Geese are among the largest and most common waterfowl, and a common sight all around the world. They are also surprisingly popular livestock or pets for some folks.
But have you ever stopped to consider what geese eat? Chickens eat all kinds of different things, and so do ducks, but is it safe to assume that geese share the same diet? Just what do geese eat?
Geese are mostly herbivores, eating all sorts of plant matter including lots of grasses and some fruits and veggies. They also eat a little bit of meat in the form of fish, slugs, snails and insects.
Domestic geese will eat prepared feed or mash along with the whole, natural foods above…
The diet of geese is very similar to that of ducks, though geese need a lot more calories, and eat loads more grass.
That being said, they’re surprisingly adaptable and in captivity they can eat a varied diet containing all sorts of foods, including a few you would not expect!
Keep reading, and I will tell you all about the many foods that geese can eat safely, and a few they should avoid at all costs.
Table of Contents:
Geese are Mostly, but Not Strictly, Herbivores
Geese are primarily herbivores, meaning that they mostly consume plant-based foods.
In their natural habitats, geese feed on a variety of vegetation, such as grasses, aquatic vegetation, and agricultural crops like soybean and corn.
However, it’s worth noting that geese are not strictly herbivores and will eat insects, fish, slugs and other similar, small creatures when they can.
Whether it is plant or animal matter, when feeding, geese use their bills to graze on the ground or to snag food from the water.
Though they have adapted to grazing primarily on short vegetation, geese cannot take big bites out of things; most foods are swallowed whole.
Geese can, however, easily digest tough foods using a specialized digestive system relying on grit in the form of soil, stones, sand and gravel kept in their gizzard.
What Do Geese Need Nutritionally?
Geese have specific nutritional requirements just like all animals, and they will not prosper for long when lacking in any particular nutrient.
As herbivores, they require a diet high in fiber, protein, and other essential nutrients to support their biological functions.
Young geese need more calories compared to adult birds, as they need to meet the demands of their growing bodies, and laying dames need even more to support healthy egg production.
Geese also have specific macro- and micronutrient requirements. They need a diet that’s high in protein, which is essential for muscle and tissue growth and repair.
Adult geese should consume a diet that contains about 12-14% protein while juvenile geese should have a diet that contains 18-20% protein.
Their diet, in the wild or in captivity, must provide them with adequate amounts of calcium and phosphorus to support healthy bone growth and development, as well as vitamins A, D, and E to support healthy nervous systems and a strong immune system.
It’s also worth noting that geese require a balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, with a ratio of 5:1 being ideal.
A diet that’s too high in omega-6 fatty acids can lead to inflammation, while a diet that’s too high in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to vitamin E deficiencies.
Overall, geese require a balanced waterfowl-type diet that’s high in fiber, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals to maintain good health and well-being.
It isn’t difficult to provide for them when you know a little bit about what they need.
Do Baby Geese Eat the Same Things as Adult Geese?
Some things, yes. Baby geese, or goslings, generally don’t eat the same things as adult geese in captivity or in the wild when they are first hatched.
In captivity, or when domesticated, goslings eat special starter feed, tiny insects, tender grass shoots and similar items that are high yield when it comes to calories, but easy to digest.
In the wild, they will eat the insects, small aquatic creatures, grasses and other vegetation that their parents can feed them.
As they get older, their diet will begin to resemble that of an adult goose more and more closely by the week, and they will start to eat more grain-based foods like oats, wheat or corn as long as they have access to plenty of greens like grasses, clover and others.
Common Foods in a Goose’s Diet
In their natural habitats, geese are opportunistic feeders and will eat a wide variety of plants and plant parts, depending on what’s available.
They have evolved to be highly adaptable to their environment, which has allowed them to thrive in many different types of habitats around the world.
Also, your domestic geese will still be more than happy to eat any of these foods!
Geese are well-known for their love of grass, and it is their staple and most important food source.
Geese will graze on a wide variety of grasses in their natural habitats. Common grasses eaten by geese include Kentucky bluegrass, orchard grass, and ryegrass.
2. Aquatic Vegetation
Geese are also highly adapted to aquatic environments and will feed on a variety of aquatic plants, such as pondweed, bulrush, and water lilies. Aquatic plants provide geese with a rich source of nutrients and minerals.
3. Agricultural Crops
Every farmer has experienced the trouble a flock of geese can cause for their crops! In areas near farmland, geese will often feed on crops like soybean, corn, and wheat.
When crops are in season, large flocks of geese can actually cause significant damage to these plantations, leading to rising tensions between farmers and these big, stubborn birds.
Geese will feed on a variety of seeds, such as those from grasses, weeds, and trees. They can often be seen picking through fields, looking for seeds that have fallen to the ground.
Seeds they love also include:
- sunflower seeds
- bird seeds
In areas with dense shrubbery and undergrowth, geese will feed on a variety of berries, such as elderberries, blackberries, and hawthorn berries.
These fruits provide geese with a source of vitamins and minerals, as well as a flavorful treat. Be careful about giving your geese too many berries since they are high in sugar.
6. Leaves and stems
Geese will definitely graze on the leaves and stems of certain plants, such as clover, alfalfa, and dandelions, along with some tree leaves like those from oak and willow.
Although leaves aren’t as important to geese as grasses, they’re still an important part of their diet.
7. Roots and tubers
Geese are surprisingly adept at eating some tougher foods than you’d think.
In colder months, when green plant matter is scarce or nonexistent, geese will feed on roots and tubers they come across, such as those of cattails and water lilies.
These provide geese with an important source of energy and nutrients in cold seasons, but they will also eat them anytime they encounter them otherwise- assuming they don’t have grass to eat.
Herbs can be a decent source of nutrition for geese in the wild or on the farm, but they’re rarely a staple of their diet.
They can, however, offer powerful health benefits in the form of antioxidants and other good stuff.
It’s important to note that while herbs can be a nutritious addition to a goose’s diet, they should never make up the majority of their diet!
Also, if you grow herbs in your garden or anywhere else on your property, you need to know that geese can and will eat them if they reach them.
Geese are known to enjoy the flavorful and aromatic leaves of parsley. This herb is high in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and iron, which can benefit geese when consumed in moderation.
The fresh scent of mint may be appealing and calming to geese, who have been observed grazing on this herb in the wild.
Mint is also believed to have a soothing effect on the digestive system, and antiparasitic properties which may be beneficial for geese.
Thyme is an herb that is commonly eaten by geese in the wild.
It has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which may help to promote good health in your geese, as well as a pleasant aroma and flavor that is enticing to them.
You’ve been warned if you grow your own!
Like many other birds, geese will happily eat the leaves and tender stems of fresh basil, which has a sweet flavor.
Basil is also known for its potent antibacterial properties, which may help to protect geese from illness or infection.
In any case, geese love it, and will always eat it when they come across it. Consider adding this herb to your goose’s diet in moderation.
Sage is one herb that is sometimes included in commercial feeds for geese, as it is high in vitamins and minerals.
It also has natural antibacterial properties and may help to promote a healthy immune system in geese. An excellent dietary herb for geese of all ages.
A pungent herb that’s very high in antioxidants and has yet more natural antibacterial properties that may be beneficial for wild or captive geese.
The oils within are strong and can cause digestive upset, especially in young geese, so it should be provided to them in strict moderation.
A highly fragrant and highly nutritious herb, rosemary is rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, iron, and calcium. Another great health booster for geese, but still not a staple of their diet.
Dill is a tender herb with soft fronds that is instantly appealing to geese, and very easy for goslings to eat. High in vitamins A and C.
Fennel is an herb that’s super nutritious like rosemary, and especially rich in calcium. Supports healthy bone growth and development in geese.
It also has a mild licorice flavor though it is unknown if geese taste it like we do.
Chickweed is a wild herb that grows in moist places and is known for its small, white flowers. Geese like it, and it’s high in vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium, and magnesium.
Geese have been known to eat chickweed in the wild, and domestic geese will eat it if allowed to range on your property.
We think of it as an ornamental, but nasturtium is an herb that’s high in vitamin C and has natural antibacterial properties. Geese can and should eat it in moderation.
Geese can eat vegetables, including many of the same ones that we eat. However, they will need larger and harder veggies cut up into manageable bites for them.
As always, leafy, dark green veggies are best and easy for geese to eat. And, however good veggies are for geese, they are still something they should have in moderation as part of a complete diet.
Don’t neglect the grass and mash and/or feed as the primary component of their diet.
Geese can eat all different types of lettuce, such as green leaf, red leaf or romaine lettuce.
Butterhead is a great option for geese, and they like iceberg though it is lacking in nutrients. Lettuce contains vitamins and minerals, with the content varying by type.
Carrots are a good source of vitamins, such as vitamin A, and minerals, such as potassium and calcium.
They contain high levels of beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in geese’s bodies and helps promote healthy feather growth.
But carrots are hard and dense, meaning you’ll need to chop them up and potentially steam them, before giving carrots to your geese.
Cabbage is a great option for geese on a limited basis. High in vitamin K and vitamin C, both of which can benefit the health of geese.
Cabbage has anti-inflammatory properties, and may help to protect against digestive issues in geese.
Spinach is another leafy green vegetable that’s high in iron, calcium, and other essential vitamins and minerals.
As with lettuce, geese can eat different varieties of spinach, such as curly spinach or baby spinach. High in oxalates. See next entry.
Kale is yet another leafy green vegetable that’s packed with vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium.
It also has antioxidants, which may help to protect against disease and illness in geese.
However, it is important to note that kale is high in oxalates, which can bind to calcium, making it less available for the body.
Geese, like most birds, love squashes. Most are high in fiber and contains plenty of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A and potassium. Varieties of squash that geese can eat include acorn squash, butternut squash, and pumpkin.
Peas are a legume that’s high in fiber and contains minerals, such as iron and calcium. They’re also a good source of protein, which is essential for muscle and tissue growth in geese. Geese can have whole pea pods chopped up.
Celery is a crisp veggie that is a surprisingly healthy food for your geese, in spite of its popular reputation. Chop it up for your flock.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that’s rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
It also contains phytonutrients, which may be beneficial for the health of geese when consumed in moderation. Geese will eat the broccoli florets only, most of the time.
Beets are an appealing root vegetable to geese, and one that’s high in potassium and folate. They also have nitrates, which may help to reduce inflammation and protect against certain diseases in geese. But it is quite hard, needing you chop it up small or lightly cook it to soften it somewhat.
Geese can enjoy tomato fruits every once in a while. They should never eat green tomatoes because they contain solanine which is poisonous for geese.
Geese can eat many fruits, though they don’t need too much in their diet since they’re so sugary. Despite being nutritious and a great snack that your birds will love, you should generally only give them fruit on a limited basis.
Apples are a favorite of geese. They need them chunked or shredded, but don’t give your geese the seeds: they contain cyanide precursors and can be dangerous for geese.
Bananas are a great snack for geese, as they’re packed with potassium and vitamins while also being easy to eat. Very sugary, feed sparingly. Throw out the peel, too.
A tasty treat for geese. Fair nutrient profile, very sugary. Again, moderation is key!
Other berries like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are high in antioxidants and provide geese with essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and dietary fiber.
A stone fruit that’s rich in vitamin A and provides geese with essential micronutrients like iron, phosphorus, and potassium.
Do not let geese eat the pit! Pit contains same cyanide precursors as apple seeds. Super sugary, make peaches a rare treat and only in limited amounts.
Plums contain many important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and potassium. Great digestive benefits. Consider shopping in quarters to make them easy to eat.
Your geese will absolutely love watermelon treats. They are hydrating and have a decent combination of vitamins and minerals for them.
Geese, as mentioned, don’t just eat plant matter alone. They eat a variety of animal proteins, and although they can handle meats we are used to as part of their feed they are better off eating proteins they’d encounter in the wild.
Geese can, and will, eat small fish. Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and provides geese with essential vitamins and minerals, like vitamin D and potassium.
Like most birds, geese eat insects. Insects, such as mealworms, crickets, and grasshoppers, are a great source of protein for geese.
They also provide essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc, and magnesium.
Gross, but slugs are high in protein and contain essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium and selenium.
Any foods that don’t fit neatly in the above categories are below.
Geese can eat grains safely, but they should have them on a very limited basis. Grains can be hard for geese to digest, and they are invariably calorie dense and fattening.
They are an important component for geese that are growing or healing, and for any keeper that wants to fatten geese for slaughter. For this you can try to give them corn or rice sparingly.
No, bread won’t kill geese or blow them up. That’s an old urban legend. But bread is just junk food for geese, though.
That said, geese absolutely love the stuff and you can give them a crust or two every now and then.
Same with bread, since crackers are bread! Only every once in a while, don’t overdo it. It’s still junk food…
Popcorn is surprisingly fine for geese so long as it is unsalted, not buttered, and has no flavoring. It has protein and calories that geese need, so it is an alright treat. Don’t give them too much or too often.
You can also surprise your geese with treats like:
What are Some Things Geese Definitely Shouldn’t Eat?
By now you are probably impressed by all the different things geese can eat. It is pretty amazing, but geese can’t eat everything. Never give your geese the following things.
1. Dairy Products
Geese never need milk of any kind. Dairy can cause them digestive problems.
Geese need salt, but excess salt can cause devastating health issues, seizures, and organ failure in geese, so avoid giving your goose too much of it and monitor dietary intake.
3. Human Foods
It’s nice to want to share with geese, but you shouldn’t give them any of your food that isn’t a plain version of the items above. Human foods like chocolate and candy are dangerous or lethal for geese.
4. Fats & Oils
Geese should only consume moderate amounts of good fats and oils as components of other real foods, not fatty crap found in human food. Can lead to obesity and health problems if consumed in excess.
All parts of the avocado plant and fruit contain a toxin that’s harmful and potentially deadly to geese.
Pit and skin are concentrated sources. Flesh has tiny amounts, but best not to risk it. Avoid it!
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.