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What Do Backyard Geese Eat?


Since adding geese to our backyard, I've been getting lots of questions asking what backyard geese eat. Before we got our first geese, I assumed that they would be very similar to ducks - only bigger - but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Our journey through backyard goose keeping has been fascinating and educational. In order to raise our geese the best way I can, I've read every book on the subject I could get my hands on, consulted with John Metzer, who is the country's leading expert in waterfowl care, and also talked with several friends who have raised geese for much of their adult life.

I am constantly reading articles and .edu sites online to absorb as much as I can about our geese, because the longer we raise them, the more I realize that they really aren't like ducks or chickens at all.


But apparently all my research paid off because our first set of goslings grew up to be beautiful adults, and our second batch are following in their footsteps. 

And honestly, we've been amazed at how ridiculously easy they are to feed and raise. 


Summer feeding seemed like a slam dunk to me since geese, both wild and domestic, are herbivores and subsist mostly eating grass and weeds. Winter in Maine, on the other hand, had me a bit nervous.

I do have to admit that I was a bit anxious about what to feed our geese in the winter, since for more than half of the year, our ground can be covered with snow. 

I was pretty confident summer would be fine, as we felt comfortable letting the geese free range all day from sunup to sundown due their size and proclivity to sticking pretty close to the house, however winter was another story.


But things worked out wonderfully. Our geese ate a winter diet of hay, whole wheat and cabbage and seemed perfectly okay with that. 

I also sprouted some of their wheat and grew fodder for the geese. Not only did that give them some fresh "grass" to eat, it also helped to keep them from getting bored and gave them something to graze on. After the wheat sprouted, I let it grow to about 4" tall and then gave our geese the whole "fodder sod mat" to munch on.

I gave them pretty much unlimited hay and wheat during the day, and the occasional cabbage to work on, but they actually ate very little through the winter and yet kept at a good weight. They apparently are very efficient at metabolizing and using the calories they eat. 


And since the females only lay for about a month each spring, they don't have the immense nutrition requirements that their chicken and duck cousins have. Which means they end up being extremely cost-effective to raise.... and feed... no matter the season.

The Backyard Goose Diet


While goslings do need a balanced commercial feed  to eat while are in the brooder and before they learn the ins and outs of foraging, juvenile and adult geese do perfectly well on a diet of grass and weeds. In fact, they should be able to get up to 80% of their diet from the yard.



And if your yard is teaming with dandelion greens, plantain, clover and lots of other plants as ours is, I think they can get close to 100% of their nutrition while out free ranging.

Geese really do need to be out on grass free ranging for the majority of their waking hours. Unlike chickens or ducks, they won't thrive being penned up. 

Geese need plenty of sunlight and exercise to avoid problems and to keep from getting overweight. 


When they're young especially, the ability to wander a property will help prevent leg and bone issues and to help them develop properly.  

They'll get all the niacin and protein they need from the greens they find to eat which will help prevent issues like spraddle leg or angel wing.

Our geese also quickly discovered our herb garden and decided that they were thrilled to add such yummy herbs such as thyme, oregano, parsley and dill to their diet of grass and weeds. 

Herbs have great health benefits for geese, as well as ducks and chickens, so I was more than happy to share with them.


Geese also do poop a LOT and if you try to pen them up, you'll soon find the area gets pretty nasty. But conversely, letting them roam a fairly large area, their poop will be dispersed throughout your property and work to fertilize your lawn naturally.

Fortunately, due to their size, they are less susceptible to predation during the day from hawks or fox or other small predators, although they should always be locked up at night for their safety. 

While they are indoors in the brooder, I feed our goslings chick starter feed with brewers yeast for the first first three weeks and then switch them to grower feed after that. 

But honestly, since it's the height of the summer by then and there's plenty to eat outside, our juvenile geese show little interest in any commercial feed. 


You can offer them a grower feed after about three weeks of age right up through the following spring when mating/laying season starts, but it's not likely they'll eat much of it. They are far more interested in foraging.

What do Backyard Geese Eat in the Summer?


In the warm months, your adult geese will find plenty to eat while roaming your yard or property. But remember if you raise geese (or really any type of animal), you shouldn't be applying any pesticides or other chemicals, including fertilizers, to your grass or landscaping.

Geese will eat all kinds of grasses, weeds such as plantain, clover and dandelions, and also herbs like basil, dill, oregano, parsley and thyme. If you hand feed your goslings when they are young, you can teach them which things are good to eat and hopefully train them to seek them out in your yard.


We taught our goslings to eat dandelion greens from our hand very early on, and kept reinforcing the routine as they grew and that ensured we could hand feed them, hopefully for life. Either way, dandelion greens are a flock favorite!

Geese tend to make excellent weeders in the garden because they tend to prefer weeds and grass to actual plants, and they will pass up most broad leaf plants (except hosta, which are a favorite of mine as well!)



Food for your geese to forage for in the warm months include:

  • Chickweed
  • Clover 
  • Dandelion greens and flowers
  • Grass
  • Herbs like basil, dill, oregano, parsley and thyme (fresh)
  • Hosta
  • Plantain
  • Raspberry leaves

Geese will also nibble on roses, blueberry or raspberry bushes. They'll waddle around the yard tasting various plants, deciding which are good to eat. 

Caging those plants you definitely don't want them to chew on is advisable, since they have been known to chew on blossoms and then spit them out! 

In fact, their super power is chewing through the stems of taller blooms like sunflowers, peonies, zinnias or these dahlias, having no intention of eating them, but merely murdering them and leaving them for dead.



Geese can get all the nutrients they need from plants, however you can also give them  grains such as barley or wheat as a supplementary feed. 

Since we had a terribly hot, dry summer this year, I did give them some wheat in water each afternoon just in case they hadn't found too many dandelion greens and were still hungry. 

Most times they weren't. But at least they had the wheat, just in case. Soaking the wheat in water makes it more digestible for them and also gets more hydration into them which is important in the summer, especially. 


Since geese only lay eggs for about a month each year, they don't need to be on a layer feed since they don't have the nutritional and energy requirements required to lay eggs year round. 

They can get the calcium and protein that they need from the plants they eat and if you do want to supplement them with feed, a grower feed is the best choice.

Geese are vegetarians, unlike chickens and ducks who are omnivores, so they generally won't eat lizards, worms, slugs or bugs.

One way geese are like ducks is that they too require a deep water source so they can dunk their heads to keep their eyes and nostrils clean. 



In the summer, I fill pails and put them in various spots around the yard in the shade. In the winter, I was planning on using the same heated electric water pails we used to use for our horses, but found that the geese play in the water so much that it actually never froze solid.

And now, speaking of winter....what will our giant herbivores eat?



What Do Backyard Geese Eat in the Winter?


That's all well and good when the weather is warm and there's grass growing. But what about when winter comes? 

If you live in a temperate climate, it's likely that your geese will find enough cool weather weeds and grass to make up their diet - although grass loses its nutritional value as the season progresses. 

But in the cold climates where there's snow on the ground, you will need to provide your geese with some type of food. Providing your geese a selection of foods to eat in the winter will give them a varied, nutritious diet. 


In the winter for our geese, each morning I fill a bowl with whole wheat, maybe 1/2 cup per goose. I also give them a basket of hay (same as you would buy for horses at the feed store).

Then I give them half a head of cabbage (the chickens and ducks get the other half) every few days. Other foods on the list below I haven't had very much luck with yet, but they did enjoy nibbling away at half a pumpkin.


Like chickens and ducks, geese can be suspicious of any new foods, so you might have to offer them a few times before a brave goose will venture close enough to try it. 


And offering a variety of foods to your goslings is always a good idea because it can help acclimate them to the new foods.

Food for your geese in the winter:

  • Barley
  • Cabbage
  • Cracked corn
  • Grower feed 
  • Hay
  • Herbs like basil, dill, oregano, parsley and thyme (dried and mixed into the wheat or grower feed)
  • Leafy greens such as kale, lettuce, spinach or Swiss chard
  • Oats
  • Parsnips or carrots
  • Pumpkins or squash
  • Wheat


So to summarize what backyard geese eat...

Geese are extremely low-maintenance and do best when allowed to free range and forage for natural, wild foods like grass, weeds and herbs. They graze and forage all day long, more like a horse or cow, than other types of poultry. 

They digest their food as they eat it, instead of storing the food in their crop like a chicken, so they pretty much need to eat all day long. 

Treats aren't necessary and geese don't really seem to appreciate them, being completely satisfied with a handful of dandelion greens! 

And even winter ended up not being to difficult. Geese will happily nibble on wheat, munch on hay and gnaw on the occasional squash or head of cabbage.



Further Reading
Guidelines for Feeding Goslings
Common Herbs and their Health Benefits
Health Benefits of Dandelions

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