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What Do Backyard Geese Eat in the Winter?

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When grass is scarce, backyard geese need alternative food sources to thrive.

As long as geese are given access to fresh grass, they can live very happily on all the grass and weeds they can eat. 

But what happens when snow covers the ground or all the grass is dead?

In the winter, your backyard geese will need something else to eat. But unlike chickens or ducks, they don't necessarily need (or want) a commercial feed.

Also unlike chickens or ducks, geese are primarily herbivores.

Since we have snow on the ground for much of the year here in Maine, I needed to figure out pretty quickly what to feed our geese in the winter. 

What Do Backyard Geese Eat in the Winter?

It turns out that geese are pretty easy to feed in the winter. 

As a rule of thumb, the typical diet for a goose should be about 80% grasses (fresh or dried hay, grass or weeds) and 20% grains (oats, wheat or corn, etc.).  

And as with other poultry, up to 10% of their diet can be "treats".  

Geese are very efficient at metabolizing and using the calories they eat.  They also store the fat they get from their diet in two thigh pouches between their legs (don't we all!!) that they use for energy through the winter. 

So they really don't eat as much as you might think they would.

So here's what our geese are fed in the winter.

Hay for Geese in the Winter

I provide our geese a large tub of hay (just like you would feed horses or rabbits) that's available to them all day long.

Unlike chickens or ducks that can get impacted crops from eating the long, fibrous strands of hay, geese are able to digest the hay without a problem. 

Not only is it quite good roughage and fiber for their digestive tract, it gives them something to do in the winter. They love to rummage through the hay.

Orchard or timothy hay are both good choices for geese. Alfalfa hay can be good for younger geese to help grow strong bones and muscles. 

The 2nd cutting of hay is preferable to the 1st. The 2nd cutting has more protein, is softer and greener, and is a good blend of seed head, leaf and stem. 

Whole Wheat for Geese in the Winter

I also give our geese about a cup of whole wheat each per day. Hard white wheat has a high protein content and is also very easily digestible, so that's what I have been feeding my geese. 

But really, any type of whole wheat is going  to be fine for them. There are white and red wheats, hard and soft wheats, and spring and winter wheats...they'll happily eat them all. 

They will also like barley, cracked corn or other grains. I give my geese scratch grains on very cold days, just like I give to the chickens and ducks.

Wheat Grass Fodder for Geese in the Winter

I also like to sprout 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. They love it!

Grit for Geese in the Winter

When the geese are out on grass in the good weather, they don't need any commercial grit to help them digest their food. They'll eat coarse dirt and small stones they find to help them digest their food.

But if the ground is frozen or covered with snow, it's a good idea to provide them grit free-choice so they can eat as much or as little as they need. Our geese love to pick up small stones and gravel from our dirt driveway when they can.

Wood Ash for Geese in the Winter

I dump the ashes from our wood stove into the chickens' dust bath in the winter, and I've noticed that the chickens and ducks will nibble on the pieces of charred wood. 

I also occasionally give the geese a dish of the ashes and they'll eat that as well. Wood ash works as a detoxifier and helps cleanse the body of toxins. It also contains Vitamin K, calcium and and other nutrients. 

Vitamins and Supplements for Geese

Geese benefit from all kinds of vitamins and minerals, most of which they can get when you feed them a varied diet. They do need niacin for strong bones and legs, just like ducks do. 

Fortuniately there is niacin in some of the grasses, weeds and herbs that your geese wander around nibbling on such as dandelions, chickweed and alfalfa, as well as in dill, sage and thyme. 

But adding brewers yeast to their diet is the easiest way to provide them what they need. And some of the best plant-based sources of niacin include:

  • Peanuts (4.2 mg per ounce)
  • Whole wheat or wheat bran (4 mg per cup)
  • Peas (3 mg per cup)
  • Sweet potatoes (2.4 mg per cup)
  • Sunflower seeds (2 mg per ounce)

Geese also benefit from Vitamin D. Their bodies can make Vitamin D during the summer, but here in Maine during the winter, adding some Coop Kelp to our goose diet can be beneficial.

Vegetable Treats for Geese in the Winter

Our geese are pretty picky about what they eat, but they do seem to appreciate the occasional vegetable treats.  

Providing your geese a selection of foods to eat in the winter will give them a varied, nutritious diet and keep them from getting bored.

Our geese seem to especially like:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Corn on the cob
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Pumpkins
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes

Water for Geese in the Winter

Like ducks, geese also require a deep water source so they can dunk their heads to keep their eyes and nostrils clean. I use a one-gallon pail for them in the warm months.

In the winter, I have a heated electric water pail for our geese to drink out of. I run an extension cord from the house to keep their water from freezing.

Geese don't necessarily love things floating in their water like ducks do, but they do seem to like fishing wheat out of the water if I dump some in for them.

In Summary

So to summarize what backyard geese eat in the winter...

  • 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'll even rummage under a light snowfall for grass to eat.
  • Geese 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 but geese appreciate the occasional veggie treat!
  • Winter ended up not being too difficult. Geese will happily nibble on wheat, munch on hay and gnaw on the occasional squash or head of cabbage.

And finally, I guess I would be remiss not to mention some things that geese shouldn't eat, although it should go without saying. 

Avoid: moldy or rotten food, salty or sugary food, white bread, coffee grounds or tea bags, chocolate, onions, avocados...

Further Reading
What do Geese Eat?
Guidelines for Feeding Goslings
Common Herbs and their Health Benefits
Health Benefits of Dandelions

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