Very young geese (also known as goslings) have their own special care needs to help them reach adulthood in good health and comfort. Depending on how old they are when they enter your care and whether they have had or continue to have access to their mother, goslings have diverse needs when it comes to health, nutrition, and socialization.
Intake For Goslings
When a new gosling finds their way to your sanctuary, it’s critical to follow appropriate intake and quarantine guidelines in order to protect your new resident and the existing flock. The gosling should receive all location-appropriate vaccinations, and should be tested for any health issues. If they are with their mother, you should not separate the two unless absolutely necessary, such as if one of them has a communicable illness or needs extra space to recover from a health issue.
Gosling Health Considerations
Goslings may be particularly susceptible to certain illnesses and diseases. It is important to speak with a veterinarian about possible vaccinations as soon as possible.
Angel Wing is a condition affecting goslings that causes their wing feathers to turn outwards. A diet high in protein and excess carbs is thought to be the cause of Angel Wing so the good news is it is preventable! Consult with a veterinarian regarding the correct feed.
Goose Virus Hepatitis
Goose Virus Hepatitis specifically affects goslings between the ages of 1-28 days. It is rarely seen in goslings older than this. The disease has a rapid onset and is both highly contagious and fatal. Goslings with this disease may develop spasms in their legs and die within the hour. Their backs are usually arched upon death. Sadly, once a gosling has it, the mortality rate is between 90-100%. If you suspect your residents have this, call a veterinarian immediately to discuss any treatment options.
Also known as Paratyphoid, The bacteria Salmonella is in most bird intestines. Usually this is not problematic to geese, but it can infect humans if they eat food with contaminated hands. To avoid salmonellosis, ensure good hand hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly in warm soapy water after touching geese, their eggs or their bedding. If the geese suffer from salmonellosis, they can be successfully treated with antibiotics recommended by your veterinarian, but it can take months before they are free of the infection. Goslings younger than six weeks old are most susceptible to the disease, exhibiting symptoms of standing in one spot, lowering their heads, closing their eyes, drooping wings, anorexia, increased thirst, watery poop, huddling near heat sources, and ruffled feathers.
The most common cause of Spraddle or Splayed Leg is a slippery floor. If a gosling cannot get proper traction on the floor, their legs will slide to one side, preventing them from developing their leg muscles. Because duckling like to bathe and play in water and their waste is mostly composed of water, they can make quite a mess that can result in slippery surfaces if this isn’t planned for in advance. Rubber drawer or cabinet mats can help ensure ducklings have enough traction.
Goslings are susceptible to worms just like their grown up counterparts. Sometimes this is mild but other times it can be fatal in goslings if left unchecked. Be sure to speak to your vet about the best deworming options and protocols for your goslings!
Typically a gosling-only condition, Wry Neck can be fatal if untreated. An afflicted goose won’t be able to hold their head up and often cannot properly walk. Wry Neck can be a result of trauma, toxins, or a vitamin deficiency. Supplementing the goose’s food with vitamin B1, vitamin E, and selenium with a veterinarian’s approval can help reverse the affliction. Natural supplementation sources for these nutrients include tumeric, brewer’s yeast, bran, parsley, marjoram, sage, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, thyme, cinnamon, spinach, dandelion greens, and alfalfa.
Nutrition For Goslings
Ideally, goslings, should eat a waterfowl starter food (Mazuri is a known brand with a typically well-regarded waterfowl starter). If this is unavailable, chick starter can be used on the condition that it must be supplemented with additional niacin and should be unmedicated. Without the supplemental niacin, goslings can develop serious leg and joint disorders, often decreasing their lifespan. Niacin supplements can be purchased at many drugstores, or brewer’s yeast can often be found at animal food stores. If using a niacin supplement, add 100 to 150 mg of niacin per gallon of drinking water until 10 weeks of age. If using brewer’s yeast, add 2 to 3 cups per 10 pounds of food.
If you cannot locate a gosling starter food, gosling’s should be fed an 18-22% protein chick starter with a niacin supplement until close to 6 weeks of age. After 6 weeks, they should be moved to a lower protein food (around 15%), and when hens are around 5 months old, they should be moved to a “laying” diet. You should provide chick scratch for goslings as well, but it should only make up a small percent of their diet.
Geese love grass and much of their diet is composed of different grasses. Provide fresh, pesticide-free grass trimmings to older goslings (around 4 weeks of age). You must provide grit if you are providing gras to prevent digestive issues. When they are older, geese will ideally have access to grass and will forage much of their food this way.
Water For Goslings
Goslings love water and should have access to fresh, clean drinking water. They use water to help digest their food and clean their nostrils. They also may be interested in bathing, but it is important to know that their feathers are not waterproof yet and they can become waterlogged and get sick or drown if left in a water source unattended or one where they can not easily get out. If you let goslings play in water, be sure to limit the time and dry them off and place them near the heat source after. Any water dishes for bathing should remain shallow but deep enough for a goslings to fit their entire beak.
Heat Sources For Goslings
Young goslings will need a heat source. Heat lamps are ideal in cooler situations but be sure they are set up OUTSIDE of the living space to prevent burns and fires. Place them at one end of their living space so they can adjust where they’d like to be in proximity to the heat. An alternative heat source is a radiant heater like the EcoGlo from Brinsea. This has the benefit of heat without 24/7 light. You adjust the height each week until the goslings’ feathers have come in. Start at around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and slowly lower the temperature over the following weeks, around 5-7 degrees a week. Goslings with their feathers in will be able to self-regulate temperature. Additionally, you will need to take care not to overheat goslings in warmer weather. If you live in a warmer climate and have draft-free living space for the goslings, you may not require a heat lamp. A regular incandescent light bulb may provide enough warmth for any young goslings in this situation. Observe the goslings’ behavior. If they are too cold, they will crowd and huddle underneath the heat source. If they are too hot, they will attempt to spread out along the edges, away from the heat.
Living Spaces For Goslings
It is important that goslings live in a draft-free living space with proper ventilation. Drafts and poor ventilation can cause unwanted health problems. Their living spaces should include soft bedding or grass. Do NOT place them in cages with wire bottoms and this can cause serious foot injuries. They should have clean, dry bedding but be sure not to use tiny shavings as they may ingest them. Cedar is also not recommended. You can use rubber drawer liners on the floor to ensure a non-slip surface. Goslings can and will splash their water and their waste is quite watery. This being said, you will have to keep up with the mess as best you can to ensure they have a dry, clean living space.
If the weather is warm and calm, you can begin taking goslings out for miniature supervised “outings”, but they should not be left unattended or remain out all day until they are around 6 weeks old. Additionally, they may need to be encouraged back into their indoor living space during inclement weather.
Social Considerations For Goslings
Goslings are social and usually brought up with other goslings when possible. They learn important skills from their mother and, when possible, should be kept together during this time. They can later be introduced and integrated into an existing flock or be their own little flock.
If you are caring for a single gosling, be sure to still follow proper intake and quarantine procedures as placing them within the flock could potentially spread disease. In the case of a single gosling in quarantine, you might place a stuffed animal goose in with them as “company”. Groups of goslings that come in together without their mothers, while missing out on important developmental time with their parent, can generally be adequately cared for, though humans are generally a poor stand-in for their mother.
When Goslings Grow Up
As we have covered, goslings have different nutritional, environmental, and health needs than adult geese. The younger the gosling, the more protection, heat, and protein (amino acids) they need. As they grow, their downy fuzz will become feathers (around 6-7 weeks) and they will become more “waterproof”. This will allow them to regulate their body temperatures and become more buoyant in water. They will be able to swim more safely at this point and can be on a waterfowl food that has a lower protein content (14-15%).
Around 6-7 weeks of age is a good time to slowly start introducing them the the flock. Ideally, this is done in short meetings, spread over several days. If it is spring, ganders may behave more territorially and should be closely monitored. You should watch for any signs of older geese “picking on” or biting the goslings and remove them if this is a problem. You can try again the next day. After you have witnessed multiple relaxed meetings, you can begin leaving them outside longer, with a barrier in between them and the adult flock. Alternatively, if there is a goose that has taken to the goslings, you can place them with the goslings during their outside time. If this goes well, you can let them spend the night together in a similar way, with a boundary between them and, finally, integrate them fully into the flock! Be sure to take your time and remain watchful for any disturbances in the flock!
Taking time to consider the specific needs of goslings as a species and as individuals will help ensure your residents are happy and healthy!
Raising Waterfowl | University Of Wisconsin Extension (Non-Compassionate Source)
Wild About Waterfowl: Tips For Raising Ducks And Geese | Hubbard Life (Non-Compassionate Resource)
Angel Wing | Poultry DVM (Non-Compassionate Source)