In an effort to farm with fewer herbicides (or simply to save a little time and trouble in the garden) some homesteaders have grown interested in weeder geese. After all, who wouldn’t like the idea of having an animal do the weeding?
Before we go into the pros and cons of this option, a brief explanation is in order. A weeder goose can be any breed of goose that is kept to eat weeds. However, Chinese geese are preferred because they have a special talent for the job.
So are weeder geese right for you? Let’s find out.
- No need for herbicides. Weeder geese can fit neatly into an organic farm or market garden.
- Reduced weeding time. A well-trained goose can take over a good part of your weeding work for you, leaving you free to put your time where it’s needed most. This can be a real boon in wet weather.
- Reduced soil compaction. A flock of geese is much easier on the soil than the big back wheels of a tractor. If the soil in your field tends to be clayey, this may be something to consider.
- Natural fertilizer. The geese will add organic nitrogen to the soil while they work.
- New eating/marketing opportunities. Don’t want to overwinter your geese? Bring back the old-fashioned custom of the Christmas goose dinner. The feathers can be useful in quilts, too. And how about goose eggs for breakfast?
- Need for careful training. A young gosling’s diet will determine his taste preferences as he grows up. If he’s spoiled on purchased feed or particularly lush grass while young, he’ll probably avoid the nastier weeds as an adult.
- Ineffectiveness on broadleaved weeds. Geese mostly like grass. If your nemesis weed is a little more leafy, you may need to look for another solution.
- Noise. If you live in a more populated area (or if you just don’t want to be startled awake on moonlit nights) geese may not be a good choice for you.
- Garden mayhem. Weeder geese were historically used to weed large fields and orchards. A small garden with a wide variety of plants in close proximity looks like a weed buffet to a goose. Add ripe produce to the mix and the result is a disaster.
- Fencing difficulties. You may not always need fencing for geese, but there may be cases where you will need to consider it. For instance, if predators are a serious problem in your area, fencing is a must. Also, if your property is small and the geese tend to wander off or congregate around your house, you’ll need fencing to keep them in their proper place. This adds to the expense of the project and, if you plan to use a rotational grazing system, will increase the time involved.
- Need for careful monitoring. Not all weeds are created equal. Just because the field is full of weeds, you can’t necessarily assume that the geese will be well fed. When provided with only low-nutrient weeds, they will begin to eat the crop or, worse yet, starve to death.
Weeder geese are typically recommended for use in fields, not small gardens. This helps keep them from being tempted to sample the produce, while taking full advantage of their strengths.
However, weeder geese are animals, not machines. They must receive adequate nutrition and protection from predators. There are a number of ways to meet both objectives, however. You could turn them loose in the field during the day, then bring them home at night for safety and for a light dinner. You could implement a rotational grazing system with portable electric netting. But in any case, weeder geese have the same basic needs as all livestock.
If you are prepared to address these issues, however, you may find that geese are just the herbicide you are looking for.