If you've never hatched goose eggs before, don't let yourself be dissuaded from trying, by the popular advice that "goose eggs are super hard to hatch".
While goose eggs to require a bit more finesse than hatching chicken eggs, it's really very easy to get an excellent hatch, even on your first try. By carefully following some easy, proven guidance, you can be on your way to healthy, cuddly goslings, that you hatched yourself. There's nothing more rewarding than that!
How long does it take to hatch goose eggs?
In general, the incubation period for goose eggs is 29-31 days.
There can definitely be some variability to this. Even within a single breed, conditions can have a dramatic effect on the length of incubation. In his excellent guide, The Book of Geese, Dave Holderread notes that Pilgrim geese, when allowed to set on their own eggs, normally hatch their brood in 28-29 days. However, Pilgrim eggs have been known to take as long as 33 days, to hatch in an incubator.
What is a good hatch rate for goose eggs?
In general, anything more than 60% of all eggs set is considered a decent hatch rate for goose eggs. 80% or higher is a good hatch rate for eggs that are definitely fertile.
That big gap in percentages is an indicator of one of the greatest variables when hatching goose eggs--fertility. On average, lightweight geese have higher fertility rates than the heavy breeds.
While your breed does play a factor, there are things you can do to help keep your geese's fertility rates as high as possible:
- Make sure your geese are receiving at LEAST 12-13 hours of light per day. If you're aiming to hatch especially early in the season, this may mean offering supplemental light in their coop.
- Feed an excellent, high-quality diet
- Provide enough water for them to swim. Swimming stimulates breeding activity for waterfowl, and making sure they have enough water to really splash around in, makes a difference.
Gathering Goose Eggs for Hatching
Gather goose eggs frequently, if you're wanting to hatch them in an incubator. Some geese lay reliably at the same time of day, while others can be less predictable. While you're collecting eggs for hatching, it's worth checking their nesting area every few hours if possible.
Should you watch goose eggs for hatching?
Few aspects of artificial incubation invite more disagreement than the question of whether or not to wash eggs. Best hatch rates will generally be had with CLEAN, unwashed eggs. Because of this, it's worth taking extra measures to ensure your geese always have clean, abundant nesting materials.
However, even with your best efforts, sometimes eggs from the nest aren't clean. In this case, it's best to wash the dirty eggs under a steady stream of water that's at least 10 degrees warmer than the egg. You don't want to submerse the egg in dirty wash water, or use water that's colder than the egg, as this makes it more likely for bacteria to be pulled in through the porous shell.
While you'll see many photos on social media of absolutely filthy waterfowl eggs being set to hatch (for some folks this actually seems to be a source of pride!), this has been proven again and again to offer inferior results. There's a much higher rate of bacterial contamination within the incubators set with dirty eggs, and higher rates of exploding eggs, sick or weak goslings, or goslings with infected navels. It's just not worth jumping on this popular social media trend, no matter how "back to nature" it seems.
Storing goose eggs for hatching
Store your hatching eggs for as few days as possible, but while you do, be sure to keep them in a cool, humid location. If you have a basement, that's almost always the perfect place. Aim for a temperature of 50-65 degrees.
Should you turn goose eggs during storage?
Statistically, if you're storing your goose eggs for less than seven days (ideally, that's a good goal), it really doesn't have much impact on hatch rates, whether goose eggs are turned during storage or not. However, if you think you might need to store them longer than this, do try to turn them at least daily, if not more. Turning during storage does make a difference, for eggs that have to wait more than 7 days before beginning incubation.
Choosing an Incubator
There are SO many tabletop incubators available now, it really can be hard to choose! Over the years, I've had the chance to trial many, many different brands and types of small home incubators, and I definitely have a few recommendations.
Still Air vs. Circulated Air
Still air incubators (those without a fan inside, for circulating the heat), as a rule are cheaper to buy than circulated air incubators. However, it's much easier to get a good hatch rate with a circulated air incubator. If you're considering a still air incubator because you can't afford a good circulated air one, I'd suggests looking at used incubators. I would HANDS-DOWN recommend a used incubator with a built-in fan, over any incubator that doesn't have one.
Digital vs. Manual heat
You'll see that there are two different styles of thermostat available these days, for tabletop incubators. One is digital...you press buttons, the target temperature appears on a digital display, and you're all set. The other type is manual. These usually involve a "wafer thermostat", or something similar, where you control the temperature by turning a knob or screw, to fine-tune the temperature.
What I personally prefer about the manual style is that they not only have tended (in my personal experience) to be more accurate and dependable, but they're much easier to repair yourself, than a digital incubator. My old workhouse Hovabator has hatched hundreds and hundreds of chicks, poults, ducklings, and goslings over the last ten years. In that time, the old wafer-style thermostat has failed on me twice.
For the cost of a $17 wafer thermostat and a few minutes of repair work, I've had that Hovabator back in working order, almost without missing a beat. You just can't do that with a digital incubator. (At least I can't!)
My advice with incubators is to get the best you can afford, and to choose used over new if that means a higher quality incubator. ANY incubator by Hovabator, like the Genesis or 1602n is going to be a workhorse for you. Brinsea is expensive, but most of their incubators are really excellent, and are especially user-friendly. Anything by R-Com is also expensive, but guaranteed to be high quality and dependable.
Temperature for hatching goose eggs in an incubator
Before you set your goose eggs, make sure you have an accurate, dependable thermometer and hygrometer. You can pick one of these up at almost any farm store. Make absolutely sure the thermometer gives you good detail through the 85-110F degree range. Some thermometers displayed as "incubator thermometers" are really not designed for this, and don't have the level of detail necessary if that temperature is at the bottom of their range. I've seen cooking thermometers displayed as "incubation supplies" and this is not what you want.
Maintaining a consistent, ideal temperature is the #1 thing you can do, to assure a successful gosling hatch, when using an incubator.
The ideal temperature for hatching goose eggs is as close to 99.25 as you can get it--just a tad lower than for chicken eggs. If you must choose, with goose eggs it's better to be slightly cooler than idea, than too warm. Goose eggs seem much more impacted by swings in temperature than other species, especially swings into warmer-than-idea temperatures.
During the last week of incubation, watch that thermometer very closely. The goslings are starting to generate their own warmth, and in small incubators, that can affect the temperature of the incubator. Check your temps multiple times per day, and adjust as necessary, to keep the temperature stable.
Humidity for hatching goose eggs
The general recommendation for hatching goose eggs, is a humidity range of 55-62%. Here in Maine, with Emden eggs, I've had good results with a target humidity of 56%. If you've had to wash your eggs, removing the protective coating in the process, you'll want to bump that up a tad. 60-63% would be a good target. This is because washing and removing that coating renders the eggs more permeable, facilitating a faster loss of internal humidity. To counter that, the higher incubator humidity becomes necessary. (It's still worth it to wash eggs if they're filthy, and make this small adjustment.)
Turning the eggs
Goose eggs need to be turned regularly while incubating. If you're lucky enough to have an auto-turner with a tray that's big enough to safely handle goose eggs, it's ok to plug this in and let it start turning the eggs as soon as you set them.
If you're going to be turning the eggs by hand, start by putting a mark on one side of each egg. This will let you keep track as you turn the eggs.
With manual turning, it works best to leave the eggs undisturbed for the first two days. Then start turning the eggs at least 3-5 times each day. Turning less frequently does result in lower hatch rates, and less robust goslings.
When you turn the eggs, turn them a full 180 degrees. As the eggs are laying on their side, this means if your mark was on top of the egg previously, it's now on the bottom, the part of the egg that's resting on the floor of the incubator.
Continue this turning until day 25, when you set the eggs on lockdown.
Cooling and misting the eggs
Much like with duck eggs, cooling and misting the eggs daily can help increase hatch rates. In my experience, this is true, even if you have a circulated air incubator. Here's how to do this:
Week one of incubation: Don't cool or mist.
Week 2: Remove the incubator cover and cool for 5 minutes daily. Use a clean plant mister to mist the eggs with warm water, before replacing the incubator lid and bringing back to stable incubation temperature.
Week 3: Cool for 10 minutes daily, and mist.
Week 4: Just for the first 3-4 days of this week, you'll cool for 15 minutes, and mist. After this, it's time for lockdown. If you see a pip on the last day or two that you were planning to cool and mist, skip that and go straight to lockdown.
Candling goose eggs
In this day of cell phones, candling eggs is so easy. That bight little built-in flashlight is so far superior to any expensive "egg candler" I've ever used. So chances are, you already have what you need for this.
Candling eggs is not just exciting, it's an important step in incubation since it gives you the opportunity to remove any eggs that weren't fertile in the first place, or that began to develop and for some reason have failed to continue. Infertile eggs or "quitters" are one of the best ways for bacteria to proliferate in the incubator, and anyone who's ever had an explode will never forget the smell.
Candle your eggs in a dark room, by picking up each egg and shining a light through the wide end. Practice with moving the angle of the egg on the light, and you'll soon get the hang of how to get the best view of what's going on inside.
I recommend candling goose eggs at least twice: on day 7, and again on day 25, before placing the incubator on lockdown.
Day 7: You should see a beautiful network of veins, radiating out from a tiny heart in the center. It's really amazing to see. If the egg is clear, it's safe to toss this one, that means it wasn't fertile to start with. If you see a dark ring, but no network of veins, that's an egg that started to develop, but stopped for some reason. That ring is called a blood ring, and those eggs should be tossed as well. If you have any doubt, it's ok to mark those questionable eggs, and check them again in two days. If they're still not looking like the others, they really should be tossed, so that you don't risk harboring bacteria that could affect the healthy eggs.
Day 25. The eggs should be quite solidly dark, with a much larger air sac than you saw, when candling at day 7. You might see movement, or you might not--it's crowded in that egg! What you don't want to see is a "sloshy" appearance, with the contents slogging back and forth looking loose and muddy in there. This is an egg that quit somewhere along the way, and should be removed before lockdown.
Putting the incubator on lockdown
"Lockdown" is simply adjusting the heat and humidity settings to where they should be during hatch, making sure ALL air vents are fully open, and being sure to leave the lid on the incubator, so that the humidity level stays steady. You'll discontinue cooling and misting the eggs, and will slowly fight off insanity as you sit on your hands, face glued to the incubator window, waiting for "your babies" to hatch. Yes, you probably have names picked out already. I get it.
THIS part right here, the waiting game at hatch time...THIS is without any question, the hardest part of hatching goose eggs. It gets easier each time. Or honestly I might be full of it. Waiting is hard.
Temperature during hatching
Much like with hatching duck eggs, goslings can benefit from a slightly lower temperature while they're actively hatching. Reducing the incubator temperature to 98.5F is something I've had best results with, helping to prevent overheating and fatigue as those waterfowl babies have a longer, more arduous hatching process than chicks and poults.
Humidity during hatch
Once you've reached day 25, or if you see that any of the eggs have pipped, you'll want to raise that humidity a bit. The most common advice is to aim for about 75% humidity during hatch. Personally, I've found that aiming for a base percentage of 72%, and knowing that this will jump up after each gosling hatches, before slowly lowering again, is what works well.
How long should it take a goose egg to hatch?
Much like with ducklings, it is not at all uncommon for a gosling to pip through the shell...and then sit there. For 24 hours. While we lose our minds. Please know that goslings take longer to hatch than chicken chicks, turkey poults, or quail chicks. Any experience you have hatching these other species will lead you to believe that this isn't going according to schedule.
It's very common for a goose egg to make very little progress after the first pip, for many hours...even a whole day. Once they start to "zip", and chip their way around the shell, things start to go faster. However, it can still easily take another 12 hours from when you see progress starting to be made.
Taking 36 hours to hatch isn't abnormal.
While this seems like a long time, and you may be temped to help, remind yourself that most goslings hatch successfully on their own (even if they pip on the small end), and that helping a gosling to hatch usually does more heart-breaking harm, than good.
How to know if a gosling really does help hatching
This topic really merits an entire post of its own. Because I've written extensively about this with ducklings, and because the same issues and things to watch for apply with goslings, please read through this article if you're starting to worry about your goslings, and think that perhaps you should assist. Maybe you should. This article should help as you make that decision.
What to do while your goslings are hatching
This really could be a humorous category...we could use an entire post of ways to distract ourselves while trying to patiently not stay glued to the incubator. Here are some practical, goose-related things you may want to do, if you haven't already:
- Set up the brooder
- Prepare a "maternity ward" if you're planning for a broody hen take over parenting duties
- Set up a backdrop/props for a newborn photo shoot
- Make sure you've got charged batteries and space on your camera's memory card
- Cancel your appointments for the next couple of days, because you'll be busy snuggling goose babies.
When to move goslings to the brooder
You can move goslings to the brooder as soon as they're dry and fluffed out. If you have a few eggs that haven't hatched, but several goslings are already hatched, fluffy, and trompling around the incubator...it's ok to quickly go ahead and get those lively babies out of the incubator and settled in their brooder. Opening the lid long enough to do this isn't going to hurt the remaining eggs. Do keep an eye on the humidity and make sure it comes back up where it's supposed to be, but don't feel like you need to leave goslings in there hours after they're ready to be moved, just to avoid opening the incubator for a moment.
I hope this has been helpful as you get ready to hatch your own adorable goslings! If you still have questions, please do feel very welcome to leave those in the comments. I'll be glad to help if I can!
Anna Chesley is a freelance writer living a homestead lifestyle, with a special love for family travel, old books, vintage skills, and seaside living. In addition to founding Salt In My Coffee, she runs the website, New England Family Life, as well as The 1800's Housewife, a website devoted to re-creating authentic 1800's recipes.