How To Raise Free-Range Geese And Ducks

When thinking about raising livestock on grass, sheep, cattle, and other ruminants might be the first to come to mind. However, we’ve discovered that pasturing waterfowl is both a gratifying and economical venture. Watching geese enthusiastically tackle pesky weeds can make you wish you had introduced them to pasture much sooner!

On our small farm, we raise chickens, ducks, and geese. Given their tendency to be quite messy, providing them with an outdoor environment is the best solution. Although our methods for pasturing chickens differ from those for waterfowl, both types of poultry thrive with access to fresh, chemical-free greens. These birds not only help aerate the soil but also consume a significant number of insects and contribute to soil fertility with their droppings.

Geese and ducks are perfect for free-range farming

Geese are exceptionally effective at weed control and are predominantly herbivores. They can derive most of their nutritional needs from grass and other leafy plants, making it possible, at least theoretically, to raise them almost entirely on high-quality pasture. To enhance their diet, we supplement with fermented high-protein feed.

It’s delightful to watch goslings enjoy their grass meals. We start offering them chopped grass and chick-sized grit just two days after hatching. Both goslings and mature geese eagerly consume chicory, dandelions, burdock, plantain, and many other common pasture plants. If you need a section of fence cleared, simply let your geese graze around it.

Ducks, being omnivores, have a slightly different role. They do enjoy the occasional bite of greenery, but their true talent lies in pest control. Ducks are excellent at clearing bugs from pastures and gardens. Because they love young lettuce, peas, and other tender greens, it’s best to let them loose in garden plots infested with pests like Japanese beetles and slugs only after the plants are mature enough to withstand some nibbling.

Ducks have a particular fondness for grubs and larvae, making them perfect for dealing with cutworm or cabbage worm infestations in cruciferous crops. Muscovy ducks, in particular, will also eat frogs, voles, and mice, helping to control these populations as well. They excel at reducing the fly population in pastures and have a natural drive to chase and consume insects, a trait evident even in ducklings. No other waterfowl are as relentless in pursuing and devouring bugs as the Muscovy duck.

Housing and fencing recommendations

housing and fencing recommendations

On our farm, we use similar housing and fencing for waterfowl and chickens when they are on pasture, including low tractors, hoop tractors, and portable netting. Tractors serve as mobile coops, with low tractors being about 2 feet high and hoop tractors tall enough for people to walk into.

We start our young birds in low tractors and transition them to hoop tractors as they grow and join the main flock with access to pasture. Unlike ducks and geese, which generally stay put in low tractors, chickens often jump out and can be challenging to round up.

Most ducks are content with poultry netting, but geese pose a different challenge. They tend to fly into the netting and get entangled. If the netting is electrified, this can result in severe injury or even death. We experienced such an incident where a goose got caught, and although it survived, we now only use non-electrified netting to avoid this risk.

Another key difference between pastured waterfowl and chickens is their nighttime behavior. Waterfowl stay alert through the night, while young chickens sleeping in low tractors are vulnerable to predators. Raccoons, for instance, can reach through 1-by-2-inch cage wire and harm the birds. To protect our poultry, we recommend using hardware cloth fencing on the bottom 2 feet of any tractors used for housing them on pasture, as it offers better protection against predators.

Protecting your waterfowl from predators

On our farm, we face threats from various predators, including raptors like hawks and owls, canids such as coyotes, foxes, and dogs, and smaller predators like opossums and raccoons.

To safeguard our pastured waterfowl at night, we use a predator-proof enclosure, typically a wire-wrapped tractor secured with carabiners to thwart animals with dexterous paws. Given our area’s susceptibility to high winds, we also stake down the tractors for additional security. We’ve found that two 8-inch stakes at the front and back of each tractor are effective even in the strongest gusts. Although staking adds a few minutes to the process of moving the tractors, it is crucial for the safety of our birds in windy conditions.

Alternatively, you can herd waterfowl from their pasture to a coop each evening, using long sticks if necessary to guide them.

Geese are reputed to be good protectors of other poultry, like chickens. Running geese with ducks seems to deter aerial predators, as we’ve seen juvenile hawks reconsider attacking when a gander spreads its wings threateningly. However, I don’t recommend relying on geese as guardian animals. Although they may alert you to the presence of predators, even adult geese are vulnerable to canids.

At best, geese can deter smaller predators. Expecting them to fend off a fox is unrealistic; you’ll likely find only feathers, indicating the fox prevailed. Without livestock guardian dogs to ward off coyotes, foxes, and stray dogs, we opt for the most secure protection for our birds.

ssry svp in article v2.1

Best Free-Range Breeds

The best way to determine the right waterfowl for your needs is to experiment with different breeds. We have hatched and raised various geese and ducks, including Chinese and Pilgrim geese, as well as Indian Runner, Muscovy, and Pekin ducks. Each breed comes with its own set of benefits and challenges.

Chinese geese are perhaps the most efficient at weed control, earning them the nickname “weeder geese.” These elegant, swanlike birds are also the most affectionate geese we’ve raised. Their long necks allow them to reach into tight spots, and they effectively cleared our pastures of grasses. Despite their reputation for good egg production, we didn’t observe this trait in our flock. However, we eventually decided to switch breeds after noticing that our Chinese geese were bullying other poultry on the farm.

Next, we tried Pilgrim geese. This autosexing breed is generally known for being more docile and gentler with other poultry compared to Chinese geese. Our Pilgrims, while less aggressive, occasionally picked on each other and the ducks, with the ganders being the primary instigators. These geese prefer grass but also enjoy clover, chickweed, plantain, and other pasture plants. In just a few weeks, four Pilgrims can trim a section of grass as neatly as a lawnmower.

Indian Runner ducks are excellent for pasture-based operations. They are quick to respond to perceived threats, easy to herd, and do not fly. When used with a coop and netting or fencing, these smart ducks quickly learn to return to the coop at dusk, often putting themselves to bed. Pasturing them with docile geese has helped us reduce aerial predation.

Muscovy ducks are perhaps the best breed for pasturing. These diligent foragers love hunting mosquitoes and flies and will also catch small amphibians and rodents. Muscovies are strong fliers, so you’ll need either a tractor setup or be prepared to clip their wings to keep them within the poultry netting.

Pekin ducks are large, calm, and easily available, making them ideal for beginners. Their docile nature can be a disadvantage unless your setup protects them from both aerial and ground predators. Additionally, our Pekins seemed prone to bumblefoot, a foot infection. However, their rapid growth rate makes them an excellent choice for meat production.

Experimenting with these different breeds will help you find the right fit for your specific needs and circumstances. Each breed offers unique characteristics that can be advantageous depending on your farm’s environment and your specific goals.

Other recommendations for raising free-range geese and ducks

Provide Ample Space

Ensure your geese and ducks have enough room to roam. Overcrowding can lead to health problems and increased aggression. Aim for at least 2-3 square feet per bird in the coop and 10-25 square feet per bird in the pasture.

Rotational Grazing

Implement a rotational grazing system to prevent overgrazing and allow pasture plants to recover. This can help maintain a healthy environment and provide continuous fresh forage for your birds.

Diverse Forage

Plant a variety of grasses, legumes, and other pasture plants to offer a balanced diet. Species such as clover, ryegrass, and chicory are excellent choices. This diversity can improve the nutritional intake and health of your waterfowl.

Pond or Water Source

Geese and ducks thrive when they have access to water for swimming. A natural pond or a man-made water source can provide them with the opportunity to exhibit natural behaviors, such as foraging for aquatic plants and insects.

Shade and Shelter

Provide areas of shade and shelter to protect your birds from extreme weather conditions. Shade structures or natural tree cover can help keep them cool in the summer, while windbreaks or covered shelters can offer protection in the winter.

Predator Control

predator control for your geese and ducks

In addition to secure housing, consider employing livestock guardian dogs or electric fencing to deter predators. Regularly inspect and maintain your fencing to ensure there are no gaps or weaknesses.

Health Monitoring

Regularly check your birds for signs of illness or injury. Keep an eye out for common issues such as bumblefoot, parasites, and respiratory infections. Early detection and treatment can prevent more serious health problems.

Nutrition Supplementation

While free-ranging provides many nutrients, supplementing their diet with a high-quality poultry feed can ensure they receive all necessary vitamins and minerals. Fermented feed can also improve gut health and nutrient absorption.

Regular Cleaning

Maintain clean living conditions by regularly cleaning coops, waterers, and feeders. This helps prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria and parasites.

Social Interaction

Geese and ducks are social animals. Keep them in groups to ensure they have companionship. Mixing species, such as running geese with ducks, can also provide mutual benefits, like enhanced predator deterrence.

pocketfarm1Environmental Enrichment

Provide enrichment activities to keep your birds stimulated. This can include scatter feeding, placing objects like logs or tires for them to explore, or introducing small piles of leaves or straw to rummage through.

Record Keeping

Keep detailed records of your flock’s health, egg production, and any issues that arise. This can help you track patterns and make informed decisions about their care.

Breeding Practices

If you plan to hatch your own birds, select breeds and individuals that exhibit desirable traits such as hardiness, good foraging ability, and temperament. Manage breeding to avoid overpopulation and inbreeding.

Community Resources

Engage with local farming communities or online forums for advice and support. Experienced farmers can provide valuable insights and troubleshooting tips.


Raising free-range geese and ducks can be a highly rewarding experience, offering numerous benefits for both the birds and the farmer. By experimenting with different breeds, providing ample space and diverse forage, and ensuring robust predator control and health monitoring, you can create a thriving environment for your waterfowl. Incorporating practices like rotational grazing, access to water, and environmental enrichment further enhances their well-being. With careful management and a commitment to their care, your geese and ducks will not only contribute to a sustainable farming system but also bring joy and satisfaction to your farming endeavors.

Additional resources:

Smart tips for gardening on dry soil

If you see this plant in your backyard, don’t touch it!

Tips for preparing gardening soil in winter

The #1 food of Americans during the Great Depression

Leave a Comment