Egg production, incubation and sex identification of geese

Goose egg production

The main egg-laying period for geese is in the spring, commencing about August or September. Chinese breeds can start laying in winter. Encourage early seasonal egg production, so goslings are of marketable age and weight in time for the Christmas market.

  • Fertility will be up to 15% higher and hatch-ability up to 20% higher with mature female geese than with 1-year-old geese.
  • As geese usually lay in the morning, collect eggs late in the morning to reduce the chance of egg breakages, and collect eggs at least four times a day.
  • Because most eggs are laid early in the morning, it is best not to give geese access to swimming facilities until later in the morning, otherwise eggs may be lost. As mentioned earlier, swimming improves the condition of geese generally and helps to keep them clean, which in turn helps to keep eggs clean.
  • Geese usually lay a clutch of 12–15 eggs and then go broody.

Early onset of egg production can be encouraged by the following:

  • Genetic selection and cross-breeding. Chinese breeds are better egg producers than Toulouse or Emden breeds, but their smaller body is a disadvantage. Cross-breeding the Chinese breed with either Toulouse or Emden produces breeding stock of acceptable egg production and carcase.
  • Use of artificial light. This will induce early onset of egg production, as it does in laying hens (see Primefact 604 – Lighting of poultry).
  • Improved nutrition. Put geese in broody coops as soon as they go broody. If geese are allowed to remain broody without being checked, egg production will be seriously affected.
A suitable nest box

To reduce the incidence of egg breakages, provide nest boxes (shown at right) and encourage their use for laying. Line them with suitable nesting material, such as shavings or straw, and allow one 50 cm × 50 cm nest box for every three geese in the flock. It is best to have nest boxes in the shed and throughout the yard if large yards are used.

Incubation

Natural incubation produces the best percentage of goslings hatched. Using geese to hatch out their own goslings is expensive and wasteful, since geese are not laying while they are sitting on the eggs. Turkeys, hens and Muscovy ducks may be used satisfactorily to hatch out goslings — best results will be obtained from Muscovy ducks (which are really geese). Goose eggs can be hatched artificially, but results are better if Muscovies are used.

  • Eggs should be collected at least twice (preferably four times) daily, and, as geese lay most of their eggs in the morning, the bulk of the eggs will be collected in the morning.
  • Eggs for incubation should be stored in a cool room at 15°C — an airconditioned or refrigerated cabinet is ideal. Turn eggs daily (see Table 1). The longer the eggs are kept over 7 days, the poorer the hatching results.
  • Select only uncracked eggs weighing at least 140 g and no more than 200 g. Clean those eggs that are dirty by lightly rubbing with steel wool and wiping with a clean damp cloth. Eggs will need to be handled and stored in this manner regardless of the method of incubation.
  • Eggs can be disinfected by fumigating them immediately after collection.
  • The actual period of incubation of goose eggs varies slightly with the breed. Some eggs from the lighter breeds may start pipping after 28 days, while eggs from the larger breeds may take 35 days. It may take up to 3 days for hatching to be completed.

Natural incubation

Depending on the size of the bird, 4–6 eggs may be placed under a broody hen whilst a Muscovy duck may sit on 6–8 eggs. Since the eggs are too large for most hens to turn by themselves, turn the eggs by hand daily when the hens leave the nest to eat and drink. After 15 days, eggs should be sprinkled with lukewarm water each time they are turned.

Candling, that is, passing eggs under a bright electric light to view the contents, can be carried out on the 10th day and all infertile eggs removed.

Where a goose is to be used for hatching out the eggs, 10–15 eggs may be placed under her (the number of eggs depends on the size of the eggs and the size of the goose). If geese have access to swimming facilities, the eggs need not be sprinkled with water.

Artificial incubation

Unless machines are properly managed, goose eggs do not hatch very well in artificial incubators. Hatches often are no better than 40% of the eggs set, even though fertility is about 90%. This is because of poor management and because incubators available in Australia are not manufactured specifically for geese.

With forced-draught machines, maintain a constant temperature of 37.5°C throughout the incubation period. The desired humidity will be obtained if the wet bulb thermometer is kept at a reading of 32.2°C to the 29th day. Then increase it to 34°C for the rest of the incubation time, using moisture trays and adjusting the ventilation.

Incubators with a slow air movement over the eggs will hatch goose eggs better than those with a fast air movement. Slow air movement ensures complete distribution of air over all parts of the egg to maintain uniform and equal evaporation.

Experiments in France, using 2000 eggs in eighteen incubators, have substantiated the need to place eggs horizontally (see Table 1).

Table 1. Results of setting eggs at different angles*
Hatch-ability
 Eggs set on pointed endEggs set horizontally
 Turnover angleTurnover angle
 90°120°90°120°180°
All eggs set 49.0% 66.6% 69.2% 69.8% 69.2%
Fertile eggs 64.0% 85.3% 86.2% 88.9% 89.4%

* Artigueres Research Centre, France

In the incubator:

Turning goose eggs
  • Best results are obtained if eggs are turned over completely at least four times daily, that is, through an angle of 180° (as shown in the diagram at right) and not 90° as with chicken eggs. Best hatching results are obtained if eggs are set horizontally.
  • Eggs must be spaced evenly throughout the incubator if the machine is not full. The temperature of the machine should be 0.2°C higher when the machine is less than 60% full.
  • Because goose eggs require high humidity, they should be sprinkled daily with warm water. After the 15th day of incubation, eggs should be completely submerged every second day in water kept at a temperature of 37.5°C and then daily in the last week of incubation, for 1 minute. Alternatively, fine nozzles that spray water at 37.5°C when needed can be installed in the incubator.

In the hatcher:

  • Eggs should be transferred to the hatcher on the 27th day of incubation unless experience shows eggs are hatching at less than 30 days of age.
  • Eggs should be dipped or sprinkled with water, as previously described, only once after they are transferred.
  • Temperature in the hatching compartment should be kept at 37°C and relative humidity at about 80%. After the peak of the hatch, reduce to 36.5°C and 70% humidity.
  • Leave goslings in the hatcher for 2–4 hours after the hatch is completed, then transfer them to the brooders.

Cleaning the incubator

Thoroughly clean and sanitise all incubator trays and incubators when not in use. Fumigate incubators with formaldehyde gas which is produced by combining formalin with potassium permanganate (Condy’s crystals). Note: A respiration mask fitted with a suitable gas cartridge filter should be used in the presence of formaldehyde.

To fumigate the incubator:

  1. Turn off the motor.
  2. Place the required amount of potassium permanganate in an earthenware container on the floor of the incubator and pour over it the required amount of formalin (25 g of potassium permanganate and 35 mL of formalin (40%) are enough to fumigate 1.0 m3 of incubator space).
  3. Allow the machine to run for at least 10 minutes at the normal operating temperature and maximum humidity with the incubator door closed.
  4. To prevent operators being overcome by formaldehyde fumes, open the doors and windows of the incubator room to provide ventilation before opening the incubators.

Sex identification of geese

The sex of day-old goslings can be identified in a similar manner to that used for chickens, by examining the vent. Sexing of day-olds is best left to a qualified chicken sexer, as an inexperienced person may damage the sexual organs.

Reproductive organs of an immature male goose

With experience, day-old goslings can be identified by holding the legs firmly between the first and second fingers of the left hand, with the neck between the third and fourth fingers and the breast away from you. Then press gently with the left thumb on the abdomen while at the same time pressing down on the tail with the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. Do this quickly to remove the contents of the bowel, making examination easier.

The vent is then everted by pressing gently down on the abdomen with the thumb of the left hand near the vent. Simultaneously place the first finger and thumb of the right hand close together on the opposite side of the vent and slowly separate with a gentle but firm pressing motion, stretching and everting the cloaca to expose the penis if the gosling is male.

The exposed reproductive organs of a mature male goose

Mature birds (that is, birds over the age of 7 months) can be identified by physical examination. The identification is made easier if two people are available. One method of exposing the penis is by pushing back the tail towards the head with one hand and exerting a steady downward pressure on the abdomen with the other.

The vent will then be everted and the organ exposed. The penis, spiral shaped and white, is just over 1 cm long in immature birds but up to 4 cm long in mature ganders. The colour of the area inside the gander’s vent is pink and the surface is smooth.

The exposed reproductive organs of a maturing female goose

The illustrations of the exposed reproductive organs of an immature male, a mature male and a maturing female will assist in sex identification:

It is difficult to distinguish the sex of growing goslings and mature birds other than by examining for the presence of the male’s penis. The characteristics listed in Table 2 may also help you to distinguish sexes:

Table 2. Characteristics of the gander and goose
GanderGoose
  • A high shrill voice
  • Slightly larger body
  • Slightly longer neck
  • Larger head
  • Knob at base of top beak in Chinese geese
  • Moves to outside when flock is approached
  • A harsh, hoarse cry
  • Soft abdomen and wide pelvic bones in laying geese

Mark birds according to their sex using leg bands, web punching, or wing bands.