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Safe Cohabitation Considerations For Geese

a flock of geese
It’s important to understand who geese are and what they need when considering living arrangements and social groupings. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media

This resource has been fully reviewed and updated by a member of The Open Sanctuary Project’s staff as of December 3, 2021

Because every resident is a unique individual, it’s difficult to offer specific guidance regarding safe cohabitation with members of other species. However, there are certain species who may be more likely to safely cohabitate than others, and in some cases, there are species combinations that are best avoided entirely due to potential safety risks or care needs that are too different. In order to make responsible, informed decisions about living arrangements and social groupings for any species at your sanctuary, it’s important to consider who they are, generally, as a species; what their needs and preferences are; and also to consider who they are as an individual. Additionally, you’ll want to think about any safety risks they could potentially pose to another species and vice versa. Below we’ll discuss important things to keep in mind when considering living arrangements and social groupings involving geese. In addition to the information below, you’ll need to consider the specific needs of the individuals you are considering housing them with.

Social Considerations

Geese are social animals who are notoriously loyal. The greylag goose (Anser anser), ancestor of many domesticated goose breeds, has been a popular subject of ethologists, including Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz. In his book The Year of the Greylag Goose, Lorenz explains that his decision to study greylag geese was due to “many reasons, but the most important is that greylag geese exhibit a family existence that is analogous in many significant ways to human family life.” Greylag geese typically form long-term monogamous pairings, and Lorenz wrote of the visible signs of grief exhibited by a goose who has lost their partner. If you’ve cared for geese, you’ve likely seen the strong bonds they form with one another. 

Geese will typically do best if they are able to live with at least one other goose. While there are certainly instances of ganders (male geese) getting into altercations with one another, bonded male partners are not uncommon in greylag geese, and anecdotally, sanctuaries have also found this to be true with sanctuary goose residents. Just as with other sanctuary bird residents, spring can bring about changes to social dynamics, with some previously peaceful social groupings no longer working. If making adjustments to your goose residents’ social groupings, it’s important to pay attention to who is bonded, as separating bonded individuals can cause significant distress. If one resident needs to be moved out of the flock, it’s important to move them along with their partner whenever possible. Some goose pairs or smaller bonded groups may do best just living with each other rather than in a larger goose flock.

As flock animals, isolation can cause significant stress, so if a goose resident is unable to live with other geese, it will be important to give them the opportunity to bond with a companion(s) of a different species while ensuring everyone’s safety. Similarly, if due to spatial constraints you are considering housing your goose residents with residents of another species, you will need to do so thoughtfully.

Further Reading
Sometimes you need to consider separating an individual from their companions due to a health issue. You can read more about considering alternative living arrangements due to a health concern here. Also, be sure to check out Creating An Enriching Life For Geese for enrichment ideas to utilize during times when someone must be away from their companions.

Dietary Considerations

If you are considering housing your goose residents with another species, be sure to consider your goose residents’ dietary needs and whether or not these can be met if they are living with non-goose residents. If other bird residents at your sanctuary are on the same diet, this will make cohabitation easier than housing geese with individuals who have vastly different diets. For example, food formulated for waterfowl would not be healthy or safe for your ruminant residents to regularly ingest. There are various reasons why housing geese with mammalian residents may not be advisable- the significant difference in dietary needs is just one such reason.

If housing geese with other farmed bird species, be aware that some medicated foods and water treatments that are recommended for other species may not be safe for geese. Similarly, food or mineral supplements for mammals may not be healthy or safe for geese to consume. 

​​For more information on your residents’ dietary needs, check out our species-specific Daily Diet, Treats, And Supplements resources.

Housing Considerations

While geese are sometimes labeled by humans as “guard animals” for smaller bird species (more on this below), geese are themselves prey animals and require robust predator-proofing to keep them safe. Their outdoor space must include proper fencing (both to keep goose residents inside their living space and to keep other animals out), and the addition of aviary netting will protect against aerial predators. Larger mammals have different fencing needs, and you may find it challenging to create an outdoor space that accommodates what a larger resident needs while also providing the predator protection a goose needs. 

Overnight, geese must be closed into completely predator-proof housing to keep them safe. Some goose predators (like weasels) can fit through spaces as small as a quarter, and others (like raccoons) can reach through small spaces to get to geese or can open latches to get into goose houses. Because ducks, chickens, turkeys, and other sanctuary bird residents have similar housing requirements in terms of predator-proofing, housing them with geese will be easier than housing them with larger mammals who, even if they require some degree of predator-protection, do not require the same overnight accommodations- not to mention the potential safety issues that could come with having your goose residents locked inside with larger residents overnight.

Won’t Larger Residents Act As Deterrents Or Protectors Against Predators?
It’s not uncommon to hear about certain species being housed with others in an attempt to protect more vulnerable species from predators. In some cases, this simply entails housing larger species with smaller species, but other times it involves specific species who have been designated by humans as “livestock guardians” such as dogs, donkeys, or llamas. Unfortunately, this practice of relying on other residents to act as deterrents or protectors is not universally reliable and, therefore, is not something we recommend. While you can certainly find folks who advocate strongly for this solution (especially individuals from the farming community), you can also find heartbreaking stories of predator attacks. In addition to the “protected” residents being harmed despite the inclusion of a “guardian” in their living space, in some cases, the “guardian” has been injured or killed by a predator because they were not properly protected either. There have also been reports of “guardian” residents going after the individuals they live with, sometimes with little to no forewarning. We believe that there is simply no substitute for proper housing and fencing when it comes to predator protection, and living arrangements should be informed by the needs of each individual resident, not the role we feel they should play.

Another important feature of goose housing is access to swimming water. Depending on how you provide this, housing geese with other residents who require swimming water, such as ducks, may be safer than housing geese with non-waterfowl species. While any open water source can be a potential drowning risk, some setups pose more significant risks than others. For example, a gradually sloping pond will be much safer than a water source that has a steep drop-off, which could result in a resident accidentally falling into deep water and not being able to get out.

With large mammalian residents, swimming water may not pose a drowning risk, but mammalian residents may contaminate swimming water with their feces. Some species may wade into swimming water in order to cool off, and could quickly contaminate these water sources. Even if they do not physically get into the water, their feces could still contaminate the water making bacteria or algae growth more likely

For more information on your residents’ housing needs, check out our species-specific Creating A Good Home resources.

Safety Considerations

When considering mixed-species social groups, it’s important to consider any potential safety risks. Safety considerations for geese include:

Safety Concerns Associated With Larger Mammalian Species

Any time a smaller species is housed with a significantly bigger one, there is the risk of injury, but pigs tend to pose a more significant risk to birds than some other species. There have been reports of birds being killed in a sanctuary environment by pigs. While you may think that the risk to birds is directly linked to the pig’s size, this is not the only concern. It’s true that large pigs could accidentally trample a smaller bird resident, but piglets can pose a potentially greater risk to birds. Some of the reports of bird residents being killed by pigs involved piglets who were trying to play with a bird resident who entered their living space. Feral pigs also pose a significant risk to birds. While adult domesticated pigs may pose less of a risk to birds, you should always exercise caution where possible when it comes to protecting resident lives and be mindful of the potential consequences of species cohabitation. For these reasons, we do not recommend housing geese with pigs, especially feral pigs or piglets.

We also don’t recommend housing geese with dogs. While some dogs may do fine with geese, a negative interaction could have devastating consequences. Not only could a dog seriously injure, or even kill a goose, a goose could also cause injury to a dog (especially a smaller dog) during a confrontation. Additionally, as geese are prey animals, a dog’s presence may cause them stress, even if they aren’t in immediate danger. Due to the potential risks, even if you have reason to believe a goose and dog will get along, we recommend never leaving them together unsupervised.

In addition to pigs and dogs, other bigger residents, such as ruminants, equines, or camelids, could injure a goose, especially by accidentally trampling them. A goose may have difficulty moving out of the way of a quickly moving resident who is significantly bigger than them, and geese with mobility issues or who are broody (or their protective partners) are at an increased risk of being injured. Furthermore, some mammalian residents may be too confrontational or playful to be able to safely cohabitate with geese, regardless of their size. For example, even though they are smaller in stature, a young goat kid could cause serious injury to a goose resident if they are trying to play.

It’s important to note that goslings are especially vulnerable and in addition to the considerations above, should also be kept away from cats. While cats and mature geese tend to do fine together, cats have been known to kill goslings. An additional consideration with cats is that geese should not have access to their litter box as consuming litter could result in crop impaction.

Safety Concerns Associated With Other Farmed Bird Species

In general, housing geese with other farmed bird species does not come with the same degree of risk as housing them with bigger mammals, but that doesn’t mean all of your avian residents will get along well. While ducks and geese are frequently housed together, and in some instances may form close bonds with one another, you’ll want to watch to ensure that everyone gets along safely and that male geese are not attempting to mount your duck residents, which could result in injury due to the size difference between ducks and geese. Additionally, you’ll want to watch that there are no altercations between your ducks and geese, which may be more common with males during the spring because a goose could easily injure a smaller duck.

Similarly, if you have geese living with other avian residents, be sure to watch that everyone is getting along well and there is no inter-species mounting or fighting. Unlike some other farmed bird species, such as chickens, turkeys, and guineas, geese have a protrusible phallus. This significant anatomical difference could result in severe injury to females of bird species that do not have a protrusible phallus. Therefore, male geese should not be allowed to live with such females if they show interest in mounting them, which may be more common if a gander does not have female goose companions.

Risk Associated With Treatments Intended For Other Species

If you plan to have your goose residents live with another species, in addition to considering safety issues associated with any physical interactions between the two species, you’ll also want to consider whether or not this living arrangement will put the geese in contact with substances that are not safe for them. There may be some treatments that are safe to use in a particular species that are not safe for others. Be sure to keep this in mind if using treatments your goose residents may come into contact with. For some treatments, it may be safest to keep your goose residents separate to prevent potential issues.

Consider The Individual

In addition to understanding who geese are and what they need as a species, be sure to consider the specific individuals in your care- thinking about their unique personalities and preferences as well as their health care needs. For example, even though the general recommendation is that geese do best if they can live with other geese, individuals who were raised with non-goose companions from a young age may not find the same comfort living with geese as other geese do. Additionally, if a goose arrives at your sanctuary with a non-goose partner with whom they are strongly bonded, you’ll need to consider the needs of both the goose and their partner and find a living arrangement that works for both of them.

There’s a lot to consider when figuring out social groupings for sanctuary residents, and things can get even more complicated when you start thinking about how different species will do together. Be sure to consider the needs of all species involved and think about whether or not you can meet everyone’s needs and keep everyone safe in a mixed-species group.

SOURCES:

Konrad Lorenz | Psychology Encyclopedia

Why Geese Matter | Marc Bekoff Ph.D. (CW: Discusses Animal Cruelty)

Male- Male Pairs in Greylag Geese (Anser anser) | Robert Huber And Michael Martys

Updated on December 10, 2021

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