This resource was updated in preparation for the veterinary review process. It was originally published on May 22, 2019.
GoslingsYoung geese (baby geeseUnless explicitly mentioned, we are referring to domesticated goose breeds, not wild geese, who may have unique needs not covered by this resource.) have their own set of care needs that differ from the care needs of mature geese. Understanding these needs and ensuring you are meeting them is imperative if you are to take on the care of a goslingA young goose (or goslings). Below we will discuss important aspects of gosling care.
Intake Recommendations 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. Upon intake, the gosling should be evaluated for signs of health issues, and any issues should be discussed with your veterinarian. If your gooseUnless explicitly mentioned, we are referring to domesticated goose breeds, not wild geese, who may have unique needs not covered by this resource. residents are vaccinated against certain diseases, be sure to coordinate the administration of these vaccinations to the gosling in consultation with your veterinarian. If the gosling is 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.
Nutrition Recommendations For Goslings
Ideally, goslings should eat a complete diet formulated for young, growing goslings. This may be advertised as a “waterfowl starter” or a “ducklingA young duck and gosling starter.” There are conflicting recommendations regarding how much protein goslings need at different stages of growth, and much of the available information pertains to raising geese in agricultural settings, but starting with about 20% protein for at least their first four weeks of life is a common practice.
If waterfowl/gosling starter is unavailable, chick starter can be used on the following conditions: first, it must be unmedicated. Second, since goslings have higher niacin requirements than chicks, when using chick starter, you will need to provide supplemental niacin. Niacin deficiency can lead to serious leg and joint disorders that can ultimately shorten an individual’s lifespan and negatively impact their quality of life. We always recommend consulting with an experienced veterinarian for specific recommendations for vitamin supplementation, as different individuals may have different needs based on their breed, health, and diet. According to Nutrient Requirements Of Poultry, for their first 4 weeks of life, a gosling needs 65 milligrams of niacin per kilogram of food. When goslings reach 4 weeks of age, their niacin requirements decrease to 35 milligrams per kilogram of food. Niacin supplements come in liquid and tablet form, which can be purchased at many drugstores. If your veterinarian recommends using brewer’s yeast, this can often be found at animal food stores.
Be aware that goslings tend to make quite a mess and will often get their food wet. In certain temperatures, this wet food will be prone to souring, so be sure to replace it at least twice per day (and more often if needed). Also be sure to thoroughly clean food dishes at the end of each day. Never remove a gosling’s water source in an attempt to keep their food dry – not only do they need water to stay hydrated, they can choke if they have access to food but not water. The way waterfowl eat is known as “shoveling” which requires them to use their beak as a strainer through water. Without access to water while eating, dry food can form a paste in the mouth that is difficult to swallow.
Grasses are a major component of a goose’s natural diet, but we recommend avoiding gathering grasses from outdoor spaces due to the risk of introducing the gosling to harmful pathogens. Of particular note currently is the risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza in many regions. A safer way to provide greens is to sprout grasses indoors or to offer romaine lettuce. These can then be finely chopped and added to a gosling’s water. Be sure the water source is easily accessible and cannot be readily knocked over (more on water sources below). Scratch can be provided, but only as a treat as it is not nutritionally whole.
As goslings have no teeth, they will need appropriately-sized insoluble gritSmall stones or sand swallowed by birds to help them digest food. to help them break down any food other than their starter food, though if they have regular time outside, they should be able to get enough grit on their own. DO NOT offer grit that contains oyster shell or additional forms of calcium as too much calcium can result in health issues for goslings.
Water Recommendations For Goslings
Goslings love water and should have access to fresh, clean drinking water at all times. They use water to help digest their food and clean their nares (nostrils), so they should have access to a water source into which they can dip their bills. Their water will become dirty quickly (and even faster if they are able to get into the water), and should be replaced regularly. Goslings love to bathe and swim; however, it is important to know that until their feathers come in (typically around 6 weeks of age), they are not yet waterproof and can become waterlogged and get sick or drown if left in a water source unattended or one where they can not easily get out. Any water sources for bathing should be lukewarm and remain shallow but deep enough for a gosling to fit their entire bill. It should be easy for them to get in and out safely. If a gosling soaks their feathers, they may need to be dried off to prevent becoming chilled.
Living Space Recommendations For Goslings
It is important that goslings live in draft-free shelter with proper ventilation. Drafts and poor ventilation can cause unwanted health problems. Do NOT place them in cages with wire bottoms as this can cause serious foot and even beak injuries. Additionally, be sure surfaces are not slippery as goslings can slip and injure their legs. You can use rubber drawer liners or rubber mats on the floor (under their bedding) to ensure a non-slip surface.
Gosling living spaces should have clean, dry bedding. Options such as non-woven blankets, pee pads, towels, and astro turf are ideal. Other options such as kiln-dried pine or aspen wood shavings or straw are less ideal, but still an option. Straw bedding can increase the risk of aspergillosis (discussed below), so some bird caregivers choose to avoid it entirely. Additionally, because straw is not overly absorbent, its use could increase the gosling’s risk of bumble foot (also discussed below). Cedar should never be used in avian living spaces as it can cause severe respiratory issues. Goslings will nibble at anything in their living spaceThe indoor or outdoor area where an animal resident lives, eats, and rests., including bedding, so any of the straw or wood shaving bedding options pose a slight risk for inappropriate ingestion. For this reason it can be important to get bedding that is either big enough that they can’t eat it or is something they do not appear interested in eating.
Goslings can and will splash their water, and their waste is quite wet. This combination can quickly lead to wet, dirty bedding. You will have to keep up with the mess as best you can to ensure they have a dry, clean living space. Changing their bedding two to three times daily is ideal.
Heat Sources For Goslings
Young goslings without their mother will need a heat source. As a general rule, you should start off at 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) for newly hatched goslings and decrease the temperature 5 degrees over each week until their feathers come in or until you reach the ambient temperature of the space they are housed in. When providing supplemental heat, be sure to do so thoughtfully, avoiding heat sources that carry a high risk of causing a fire or injury, always be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding safe and proper use, and keep heat sources away from flammable materials (such as their bedding).
Many online sources will recommend the use of a heat lamp, but you must be aware that these come with serious risk. Not only are heat lamps a fire risk, some glass bulb heat lamps are coated with substances containing polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). At high temperatures, these bulbs can put out highly toxic fumes, resulting in Polytetrafluoroethylene Toxicosis (also known as Teflon Flu and Polymer Fume Fever). PTFE coated bulbs (and any other items containing PTFE or Teflon) should never be used around birds. Ceramic bulb heat lamps are a safer option, but be sure they are secured so that residents cannot come into direct contact with them, and keep them at least 18 inches away from any flammable materials to prevent burns and fires. Place them at one end of their living space so goslings can adjust where they’d like to be in proximity to the heat. An even safer alternative heat source is a radiant heater like the EcoGlo from Brinsea. You adjust the height each week until the gosling’s feathers have come in.
For an option that does not need to be plugged in, you can use Snuggle Safe microwavable heat discs (or a similar product), but you must ensure this is enough to keep goslings appropriately warm. Be sure to keep discs in a Snuggle Safe cover or wrapped in a blanket or towel to prevent goslings from coming into direct contact with the disc, and pay attention to when they need to be reheated. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding use and reheating. If caring for a group of goslings, make sure to offer enough heat discs so that everyone can get to a warm area if desired, but make sure they still have plenty of non-heated space, too, so that they can choose how near or far they need to be from the heat.
Additionally, you will need to take care not to overheat goslings in warmer weather. If you live in a warmer climate and have a draft-free living space for the goslings, they may not require a heat source. A regular light bulb may provide enough warmth for goslings in this situation. Observe the goslings’ behavior. If they are too cold, they will crowd and huddle near the heat source. If they are too hot, they will attempt to spread out along the edges, away from the heat, or the goslings may stand with their wings held away from their body.
If the weather is warm and calm, you can begin taking healthy goslings out for mini supervised “outings” but they should not be left unattended or remain out for long periods of time until they are at least 6 weeks old. Additionally, even after they are old enough to spend time outside without constant supervision, be aware that they may need to be encouraged back into their indoor living space during inclement weather.
Social Considerations For Goslings
Goslings are social and should be brought up with other goslings when possible. If you rescue a group of goslings, you can typically quarantine them as a group, separating them only if individuals aren’t getting along or if someone has a health issue that requires separation. Goslings learn important skills from their mother and, as mentioned above, should not be separated from their mother unless absolutely necessary.
Despite their social nature, if you are caring for a single gosling who is without their mother, it’s still important to follow proper intake and quarantine procedures. Failing to do so and immediately introducing them to your goose residents could potentially spread disease. In the case of a single gosling in quarantine, additional attention should be paid to addressing their social needs during this time. You might place a stuffed animal goose in with them as “company” (some stuffed animals are even designed to hold a microwavable heat disc, providing both heat and comfort). You might also include a mirror, and you can consider other safe social enrichment strategies as well.
In some cases, sanctuaries that have rescued a single gosling have decided to welcome another gosling in need of rescue so that the two can grow up together after they have completed their quarantine and/or gotten the all clear from a veterinarian.
Once new goslings have completed their quarantine and are deemed healthy, you can consider introducing them to your goose residents. The age at which you slowly start introducing goslings to the flock will be dependent on personalities, nutritional needs, flock arrangements, and your set-up. In most cases, you should wait until they are at least 6 weeks old, though some caregivers prefer to wait quite a bit longer. Ideally, introductions are done in short, supervised meetings, spread over several days (or longer). If conducting a springtime introduction, keep in mind that ganders (male geese) may behave more territorially and should be closely monitored – they may be too rough at this point for young goslings.
During introductions, you should watch for any signs of older geese “picking on” or biting the goslings and intervene immediately. If it seems to be too much to introduce them to the entire group, but there is a goose who has taken to the goslings, you might opt to set up a space for them to spend time with the goslings away from the rest of the flock. You can read more about the introduction process here.
Gosling Health Considerations
Goslings can be particularly susceptible to certain illnesses and diseases. When caring for goslings, it’s important to be familiar with some of the more common health challenges they face, so you can watch closely for signs of these issues in your residents. Goslings should be monitored closely for any signs of illness including lethargy, decreased appetite, diarrhea, labored breathing, panting, and sinus flaring. If a gosling appears to be separating themselves from the flock, this could be a sign of illness or a sign that they are getting picked on. Pay close attention to their mobility – healthy goslings should walk and run without any sign of lameness, and when they stand both legs should be evenly under them. If you have any concerns about a gosling in your care, contact an experienced veterinarian for guidance.
While not an exhaustive list, gosling caregivers should be familiar with the following health issues.
Angel wing is a condition that causes a gosling’s wing feathers to turn outwards. A diet high in protein and excess calories is thought to be a common cause of angel wing, though genetics, incubation and hatching issues, as well as restricted exercise may also be contributing factors. Angel wing is the result of new feathers developing faster than the musculoskeletal structures necessary to support them. The weight of these new feathers cause the joint to twist. As a result, the affected wing tip(s) is not able to be tucked into a normal position against the body. When caught very early, angel wing can be corrected, but you should consult with a veterinarian to make sure you are taking appropriate corrective measures (while also addressing the underlying cause, if applicable). While bandages and splints are often used to correct angel wing, it is imperative you are shown how to do this correctly as improper technique can have unintended consequences. If not caught early, before the bones have mineralized, the condition will be permanent. While permanent disfiguration of the wing(s) is detrimental in free-living wild geese since it prevents them from being able to fly, sanctuary residents can live a happy, healthy life with the condition.
Aspergillosis is a non-contagious fungal disease that typically manifests as respiratory illness in birds. While there are numerous species of Aspergillusany of a genus (Aspergillus) of ascomycetous fungi with branched radiate sporophores including many common molds, Aspergillus fumigatus, a ubiquitous soil fungus, is the most common cause in geese. Aspergillosis is an opportunistic infection – while birds are constantly exposed to fungal spores, often without developing disease, immunosuppression (such as from stress, corticosteroid use, disease, or malnutrition) and being exposed to large numbers of aerosolized spores may result in disease. Poor ventilation, unsanitary conditions, wet bedding, moldy food, and warm, humid conditions increase the risk of aspergillosis. Therefore, you can help protect your residents by properly storing food, keeping living spaces clean and well ventilated, and ensuring spaces do not become warm and humid. Straw bedding can harbor mold and fungus, so wood shavings or other non-straw (and non-hay) bedding is a better option if aspergillosis is a concern. Signs of aspergillosis include open-mouth breathing, labored breathing, tail bobbing, gasping, and an elevated respiratory rate. Other signs include inappetence and lethargy. Be sure to contact your veterinarian if you suspect aspergillosis. Diagnosis can be challenging, so be sure to work with your veterinarian to see what diagnostics they recommend. Treatment is also challenging and often requires aggressive and prolonged antifungal treatment (such as itraconazole) as well as supportive care. In addition to treatment, be sure to take steps to reduce your residents’ exposure to spores by keeping living spaces dry, ensuring food and bedding are not wet or moldy, switching from straw to a safer bedding option, and improving ventilation.
Goslings are susceptible to internal parasites just like their grown-up counterparts. Sometimes cases are mild, but parasitic infections have the potential to be quite serious and, if left untreated, can even be fatal in goslings. Be sure to speak to your vet about the best screening protocols for goslings, and if you suspect an individual has an internal parasitic infection, be sure to consult with your veterinarian regarding diagnosis and treatment. Consider discussing an anti-parasite treatment plan for all your goose residents with your veterinarian.
Goslings may be born with obvious leg deformities or develop leg issues as they grow (the terms “splay leg” or “spraddle leg” are often used to refer to deformities that result in one or both legs turning outward). There are many potential causes of leg issues in goslings, including incubation issues, nutritional deficiencies, or injury. Depending on the specific issue, correction may be possible, but this requires veterinary assessment to determine the cause. Do not attempt to splint or bandage legs without guidance from a veterinarian as this could cause more harmThe infliction of mental, emotional, and/or physical pain, suffering, or loss. Harm can occur intentionally or unintentionally and directly or indirectly. Someone can intentionally cause direct harm (e.g., punitively cutting a sheep's skin while shearing them) or unintentionally cause direct harm (e.g., your hand slips while shearing a sheep, causing an accidental wound on their skin). Likewise, someone can intentionally cause indirect harm (e.g., selling socks made from a sanctuary resident's wool and encouraging folks who purchase them to buy more products made from the wool of farmed sheep) or unintentionally cause indirect harm (e.g., selling socks made from a sanctuary resident's wool, which inadvertently perpetuates the idea that it is ok to commodify sheep for their wool). than benefit in the rapidly growing gosling.
To help prevent leg issues caused by slipping injury, be sure to provide adequate traction for goslings, as described above. Hard substrates and improper flooring can lead to bumblefoot (pododermatitis or infected feet) which can become so severe that it can cause joint or bone infections if not addressed. Goslings should not be kept on cement flooring, and all housing should have appropriate padding to prevent this sort of injury. Be sure to regularly inspect their feet for signs of lesions and contact a veterinarian immediately if they develop.
Omphalitis is an infection of the navel and/or yolk sac. This may be caused by contamination of the egg or incubator, or due to goslings being exposed to contaminated environments before their navel has closed. Goslings with omphalitis may have an inflamed navel, there may be discharge or a scab, and it may fail to close. The abdomen of infected goslings becomes enlarged, the gosling may feel “flabby”, and there is typically a putrid odor from the gosling. Other signs include refusal to eat, lethargy, huddling near heat sources, and droopiness. Death can occur within the first 24 hours of hatching, and goslings may appear healthy until just a few hours before death. If you rescue newly hatched goslings, keep an eye out for this disease and contact your veterinarian immediately any time a gosling is showing signs of illness.
Very young goslings can develop a condition which is commonly called “pasty butt” where feces stick to their vent, clogging it and making it impossible for them to defecate. Left untreated, this is fatal. While certain diseases can cause diarrhea, leading to vent pasting, other times stress or even temperature changes can lead to vent pasting as well. “Pasty butt” is a symptom, not a diagnosis, and in cases where this is a concern, a veterinarian should be consulted to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. During the first two weeks of life, you should check a gosling’s vent at least once daily, gently cleaning as needed. Be aware that goslings can chill easily, and they do not have their waterproof feathers until they are older, so clean their vent without getting them overly wet. A dampened cotton swab can usually do the trick.
Wry neck, an unnatural twisting of the neck, can be a result of trauma, toxins, a vitamin deficiency, or an issue during incubation. This twisting can range from minor to severe. If one of your gosling residents is showing signs of wry neck, be sure to consult with your veterinarian immediately in order to determine the cause and best treatment options. In some cases vitamin supplementation may be necessary. In severe cases, individuals may have difficulty walking, eating, and drinking. Be sure to provide supportive care as necessary to ensure they are able to get the nutrients they need and make sure their current living arrangement is safe for them.
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 be replaced with sleek waterproof feathers. This transition will allow them to regulate their body temperature 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.
Taking time to consider the specific needs of goslings as a species and as individuals will help ensure your residents are happy and healthy!
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