Weeder Geese

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Sat, Jan 3, 2015 - 12:12pm

Weeder geese and insect-eating ducks, hard at work

Here's a thought: instead of, or on top of chickens, have you considered raising geese? Not just for the meat--they make a great alternative to guard dogs, too (those things are nasty and intimidating to strangers!) And they like to eat grasses and sedges*. They are not fond of broad-leafed plants. While fertilizing a field, and not compacting the soil, they can reach weeds that humans have trouble getting to.

Weeder geese have been used for years to control unwanted vegetation in commercial crops, waterways and lawns. They have been most extensively utilized in Asia, but have also been used in the U.S. on crops such as cotton, berries, potatoes, mint, coffee and nut and fruit orchards. Geese have strong food preferences with grasses being at the top of the list and most broad-leafed plants being disliked or unpalatable. This is why geese can successfully weed certain crops with particular weed problems - "Using Weeder Geese." Metzer Farms

FAO says:

Geese are effective weeders because they like grasses but do not like many broadleaf plants. At least in modern times, the use of geese as weeders began in the United States in the 1950s when geese were used to weed cotton fields. Since then geese have been used to weed a wide range of crops including asparagus, potatoes, fruit shrubs, nursery stock, tobacco, nut trees, grapes, fruit trees, beets, sugar beets, beans, hops, various ornamental flowers, onions and strawberries. In addition, geese can provide a second source of income in plantations by making use of the forage that grows under the principal plantation crop. . .

The management of geese as weeders is simple because young growing geese are used. Generally, any reluctance by geese to eat the weeds is an avoidable problem. First, farmers should not provide palatable or lush grass to young geese before putting them in a weeding programme otherwise the birds will reject the low quality weeds. Also, geese kept for weeding are normally kept on a programme of restricted feed with any grain being given in the evening. The level of feed restriction will depend on the amount of forage material available in the area to be weeded. Birds must, however, be watched because very hungry geese will eat whatever is available and, under extreme conditions, they could damage the crop they are supposed to weed. Some crops, like beets, are more susceptible to such damage than others, for example, trees. As with any extensive management system, shade and water must be provided. The geese can be kept within the area to be weeded either through direct supervision or by enclosing the area with a relatively low (70-90 cm) traditional fence or an electric fence.

Enthusiasm for weeder geese declined during the 70s when people switched to  herbicides. Today, organic farmers and permaculturists are using geese for weeding and they are a meat crop. Goose droppings provide nitrogen-rich fertilizer. They are a bit loud for urban gardens, but great in rural areas a possibly acceptable in suburban gardens.

Just don't let them get too hungry or they will eat EVERYTIHING in your garden. Weeder geese tale careful management.  I wish there were a book on the topic,; the closest I can find is a PDF of info at this address,

http://www.rngr.net/publications/proceedings/1982/PDF.2003-11-18.5313

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Companion to the weeder geese, ducks also provide fertilizer, eat insects, provide eggs and meat, and are gentle to plants. More on them in the next article.

*sedges are some of the most pernicious weeds out there. As the poem goes, “Sedges have edges; rushes are round; grasses are hollow right up from the ground”. An easy way to identify a sedge is the it has a triangular stalk.
 

1 Comment

Tall's picture
Tall
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 18 2010
Posts: 564
Thanks for this Wendy

I keep being tempted to use birds in the garden: geese, ducks, chickens and Guinea hens. I have heard wonderful things about each in their turn, but when I dig deeper, I always learn that crop damage is a major issue for each.

I have a mixed planting of annual and perennial vegetables, fruit bearing shrubs and trees. I have not found a bird that will enhance my ability to grow food without competing with me for it.

Does anyone have any first hand experience to share that will renew my interest in worker birds?

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