must be provided to breeder geese on pasture to supplement their calcium intake.
In situations where complete goose breeder rations are not available, chicken or turkey breeder ration can be used as these will have sufficient vitamins and minerals to support egg production, embryo development and hatching. If such rations are not available, the next best choice is a ration for laying chickens. Such laying rations would normally have a metabolizable energy level of 11.7 - 12.3 Mj ME/kg, a crude protein level of 15-17 percent and a calcium level 3.0-3.5 percent. However, they may not be sufficiently fortified with amino acids, vitamins and minerals to support embryo development and hatching.
If complete rations are not available, a combination of available grains, kitchen scraps and forages can be used to try to meet the nutrient requirements of the laying goose. It is of prime importance to ensure that the geese have access to an adequate source of calcium. The level of egg production that can be expected under such a system will depend on the quality and quantity of feedstuffs available (i.e. energy intake). It is important to note that the goose will adjust its productivity (growth and egg production) to the sub-optimal nutrition. Therefore when using an ad hoc ration, egg production can be expected to be between 25-75 percent of the normal rate of lay.
Geese are able to gain weight fast. Commercially reared male and female geese are able to reach in 10 weeks of age a live weight of almost 5 kg. The development of body weight and the feed intake per week are given in the table.
Age in weeks
Average body weight (kg)
Feed consumption per week (kg)
During the brooding period, a waterfowl starter ration in the form of either crumbles or small pellets is recommended and should be fed ad libitum. These starter rations normally have a crude protein level of between 16.0-18.0 percent and a metabolizable energy level of between 10.9-12.1 kcal ME/kg (Table 7). If a goose starter ration is not available then a chicken starter ration of similar protein and energy levels can be used. Mash feed can also be used if neither crumbles nor pellets are available. In many low income and food deficient countries, where feed mills do not exist, farmers must use the local sources of nutrients to provide essential nutrients such as ground cereals and chopped fresh grass. Such feeding systems, however, are usually protein deficient and can lead to very slow growth. If it is possible, the diet should be balanced with a supplement high in protein content such as soybeans, cotton seed or peanuts.
The total feed consumption for goslings, depending on breed, for this initial three week period will be between 2.5-2.7 kg of starter ration. Goslings will consume between 7-8 litres of water during this period. If the goslings have access to high quality forage (rye grass, white clover, cabbage, or even nettles) during the three week brooding period, this could reduce their intake of the complete ration by as much as 20 percent.
When the goslings are three weeks old, it is possible to restrict their feed intake up to 75 percent of ad libitum. However, where a higher level of restriction must be exercised because of a shortage of either a starter ration or mixed grains, then every effort must be made to provide the goslings with young tender forage either through direct grazing or by cutting and carrying the forage to them. Fresh kitchen and/or garden waste may also be used during this period. If the goslings are required to graze, then any starter ration or mixed grains should be fed at night so that during the day the goslings will be hungry. This will increase their forage intake. If feed restriction is practised at this young age, it is very important to keep a close watch on the goslings to see that they remain in good health.
The type of feed generally fed during the growing period in large flocks of birds is a pelted waterfowl growing ration ranging from 10-13 percent crude protein with a metabolizable energy level of 11.2 - 12.3 Mj ME/kg. If such rations are not be available then a chicken broiler or a chicken roaster ration of similar nutrient density can be used. When pelted or crumbled feed are not available the rations can be fed as a mash.
The main advantage of growing of geese for meat under extensive conditions is the goose's unique ability to utilise high-fibre feeds and thus use a variety of types of forage. This ability holds true whether the geese are kept under well-managed pasture systems or under less structured scavenging systems. Under extensive management conditions geese will generally reach market weight at an age older than under confinement. In fact, the age at which geese go to market may not depend on their ability to grow, but rather on whether:
- the birds are to be plucked before they go to market (see Feather and Down Production);
- the birds are to meet a particular market demand at a particular time.
It is the relatively low cost of the extensive production systems that allows for this flexibility.
Providing geese with access to good quality pasture during the growing period, even without any form of feed restriction, can result in substantial savings with respect to grain consumption. In experiments geese consumed 34% less grain with pasture access resulting in only 17 percent less growth compared to confined geese. It demonstrates the capacity of the goose to consume and utilize large quantities of good quality forage.
Restricting the feeding of grain in any form while geese are on pasture is a very popular practice and one that is recommended. It is a practice that can ensure the maximum use of available forage or any other feedstuffs. Almost all kinds of grain can be used in combination with pasture feeding. Preferably goose should not compete with humans in using grain that can be used in human diets. In food deficient countries it is necessary to test all local sources of feeds for anti-nutritional factors before use.
The greater the level of grain/concentrate restriction, the more forage the geese will consume and the less selective they will be in what they eat. If necessary, geese will travel considerable distances to obtain forage. The level of feed restriction that is practised will depend on a number of factors. If no alternative energy-protein sources are available, the level of restriction will be severe and the dependency on foraging and/or scavenging will be high. Under these conditions, the geese should be monitored closely, particularly if severe restriction is begun prior to three weeks of age. If the quality of the local forage is low and there are no other supplementary feeds, then there may be a need to cut and carry forage to the geese. This forage should be of the highest possible quality. If good forage is available, then even with small amounts of grain, high quality geese can be produced. The only difference is that they will be ready for market at an older age and the carcass will be leaner than that produced by a high grain (energy) ration. Even when available grain is not a constraint, it may be desirable to restrict grain intake to maximise the use of any available forage, and a restriction of between 0.5-1.0 kg of grain per goose per week is recommended. However, to achieve the desired market weight and have adequate fleshing, it is recommended that the geese be fed a complete ration for the last 2-3 weeks before killing. Depending on the body weight and condition of the geese at the beginning of this finishing period of 2-3 weeks, and the market for which the geese are intended, they may be fed either a complete ration or grain only.
When planting a pasture specifically for geese, it should be noted that they will eat almost any grass or clover species although they do not like alfalfa as much as other clovers. Geese like new growth, so pasture management should be practised and it should include rotation and clipping.
To summarize, the management of geese under extensive conditions both in managed pastures and under extensive scavenger situations is, in many respects, similar:
- the behavioural characteristics of geese lend themselves to extensive management systems because they have a natural tendency to flock and at the end of a day will return home on their own accord;
- it is very important that geese are provided with a natural or man-made shelter to provide protection from the sun;
- they must have water available at all times and feeders must be built so that the feed remains dry in case of rain;
- if predators are a problem, fences and secure housing at night must be provided.
Good handling of all livestock requires quiet determination. Geese are large birds and must be handled carefully to avoid broken bones or dislocated joints. To catch a goose, first corner it so that you can easily access it. Then put one hand around the neck near the body, holding firmly. Next put the other hand on the back of the goose, over the wings. Let go of the neck and slide your hand, palm side up, under the breast and to the abdomen to support the bird's body. Lift the goose, holding the legs between your fingers to keep from getting scratched and confining the wings to prevent them from flapping around.
Feather and down production
This section deals with the production and harvesting of fine feathers and down for use in the garment and household linen industries as opposed to the processing of coarse feathers for feather meal. The most valuable product is the down, which is obtained from the breast area of the goose, followed by the fine feathers. Most commercial products contain a blend of both down and feathers; the higher the proportion of down, the higher the value of the product.
To obtain feathers and down at the time of slaughter, the normal process is to first scald the geese in hot water (60-68degC) for 1-3 minutes. The coarse feathers of the wing and tail are then removed by hand with the remainder of the feathers and down removed either by a plucking machine or by hand. The feathers are then dried and this is normally done in large commercial tumble dryers. For small amounts, the feathers are spread and stirred frequently to facilitate their drying.
On a small scale, geese can be plucked dry without scalding and, although it takes longer, it does yield dry down and feathers. Irrespective of the plucking process, the sorting of the down and feathers can be done by weight in air currents.
The harvesting of feathers from live geese can be seen as an important source of income from geese being bred for the production of meat and from those in breeder flocks. However, it is painful and should not be done if farming to organic principles, keeping high animal welfare standards.
Fatty liver production
Fatty liver production is the process of force-feeding (cramming) geese and is unnatural and cruel to the animal. It is unacceptable in organic geese production because it is not ecological, not fair to the animal, unhealthy and causes stress. In a number of countries there is also a ban on the conventional production of fatty liver.
For more on Humans and animal relations, click here.
Geese as weeders
Geese are effective weeders because they like grasses but do not like many broadleaf plants. At least in modern times, the use of geese as weeders began in the United States in the 1950s when geese were used to weed cotton fields. Since then geese have been used to weed a wide range of crops including asparagus, potatoes, fruit shrubs, nursery stock, tobacco, nut trees, grapes, fruit trees, beets, sugar beets, beans, hops, various ornamental flowers, onions and strawberries. In addition, geese can provide a second source of income in plantations by making use of the forage that grows under the principal plantation crop. Geese will work continuously from dawn to dark, seven days a week, nipping as new growth appears. They can get close to crop plants without damaging the roots. You can use them to weed areas that are too wet for cultivation, too.
If you teach goslings to eat the type of weeds that grow in your fields, by offering them the plants you want them to focus on while they're still in the brooder, they will be more inclined to hunt down those weeds later As with any young animal in training, mistakes will occur, since initially they will eat everything green. This small loss will be worthwhile as the geese figure out what tastes good and what you familiarized them with. Since most adult geese are happy to take young ones under their wing, you can place an adult with the goslings to help them figure things out faster.
The number of geese needed per hectare for weeding depends on the level of weed growth and the crop. For a hectare of cotton, 5-6 geese are adequate. In addition to weeding traditional crops, geese can also be used to clean up the forage on dikes and in ditches that are difficult to access with equipment. In fact, it has been shown that white Chinese geese, if properly managed, will readily consume and control floating water hyacinth in drainage ditches.
The management of geese as weeders is simple because young growing geese are used. Generally, any reluctance by geese to eat the weeds is an avoidable problem. First, farmers should not provide palatable or lush grass to young geese before putting them in a weeding programme otherwise the birds will reject the low quality weeds. Also, geese kept for weeding are normally kept on a programme of restricted feed with any grain being given in the evening. The level of feed restriction will depend on the amount of forage material available in the area to be weeded. Birds must, however, be watched because very hungry geese will eat whatever is available and, under extreme conditions, they could damage the crop they are supposed to weed. As with any extensive management system, shade and water must be provided. The geese can be kept within the area to be weeded either through direct supervision or by enclosing the area with a relatively low (70-90 cm) traditional fence or an electric fence.
The enthusiasm for weeding crops declined during the 1970s with the use of herbicides. However, there is still a place today for the goose as a weeder, especially for the farmers who does not want to use herbicides. In addition, using geese for weeding has a positive effect on the environment due to the reduced use of chemical weed-killers and because their droppings provide a nitrogen fertiliser.
Although the objective is different from weeding, another low-cost goose production system is to utilise harvest waste. In some European countries it is a popular practice as a complementary feeding programme since it uses material which is both low-cost and which would otherwise be wasted. After being harvested, the by-products of many crops can be used for this purpose. These include cereals, vegetables (especially carrots) and salad crops where the waste portion of the crops is particularly palatable to geese.
For more information on goose production see the publication by Buckland and Guy. References and Further Reading Buckland, R. and Guy, G. (2002). Goose Production. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 154. FAO, Rome. FAO's DAD-IS: Information system for the Global Strategy
In this chapter the most common goose diseases are listed, described, and the appropriate treatments/prevention proposed. A well-managed production system which includes cleanliness, know-how, and disease prophylactic practices can greatly reduce the incidence of many diseases.
- Examine the geese before buying them. Buy geese only from a reliable breeder
- Before the arrival of new geese, make sure that there is adequate good quality feed and water
- Keep feed troughs and drinkers clean
- Provide a stress-free environment for the geese (away from noise and other disturbing elements)
- Do not add birds from an outside source to your own flock; if you must have additional geese, it is better to establish a second flock
- Keep breeders away from growing geese
- The younger the geese, the more susceptible they are to diseases so never mix geese of different ages
- Give timely vaccines and medications. Always use the correct vaccine or medication at the recommended dose
- When inspecting the geese, always go from the youngest to the oldest
- Isolate any sick geese immediately. Removing sick geese from a flock reduces the number of infectious organisms available to pen mates
- Safely destroy dead geese immediately by either incinerating or burying them. Get an early diagnostic report by sending sample carcasses to a veterinary laboratory for a diagnosis of the cause of death
- When selling geese, do not allow a buyer to bring unclean crates and/or boxes onto the farm for transporting the geese
- Thoroughly clean and disinfect the building and equipment between flocks of geese. This may not render the building sterile but it can reduce the number of infectious organisms to such a low level that they cannot initiate a flock infection
- As much as possible, keep wild birds out of your pens
- Maintain complete records at all times
In the following pages a list of goose diseases classified alphabetically is provided. An alternative classification could be according to infectious agent i.e. bacteria, fungi, protozoa or viruses.
Aspergillosis is a condition caused by a member of the fungal genus Aspergillus. In the goose, as in most other classes of poultry, the organs most affected are the lungs, hence the term Pulmonary Aspergillosis. The disease can be quite severe in young goslings as they may become infected during hatching and even embryos may become infected. The source of infection can be either dirty incubator equipment and/or dirty eggs. Dirty eggs can contaminate both the setter and hatcher. In addition, it is possible for Aspergillus to penetrate the egg which is how embryos can become infected. Young growing goslings are also susceptible to Aspergillosis but usually not as severely although they can be infected from contaminated litter.
The symptoms are difficult and accelerated breathing (gasping) with rattling or gurgling noises. The birds might be very depressed and mortality can be high. Nervous symptoms may appear in a small percentage of the birds and can be accompanied by increased thirst and diarrhoea.
The first step is to clean the hatching facilities, organize a good sanitation programme and ensure that all hatching eggs are cleaned and fumigated as soon as possible after laying. Mouldy feed and litter must be removed and destroyed and the building cleaned and disinfected with 1:2000 copper sulphate. The treatment of Aspergillosis is not always effective. Nystatin and Amphoteciricine-B have proven to be the most effective medications for geese. If these are not available, a recommended low cost treatment consists of 5 percent potassium iodine in the drinking water for three days, followed by two days of no treatment and then a second treatment for three days.
Chlamydiosis is a general term which refers to infections caused by a bacterium of the genus Chlamydophila. In birds, the disease is caused by Chlamydophila psittaci and, although reported in geese, is very rare. It is however a disease of public health significance in that it is transmissible to other animals as well as to humans.
The disease has been reported to affect a wide range of organs with symptoms including mild respiratory difficulties, conjunctivitis, inflammation of the sinuses, rhinitis, diarrhoea and atrophy of the breast muscle.
The antibiotics of choice to treat this disease are the tetracyclines. In some cases salmonellosis may be a complicating factor and it may be necessary to use a combination of antibiotics.
Geese can get two distinct types of coccidiosis. The most prevalent form is renal coccidiosis caused by Eimeria truncata. While intestinal coccidiosis is less prevalent, it is caused primarily by Eimeria anseris. At least five additional species of Eimeria have been isolated from the intestine of the goose. The level of infection and degree of economic loss associated with coccidiosis in the goose is generally low and it is not regarded as a major problem.
Renal coccidiosis can affect geese from 3-12 weeks of age, although the younger birds are much more susceptible. In an exceptional acute form, renal coccidiosis can result in mortality as high as 80 percent. Other indicators of the disease include depression, weakness, diarrhoea, whiteish faeces, anorexia, dull, sunken eyes and drooped wings. Diagnosis of renal coccidiosis can be confirmed by locating the distinctive oocysts in the kidneys and in the cloaca near the urethras. Birds quickly develop immunity to re-infection by Eimeria truncata. Intestinal coccidiosis also mostly affects young birds but does not always result in mortality. Rather, the infection produces anorexia, a tottering gait, debility, diarrhoea and morbidity. The small intestine becomes enlarged and filled with reddish brown fluid. Lesions are primarily in the middle and lower portion of the small intestine.
Various sulphonamide drugs and coccidiostats have been used in the treatment of renal and intestinal coccidiosis of geese. If the geese are to be fed rations which were formulated for other types of poultry, it should be noted that in spite of popular belief to the contrary, waterfowl can be fed rations containing most of the coccidiostats used for chickens.
This is a protozoan disease caused by parasites of the genus Cryptosporidium which infects both the lungs and intestine of geese. It is found worldwide wherever commercial poultry are raised and, as poultry health specialists develop appropriate tools to identify it, it is expected that more cases will be reported. This probably explains why reports from the goose industry are that its incidence seems to be on the increase.
One form of Cryptosporidiosis infects the respiratory tract and the symptoms include depression, sneezing and respiratory distress with moderate mortality. The other form infects the digestive tract and the symptoms include diarrhoea and, if the geese are young, can result in a relatively high mortality rate. Because a number of diseases can produce the same symptoms, fluids obtained from respiratory tract and the faeces should be examined for cysts.
There are no effective drugs for the prevention or treatment of Cryptosporidium. There is evidence that once infected birds recover, they are immune, but to date no vaccine has been developed. Good sanitation is recommended as a preventative measure, together with steam cleaning of infected premises. The oocysts of Cryptosporidium are extremely hardy.
Derzy's disease is a viral disease also known as Parvovirus disease because of the causative agent. Other names include Goose Plague, Goose Hepatitis, Goose Enteritis, Goose Influenza, Infectious Myocarditis and Ascetic Hepatonephritis. It is a highly contagious disease that affects young geese. The disease has been reported to exist in any part of the world where geese or Muscovy ducks are raised since they are also susceptible to it and can transmit the disease to geese. In its acute form, the disease can result in up to 100 percent mortality rate or it can occur in a more chronic form. If birds are infected during the first week of age, very high losses can occur but if the goslings are 4-5 weeks old or older the mortality rate will be negligible.
For goslings under one week of age the clinical signs are morbidity (anorexia and prostration) and mortality, with deaths occurring in 2-5 days. Older birds, depending on their level of maternal immunity, will exhibit anorexia, polydipsia, weakness with a reluctance to move, nasal and ocular discharge, swollen and red uropygial glands and eyelids and a profuse white diarrhoea.
There is no treatment for Derzy's infection. Adult breeding geese that have been naturally infected with the parvovirus become immune and transfer this passive immunity to their progeny. This passive immunity will persist in the newly hatched goslings for 2-3 weeks. It is the phenomena of passive immunity being transmitted to the offspring that has led to the development of a recommended vaccination programme. In its simplest form, all goslings should be vaccinated at about two weeks of age. This assumes that the goslings' parent flock had been vaccinated which would mean that the goslings? natural passive immunity would protect them until 2-3 weeks of age.
For birds not designated to be breeders, this single vaccination is sufficient. Birds designated to be breeders should be vaccinated again three weeks before the beginning of lay and three weeks before the beginning of each subsequent lay. In addition, some practitioners recommend a booster vaccination at peak egg production. If the parent flock had not been vaccinated which would mean that no passive immunity was passed on to the goslings, the recommendation would be to give serum to the goslings on day one and on day ten to give them passive immunity and to then vaccinate them on day 21.
Duck Virus Enteritis (DVE) is an acute, contagious disease caused by a herpes virus that can infect ducks, geese and swans although the incidence of the disease in geese is very low. DVE can be transmitted directly, by contact between infected and susceptible birds, or indirectly, by contact with a contaminated environment. Birds that have recovered from DVE are immune to re-infection by the DVE herpes virus. It should be noted that in Australia a herpes virus has been isolated from a flock of infected geese (with a mortality rate of 97 percent) which was anti-genically distinct from the duck viral enteritis herpes virus.
The symptoms depend on the age and sex of the geese, the stage of infection and the virulence and intensity of the virus exposure. Lesions of DVE are associated with vascular damage (tissue haemorrhages and free blood in the body cavities), vascular eruptions at various locations on the mucosa surface of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as lesions of lymphoid and other tissues.
There is no treatment for DVE but vaccines that are effective have been developed.
Erysipelas is generally an acute, sudden infection of individual geese within the flock. In both young and adult birds it is caused by the bacterium Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae. Outbreaks of this disease which are economically significant are uncommon in avian species, with the exception of turkeys, but some cases have been reported for geese.
Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae is somewhat unique in that it can infect over 50 animal species and can also infect humans. In the latter case, the infection usually enters through scratches or puncture wounds and is considered a safety issue for people working with infected animals. Human infections can be treated with antibiotics.
Infected geese will appear depressed, have diarrhoea and die suddenly. Lesions are suggestive of generalised septicaemia.
The antibiotics of choice are rapid-acting forms of penicillin that can be administrated together with an erysipelas bacterin. Since the presence of the disease in geese is sporadic, routine immunisation is not generally recommended. However, in areas where the disease is prevalent, and particularly for breeder flocks, vaccination is recommended. Birds that have recovered from acute infections have a high degree of resistance to re-infection.
Flukes (trematodes) are flat, leaf-like parasitic organisms. Over 500 species belonging to 125 genera and 27 families are known to occur in birds. Generally, flukes are not a problem for geese, however, geese with access to natural lake or pond water may become infected. This is because most flukes have an aquatic snail (genus Limnaea) as an intermediate host. The dragon fly (genus Odonata) is the second intermediate host in many cases.
Flukes may invade almost every cavity and all tissue of birds and can show up unexpectedly at a post-mortem. One species of fluke known as the oviduct fluke (Prosthogonimus ovatus), can infect the oviduct which results in flukes appearing in the geese's eggs.
The only practical solution is to remove the birds from the source of infection. This can be done if the intermediate host(s) is/are known.
A sample life cycle of flukes (Source: Guy, 1996)
(1) Infected geese excrete fluke eggs in their dropping.
(2) When the conditions are favourable, the eggs hatch, producing a primary larvae.
(3) The larvae mature in an intermediate host (a snail of genus Limnaea).
(4) The intermediate host lays the mature larvae on grass.
(5) After ingesting the larvae by grassing, the geese become re-infected.
Fowl Cholera, also known as Pasteurellosis, is a contagious disease affecting all domestic and wild birds. Pasteurella multocida is the causative agent, to which geese are highly susceptible and mortality can be high.
Fowl Cholera usually appears as a septicaemic disease, associated with high morbidity and ortality. Perhaps the most characteristic aspect of the acute form is the sudden death of birds with the symptoms appearing only a few hours before death. The chronic form, which can follow the acute form, normally shows as localised infections. The lesions associated with this disease can take several forms, but in most cases the heart, pericardium and air sacs are damaged.
Fowl Cholera is not a disease of the hatchery nor is it one transmitted through the egg. Rather, infection occurs when the geese are on the farm. The first step in the control of Fowl Cholera is therefore good sanitary management practices and keeping the geese separate from other birds. In areas where Fowl Cholera is present either in geese or other species of birds, vaccination of all birds is recommended. In the case of an outbreak, it is possible to treat the birds to stop the spread of the disease, but this must be done quickly.
This is a parasitic disease of birds which affects the blood cells (especially the white blood cells) and the tissues of various internal organs (parasite multiplication occurs in the macrophages of brain, liver, heart, lungs, and spleen). It is a very uncommon disease in geese but outbreaks of economic significance have been reported. Leucocytozoon simondi is the causative agent in waterfowl and has been reported in 27 species of ducks and geese in North America, Europe and Vietnam.
Leucocytozoon infections are diagnosed by direct microscopic observation and by identification of either the gametocytes (sexual stage of the parasite) in stained blood samples or of the schizonts (stage of massive multiplication) in tissue sections.
Treatment of leucocytozoonosis with drugs has, in general, limited success and no effective treatment has been found for Leucocytozoon simondi. Control methods require the elimination of the insect carriers that include various species of diptera (simuliid flies and culicoid midges) that live near streams.
Listeriosis is not a common disease of geese but some instances have been reported in temperate areas of the world. This is probably due to the fact that, in temperate climates, Listeria monocytogenus (the causative agent) is found in both faeces and soil. Also, it is in these areas that many geese are kept on pasture and therefore are exposed to the organism.
The symptoms are septicaemia with necrotic areas in the liver and heart. Encephalitis has been reported in young geese. Infected birds appear emaciated with diarrhoea.
Prevention depends on eliminating the source of infection. As the organism is resistant to most commonly used antibiotics, high levels of tetracyclines are usually recommended for treatment.
Mycoplasma infections, also know as Pleuro-Pneumonia. Like Organisms or PPLO, can cause relatively serious problems in geese. These organisms have an intermediary structure between that of bacteria and viruses. At least three species of Mycoplasma (Mycoplasma anseris, Mycoplasma claucale and Strain 1220) have been isolated in geese. In recent years the prevalence of Mycoplasma infections in geese in a number of areas appears to have increased. This is most notable when birds are managed under intensive conditions.
The main problem of Mycoplasma infections is that in breeder flocks it results in reduced egg production and lower fertility. There is necrosis of the phallus (Venereal Disease) which can cause a severe drop in fertility. In young goslings Mycoplasma infection results in reduced growth, and respiratory and air sac infections. For young geese the common source of Mycoplasma infection is from the hatching egg.
The most important aspect of a Mycoplasma control programme is to ensure that the grandparent and parent stocks are Mycoplasma-free so that goslings from these flocks are not infected. Treatment of eggs from an infected flock is achieved by dipping the eggs in a tylosin solution before the eggs are incubated. Infected goslings can be treated by adding either tetracycline or tylosin to their drinking water.
Mycosis of the digestive tract, caused by Candida albicans, can occur frequently in some classes of poultry but not in geese. An exception is force-fed birds, where inflammation of the oesophagus may be caused by the insertion of the corn dispenser. This inflammation can then provide a port of entry for Candida albicans.
The symptoms are not particularly characteristic but infected birds show unsatisfactory growth, are stunted, listless and have ruffled feathers. Lesions occur most frequently in the crop and are characterised by a whitish deposit.
Since unhygienic and overcrowded conditions are conducive to Candida albicans infections, the first step is to eliminate these. The addition of copper sulphate to the drinking water has had variable results in treating chickens and geese. Sodium bicarbonate in the drinking water increases the pH in the crop and creates an unfavourable condition for the organism as it likes an acid environment. Addition of either Nystatin or Amphotericin to the feed has been reported to be effective.
Mycotoxicoses is a disease caused by exposure to mycotoxins, and the most prevalent source of mycotoxin contamination for geese is mouldy feedstuffs. Diagnosis of Mycotoxicoses can be very complex since hundreds of mycotoxins have been identified. However, knowing what the geese are being fed, the source, the symptoms the geese are exhibiting and whether or not other livestock or poultry being fed the same feedstuffs are showing similar symptoms, will allow diagnosis of the problem and identification of the source(s) of the mycotoxin. In tropical countries where aflatoxins are very common, their origin is connected with the development of genus Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus growing mainly on peanuts but also on soybeans, copra, rice bran and corn. According to the literature, alflatoxins may cause slow growth, a drop in egg production and feather loss for all species of waterfowl, although geese are among the less sensitive. The genus Fusarium produces numerous toxins injurious to geese, and these have been found in corn, sorghum, barley, sunflower seed, oats, mixed feed and brewers' grains. Fusarium mycotoxin production thrives in conditions of high humidity and a temperature of 6-24degC. In temperate climates it is therefore essential that grains be harvested early before the cool-humid conditions of fall arrive as these are conducive to mycotoxin production.
T-2 toxin is one of the most common Fusarium toxins and, depending on the level of contamination, will cause feed refusal, reduced activity, increased water consumption, reduced egg production and reduced hatch. There are reports that exposure of young geese to T-2 toxin has resulted in the geese dying within two days. Another Fusarium toxin to which geese are very sensitive is zearalenone which can not only result in an immediate drop in fertility but can also permanently damage the testes of the gander.
Treatment is to remove the contaminated feedstuff immediately and provide the geese with fresh, uncontaminated feed. The best prevention is to ensure that all purchased feedstuffs are mycotoxinfree.
Necrotic enteritis is caused by Clostridium perfringens and has been reported to occur in geese although the incidence of the disease does not appear to be high. Clostridium perfringens can be found in soil, faeces, dust, litter and contaminated feed.
The clinical signs of Necrotic enteritis are severe depression, decreased appetite, reluctance to move, diarrhoea and ruffled feathers. Sick birds may die quickly due to enterotoxemia and necrosis of the small intestine.
Prevention is the rule. Many birds have natural populations of Clostridium perfringens in their caeca, but rarely in the small intestine. Stress or any irritant to the digestive tract can provide the stimulus for this genus to appear and multiply in the small intestine and should be avoided. If the disease appears, a number of antibiotics have been found to be effective which include lincomycin, bacitracin, oxytetracycline, penicillin, tylosin, virginiamycin, avoparcin and nitrovin.
Nephritic hemorrhagic enteritis is a disease that is currently quite prevalent in the south western region of France and is often referred to simply as NEHO. It can infect geese from 4-20 weeks of age and causes mortality rates from 30-100 percent. The causes of this disease are not well understood but it seems to be primarily poor management. An excess of protein in the feed or any sudden change in the diet of the birds can also bring it on, as can poor quality drinking water and parasite infections.
When suffering from this disease, geese are often unsteady on their feet, have difficulty getting up and have erratic movements. These symptoms are accompanied by diarrhoea and trembling and death usually follows shortly afterwards. The characteristic lesions are urates and haemorrhaging in the kidneys, an exaggerated sub-cutaneous swelling and the presence of intestinal parasites.
The first measures to take are good management prevention practices such as controlling parasites and ensuring that the geese have a balanced ration. For outbreaks of the disease, good results can be obtained by injecting homologous serum. Also available are renal tonics and liver detoxicants, both of which can help relieve the symptoms. Due to a lack of knowledge of the disease, no vaccine has yet been developed.
The Newcastle Disease Virus is of the genus Paramyxoviruses which has been isolated from geese. Clinical signs are the exception rather than the rule, but when present, consist of greenish diarrhoea and, occasionally, disorders of the central nervous system. In many cases, geese may be infected without showing any clinical symptoms, yet they can be carriers for a prolonged period. Usually geese are not vaccinated since Newcastle disease is not generally a problem for them.
Paratyphoid, or salmonellosis, is an important disease in geese with young birds, generally under six weeks of age, being the most susceptible. In addition, the concern regarding salmonella infection in humans and the demand for salmonella-free poultry products has increased the awareness of this disease and resulted in various monitoring programmes being undertaken in many countries. Over 2 000 types of salmonella organisms have been isolated from various species of fowl worldwide. Generally, the salmonella serotypes isolated from poultry are more characteristic of the region than the species of poultry. Paratyphoid is easily spread through contact with either infected birds, their faeces or through infected equipment, particularly that used for hatching and brooding. It now appears that salmonella is spread by salmonella entering the egg both in vivo before it is laid and by penetrating the egg after it is laid. In both cases it can multiply in the egg. For this reason, the importance of collecting eggs frequently before they get dirty, and cleaning and fumigating them as soon as possible, cannot be over emphasised.
Geese with Paratyphoid will usually be less than six weeks of age, tend to stand in one position, with their heads lowered, eyes closed, wings dropping and feathers ruffled. Sick birds will also exhibit marked anorexia, increased water consumption, watery diarrhoea, pasty vent and a tendency to huddle close to the heat.
The first step in the control of Paratyphoid is to remove all the possible sources of salmonella. This requires excellent management and sanitation of the breeders, the hatching process and the rearing of the goslings. The cleanliness of the hatching eggs is perhaps the most important single aspect in the control of Paratyphoid, especially the fumigation of eggs immediately after laying. Rodent control is also very important. A number of sulphonamides, antibiotics and nitrofurans have been recommended in the treatment of paratyphoid. In addition, furazolidone and injectable gentamicin and spectinomycin can be used. The final diagnosis of Paratyphoid depends on isolation and identification of the causative organism. This will help determine which drugs are best suited to treat a particular outbreak.
Riemerella anatipestifer infection is a contagious disease affecting domestic geese, ducks and various other birds which means that infections in geese can originate from other species.
The common symptoms are ocular and nasal discharges, mild coughing and sneezing, greenish diarrhoea, uncoordinated movement, tremor of the neck and head and coma. Geese that recover from the disease are resistant to subsequent infection.
The sulphonamides and antibiotics as listed under Fowl Cholera for the control of Pasteurella multocida are usually effective against Riemerella anatipestifer. Vaccines have been developed but they have been used primarily with ducks although they can be expected to prevent the disease in geese as well.
Pseudotuberculosis caused by Yersinia pseudotuberculosis has been reported in a large number of avian species, including geese. It is not, however, a common disease in geese.
The disease is characterised by an acute septicaemia and infected birds have difficulty breathing and are weak, with dull and ruffled feathers and diarrhoea. A definite diagnosis requires isolation and identification of the causative agent.
Due to the low incidence of the disease, there is very little information available but chloramphenicol, streptomycin and tetracycline have been effectively used in some species.
Reticuloendotheliosis refers to a group of syndromes caused by the retroviruses of the REV group. The disease occurs in a wide variety of domestic poultry but is rare in geese. It is sometime called the Runting Disease because it is characterised by poor growth and abnormal feathering. In geese, viruses have been isolated from tumours of the spleen, liver, pancreas and intestines. No vaccine has been developed for this disease because the incidence and economic importance of the disease is very low.
Spirochetosis in avian species is caused by Borrelia anserina and is tick-borne. Spirochetosis was first described in 1891 as a severe septicaemic disease of geese in Russia but it is now found worldwide, especially in the tropical and subtropical areas where fowl ticks (genus Argas) are common. However, even in these areas the incidence of the disease is low.
Morbidity and mortality are highly variable, ranging from 1-2 percent up to 100 percent. Lowest rates occur when the birds have previously been exposed to Borrelia anserina and have developed immunity. Larval ticks or puncture haemorrhages from tick bites on the birds, or ticks in the birds' environment are indicative of the disease.
In areas where Spirochetosis is prevalent, vaccination is the control method of choice. Female geese that have acquired immunity, either through natural exposure or through vaccination, are capable of passing on passive immunity to their offspring which will protect them for 5-6 weeks post hatching. When an outbreak occurs, the treatment of choice is usually antibiotics. Borrelia anserina is sensitive to most antibiotics including penicillin, chloramphenicol, kanamycin, streptomycin, tylosin and tetracyclines.
All avian species are susceptible to staphylococcal infections though geese do not appear to be affected to any great degree. If and when they are infected, it is generally as a secondary infection but even this is rare. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common infection in birds. One of the major concerns is that staphylococcus infections can be transmitted from birds to humans. This has been observed among both slaughterhouse workers and people performing autopsies.
The most frequent sites of infection in poultry are bones, tendon sheaths and leg joints but infections may occur elsewhere.
Staphylococcus infections can be treated with antibiotics. Penicillin, streptomycin, tetracycline, erythromycin, novobiocin, sulphonamides, linomycin and spectinomycin have been used successfully.
There are a number of species of streptococcus that infect birds. However, to date, streptococcus infections in geese are very rare although Streptococcus mutans, a common bacterium of the human oral cavity, has been identified as a cause of septicaemia and mortality in geese.
In its acute form, the clinical signs of Streptococcosis are related to septicaemia, depression, lethargy, diarrhoea and head tremors, although often the birds are just found dead. In the chronic form, depression, loss of weight, lameness and head tremors may be observed.
Prevention and control require reducing stress and following proper sanitation practices. Treatment includes the use of either antibiotics such as penicillin, erythromycin, tetracycline or nitrofurans.
The main problem with geese in EA is that they are susceptible to gizzard worms which kill them if left untreated. Gizzard worms are a very common parasite and geese should be wormed at least twice a year with 1ml Levamisole 7.5% (consult your pharmacist who will advise you of similar products available. Never use more than the recommended dose as it is easy to overdose and this may prove fatal. This treatment is not suitable for goslings 10 weeks and younger.
Alternatively, use Flubenvet which is a multipurpose wormer and covers gizzard worm. It is a powder which sticks readily to feed. The correct dose (on the pack) should be administered for 7 days. It is suitable for goslings and it is adviseable to treat a hen when she starts sitting, as well as the gander.
It has been said that nematodes, or roundworms as they are commonly called, constitute the most important group of helminth parasites of poultry.With geese, Ascaridia are generally not a problem but various species of Capillaria and Heterakis can cause problems. The most common nematode in geese is Amidostomum anseris.
The usual symptom of worm infection in geese is lethargy. The presence of eggs or worms in either the faeces or in any organ, as revealed upon autopsy, will confirm a worm infection. Amidostomum anseris infects the horny lining of the gizzard and sometimes the proventriculus. It causes dark discoloration of the gizzard and a sloughing off of the lining.
The first principle in controlling nematode infections is to practice good management. For geese on range, it is essential to rotate pastures 3-4 times a year and to change the pastures every year so as to break the cycle of nematode re-infection. For geese in confinement, the litter should be changed regularly and the building washed and disinfected with insecticide after each flock of geese. It is important not to mix young and old geese together, nor to follow old geese with young geese who are much more susceptible to nematode infections. A number of anthelmintic drugs are available to treat nematode infections. For the control of Amidostomum anseris in geese cambendazole, pyrantel, mebendazole and fenbendazole have each been shown to be effective.
The following nematodes have been isolated from the small intestine of the goose: Echinura uncinata, Epomidiostomum uncinatum, Ascaridia galli, Capillaria anatis, Capillaria bursata, Capillaria annulata, Capillaria anseris, Capillaria caundinflata, Capillaria obsignata, Heterakis dispar, Heterakis gallinarum, Strongyloides avium and Trichostronglus tenuis. The nematode Syngamus trachea has been isolated from the respiratory tract of the goose.
Over 1 400 species of cestodes or tapeworms have been noted in wild and domestic birds and for many an intermediate host has been identified. Control of the intermediate host has proven to be the best way of controlling the tapeworm. Even though geese have been reported infected with numerous species of tapeworms introduced by wild waterfowl, tapeworms are generally not a problem in goose production. This is particularly so if geese are denied access to natural waterways where they can ingest an intermediate host (most of the time a fresh water crustacean). At least four tapeworms have, however, been isolated from the intestinal lumen of geese: Fimbriara fasciolaris, Hymenolepis megalops, Hymenolepis compressa, Hymenolepis lanceolata.
Normally geese infested with tapeworms will not perform well, but isolation and identification of the worm is required for an accurate diagnosis.
As with many other poultry species, it is not easy for geese to contract a tapeworm infection because of the trend towards confinement poultry production systems. This trend has resulted in a marked decline in tapeworm infections simply because poultry species are now more separated from the intermediate host. For this reason the first step to control tapeworm infestations in geese is to separate the geese from the intermediate host by confining them or by developing an effective pasture rotation system. The geese must also be isolated from natural waterways. Using only drugs to expel the worm will have a very short-term effect if the intermediate host is not controlled. Drugs that have been effective in controlling tapeworms in chickens are butynorate, either on its own or in conjunction with piperazine and phenothiazine under the trade name Wormal. Experimentally, hexachlorophene and niclosamine have also been shown to be effective.
This is a protozoan disease that infects mostly mature geese in breeder flocks. The causative agent in geese is Trichomonas anseris while for other classes of poultry it is Trichomonas gallinae. These organisms are transmitted from bird to bird through the water and, to a lesser degree, through the feed.
The infection in geese is mainly in the lower digestive tract and the first symptoms are reduced reproductive performance and weight loss. The droppings can be monitored for the protozoan although an autopsy (with heavy infections mortality can be high) will generally not yield the protozoa as they disappear quickly.
If the disease has not spread throughout the flock, any sick birds that can be identified should be isolated. Nitrofurazon, metronidazole and dimetridazole are effective in treating the disease.
Bacteria, especially Neisseria, Mycoplasma, and Candida albicans have been associated with a venereal disease in ganders although it now seems that Mycoplasma are the primary infective agents.
Initially, the base of the phallus becomes swollen and inflamed with the infection extending to the cloaca. Later, there is necrosis, ulceration and eventually considerable scarring, making reproduction impossible. The disease spreads throughout the flock very rapidly.
The onset of the disease has, in some cases, been associated with a high density of ganders that has led to fighting, resulting in the phallus of some ganders being injured and becoming infected. The infection then spreads through the flock via the females. When infected, the females exhibit symptoms such as airsaculitis, peritonitis, and salpingitis. The first control measure to take is good management of the breeder flock. Because of the principle involvement of Mycoplasma, some veterinarians view the disease as a component of Mycoplasma infections rather than as a separate disease. Treatment is therefore with antibiotics effective against mycoplasma such as tylosin, tetracycline, chlortetracycline, linomycin, oxytetracycline, spectinomycin, spinomycin and tiamulin. Sensitivity tests should be conducted to select the appropriate antibiotic.
Information Source Links
- Buckland, R. and Guy, G. (2002). Goose Production. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 154. FAO, Rome. www.fao.org
- www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/livestocksystems/DI1190.html: raising geese