Are you trying to figure out how to harness the power of geese for weed management? In this article, you’ll learn tips, tricks, and best practices to help you use geese to control weeds on your property!
Effective weed management with geese
It’s spring… Trees are blossoming, perennials are awakening, and weeds are rearing their leaves. Most organic weed-control methods require a bit of devotion to keep weeds from taking over your garden or small farm.
However, there is another eco-friendly weed management solution, albeit a bit unconventional and potentially a bit loud and messy: geese. After all, geese are natural-born foragers with an insatiable appetite for grass and other green things.
These large birds, mostly known for their love of eating grass, can also be trained to become weeder geese, thus becoming sustainable and efficient tools for weed control. In this article, I’ll detail the various aspects of using geese for weed management, including:
- their effectiveness,
- how to train them,
- preferred weeds, and
- tips to maximize their weeding potential.
Are geese good for weed control?
Yes, in my experience and the experience of many other geese owners, geese are indeed highly effective for weed control. In fact, reducing mowing and weeding obligations were the primary reasons I decided to get geese back in 2018 for our High Desert Colorado heirloom apple orchard. Today, our family can’t imagine having the property we have without geese here to help out.
Our geese’s voracious appetite for grass and weeds, coupled with their ability to target specific plants, makes them excellent weed management helpers. Geese are adapted to graze on vegetation, so they provide a sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternative to chemical herbicides or labor-intensive manual weeding.
Many people today don’t realize that geese have a long history of use as weed control on farms, including in the United States. For instance, if you live in the Southeast US, you might want to read more about the ‘Cotton Patch‘ goose breed that was adapted to the hot, humid climate and used to control weeds on farms throughout the region. They were also used for fertilizer (poop), food (eggs, meat, and fat), and feathers. Modern chemical herbicides have rendered the breed critically endangered, so hopefully more small conservation-minded farms in the region can help boost their population numbers.
Why do geese eat grass?
Grass constitutes a significant portion of a goose’s diet in the wild. Their digestive systems are adapted to process fibrous vegetation like grass. The amino acids present in green, growing things are the primary source of protein for geese.
Geese are primarily vegetarians and do not need to consume animal proteins. However, I do have a few geese who won’t say no to the occasional mealworm or a cracked-open egg.
While geese consume grass for its nutritional content, the act of grazing also serves as a natural way to maintain their oral/bill health. (Like ducks and many other waterfowl, geese don’t have teeth, they have lamellae.) Their dietary preference for plants makes geese well-suited for weed control, as they will consume grass and various types of unwanted vegetation as well.
What are “weeder geese”?
“Weeder geese” are domestic geese that have been trained to assist in weed management. These geese are typically employed in farm fields, vineyards, orchards, or gardens to graze and control unwanted vegetation.
By guiding weeder geese to targeted areas, farmers and gardeners can utilize their natural grazing instincts to selectively remove weeds while minimizing damage to desired crops or plants. Weeder geese reduce the reliance on conventional herbicides and manual labor, offering a sustainable and cost-effective weed management solution.
Can you train weeder geese?
Yes, geese can be trained to become effective weeder geese. Training involves familiarizing them with specific areas or crops to focus their grazing efforts.
Start them young; there is no minimum age for introducing geese to weeds and grass. From the age of two days, when goslings typically start to develop an appetite, their parents will immediately begin showing them how to forage.
As I’ll detail below, introducing the weeds you want them to target will help goslings develop a taste for specific plant varieties.
For adult geese, training is possible but requires consistency and repetition. You can use electric poultry fencing to confine geese to desired grazing areas, and provide them with treats during their confinement. Over time, geese learn to associate areas with rewards and will eventually concentrate their grazing activities in those locations.
For example, our geese prefer to graze around our apple trees because they often find yummy apple treats. While they wait for an apple to fall, they happily munch the weeds and grass around the trees.
Our geese also like to break into our yard because they know they might snag some lettuce ends, strawberry tops, or excess plums. While they wait for an appearance of a human bearing offerings, they amuse themselves by nibbling weeds.
What weeds will geese eat? What weeds do geese like?
Geese have a broad appetite for various types of weeds and excel at removing weeds in open spaces. They eagerly consume grasses, broadleaf weeds, and some invasive species. Common weeds such as dandelions, chickweed, clover, and crabgrass are among their preferred choices. You may also introduce young Bermuda grass, puncture vine, and horsetail.
Introduce these plants early to help goslings develop a taste. All of our geese happily devour dandelion flowers, bindweed, curly dock, lambs quarters, and crabgrass. (Related: I should also note that many “weeds” also make great food for humans, as detailed in 16 common edible weeds growing in your yard.)
When are geese NOT good for weed control?
This is really more of a timing question… While geese serve as effective weed control, they will also eat your lettuce and tomatoes. Therefore, using geese to weed your garden once your plants are producing will be counterproductive.
In vineyards worldwide, geese are often used in weeding efforts, but the key is to let them into the vineyards before fruit develops on the vines. Yes, geese think grapes are very delicious. (Check out Di Flippio wines in Italy or the Cono Sur vineyard in South America).
Geese are less effective in dense vegetation or areas with tall and woody weeds, instead preferring tender shoots or delicate seedheads.
What weeds do geese NOT eat?
Although geese have a diverse palate, there are some weeds they will avoid. These include toxic plants such as ragwort, buttercup, and hemlock. They will also avoid mature foxtail grasses: good news because the spiny tips on this invasive grass can cause internal damage to animals if ingested.
While geese will instinctively avoid consuming plants that are harmful to them, it’s important to be observant and remove toxic plants from areas where geese graze to ensure their safety and wellbeing. When in doubt, a good plant ID app and Google is your friend.
What are the best goose breeds for weeding?
All goose breeds have an aptitude for grazing, and any goose breed will be equally good at being a weeder goose. The Chinese breed is a popular choice, as is it lighter weight and less likely to cause trampling damage.
What do I use? On our orchard/small farm, we utilize Emden, American Buff, and Toulouse/Dewlap geese. All have excellent foraging skills. Ultimately, the best weeders will develop from being introduced to targeted plant species early on.
Will geese eat your garden plants and vegetables?
Let me make this crystal clear: yes, geese will absolutely eat your garden veggies. So use caution when integrating them into gardens.
Geese love tender shoots, and this includes garden plants and vegetables. They also enjoy ripe tomatoes and strawberries and will help themselves unapologetically. You will need to have physical barriers, such as fences or netting, to protect your crops. However, geese can be used to weed areas adjacent to the garden, which can serve as a natural weed buffer.
6 tips to help your geese excel at weed control:
Below are six tips you can use to help optimize your geese’s weed control potential:
1. Train geese early.
Begin establishing grazing habits when they are goslings. Goslings are more receptive to trying new things and will develop a taste for foods they are introduced to when young.
2. Provide the right amount of supplemental feed.
Offer a balanced diet of commercial waterfowl feed or supplemental grains to ensure your geese receive adequate nutrition, especially during seasons when plants are dormant.
However, for optimal weed and grass control, do not feed them too much during the growing season. We significantly cut back on supplemental feed in late April to encourage our geese to go after new plant growth. Geese prefer tender shoots over mature grasses (with the exception of seed heads in the late summer), so don’t be afraid to let them forage as much as possible early in the growing season.
3. Rotate grazing areas.
Admittedly, we are too lazy to do this on our property, but regularly rotating the geese to different sections of your field, orchard, or vineyard, will concentrate efforts and maximize weed control. One downside to this is that geese like to roam and are easily bored, so having them in a more confined space might not work if your geese are accustomed to the full range of the property (as ours are).
4. Manage density.
Avoid overcrowding geese and try to keep geese with their mates and/or friends. All geese have other geese they tend to stick around, and when you separate them they will go to heroics to reunite — including flying over fencing.
Our geese typically don’t fly unless there’s a strong headwind or they’re separated from other flock members. Too many geese in one area will lead to fighting or picking on other geese, so be sensitive to their wellbeing.
5. Monitor for toxic plants.
Get to know the plants on your property. Periodically inspect grazing areas and remove any toxic plants that may pose a risk to your geese.
6. Maintain water sources.
Ensure geese have access to clean water for drinking and bathing, since it’s essential for their health.
Harnessing the weed-eating abilities of geese presents a sustainable and efficient solution for weed control. Bonus: they are fun to watch and are excellent natural fertilizers, too!
By introducing targeted plants to your goslings, not providing too much supplemental feed during the growing season, and integrating them into specific environments, geese can become valuable allies in managing weeds on your property.
If you’re ready to raise some geese, you can significantly reduce reliance on herbicides and minimize your manual labor. So embrace some feathered permaculture pets, and enjoy a more harmonious coexistence between nature and agriculture!
Other helpful goose articles that will have you honking:
- 7 reasons why you shouldn’t get geese
- Male or female geese – which should you get?
- What to feed geese: all your questions answered
- Adult geese vs goslings: which should you get?
- How to hatch goose eggs
- How to poach goose and duck eggs to perfection
- Top 10 reasons to raise geese
- How to introduce new geese to your flock