Sometime back, I had a conversation with my farm manager Jesse, who made me decide to add geese to my poultry stock.
You see, I had this two-acre farm in Busia on which I had planted Paspalum or crown grass but mowing it from time to time was becoming costly.
I had to hire workers to slash the grass and this was eating into my budget. I had even considered keeping sheep on the farm since they are voracious grazers.
However, when I asked Jesse, he proposed a different plan. “Why not keep geese instead. They are good for grazing and trimming the grass than sheep,” he said.
“Really,” I retorted a little surprised.
Jesse and I come a long way, from primary school in the village, and if you have read George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm, then we are like Snowball and Napoleon.
Whatever suggestion one of us makes, the other is bound to oppose it vehemently.
I decided to do my own research. Although I found out that Jesse was right, I didn’t tell him.
I learnt that in addition to being superb ‘lawn mowers,’ geese can protect other birds on the farm against strangers and predators because of their strident voices. In fact, nothing can calm these birds into silence.
Geese can serve as home security
In some places in South East Asia, geese have replaced guard dogs due to their exceptional eyesight. These birds are more resistant to diseases than chicken and survive in hot climates provided shades are available.
If you are looking to control weeds in your shamba organically, then these are the birds to keep. They do well in coffee, banana and pineapple plantations.
Their agile necks allow them to pull weeds around crops even in situations where a machine or a hoe cannot penetrate. In fact, the ability of some species like the Chinese goslings to control water hyacinth (I hope the Kisumu governor is reading) has been tested beyond reasonable doubt.
When it comes to housing, geese have advantage over chicken in that they do not require such elaborate cages. The coops, however, must be clean and dry with proper ventilation. They can even survive outside as long as there is an enclosure to protect them from predators.
At that time, I wondered why despite these numerous advantages, geese remained a neglected species among the poultry family. What I didn’t know was that my ‘moment of learning’ was yet to come.
Armed with this basic knowledge, I visited a few farms. The first thing I learnt was the difference between a duck and a goose. Previously, I could not distinguish between these two lovely birds. “Is this a duck or a goose,” I asked one farmer. “This is a goose”, he replied.
“How do you know?” I asked without appearing too foolish.
Difference between ducks and geese
He pointed me to the neck, the legs and the feathers. “Geese have elongated necks compared to the ducks, which are stout. Also geese legs aren’t set as far apart from their bodies as ducks. Unlike ducks that have colourful feathers ranging from orange, to green, black or yellow, for geese, you only have a choice of three colours: grey (or spotted grey), black and white,” he replied.
I had heard that these birds preferred aquatic environments and to keep them, one has to invest in expensive ponds. On the contrary, he explained to me that although these birds prefer aquatic environments, geese spend more time on land than ducks and are basically herbivores (vegetarians).
In fact, a clean supply of water in a bucket is adequate provided they have something to dip their heads in from time to time.
Although other details like which one “honks” and which one “quacks” took me long to grasp, I settled for a male and a female and parted with Sh10,000 for the pair.
But I wasn’t told that the sexual maturity for the birds is two years, meaning I had to wait another year to get eggs.
Let me cut the chase. That moment came and out of the 15 eggs, I gave four eggs to a broody goose hen and we ate the rest (a goose egg weighs three times that of a hen and has more yolk and is nutritious). While you can’t trust turkey’s to sit on eggs, geese do the job well. Out of the four eggs, I got two goslings after 26 days. My mistake was to start the goslings on chick mash because after a few weeks they all died.
When I spoke to my vet later, he told me goslings should not be fed on medicated mash. The anti-coccidostat in the chick mash contributed to their death.
You see, with feeding, again the goose prefers it simple just like their housing. From day one to four weeks, one may use ordinary chick crumbs that are not medicated (not contain additives like anti-coccidiossis).
Hard boiled eggs crumbled and added to food in the first couple of days will encourage goslings to start feeding.
Grower pellets can be given from week four to six. It is not necessary to provide adult birds with any specific feeds as long as they have access to short sweet grass.