Everything You Need to Know About Weeding Geese

Posted by Daphne Cybele
farmer leading flock of weeder geese
Image by Jill Laurie Goodman 

A flock of weeding geese might sound like something out of a fairy tale, but it's a fact that geese keep weeds at bay. Are they right for your garden or farm?

Weeding geese (or weeder geese, as they are often called) are effective in gardens and on farms with some oversight and good management.

Weeds. Can't live with them, and can't seem to live without them...!

We have hoes, cultivators, herbicides and weed spray, mulch and black plastic to keep weeds from growing and the garden under control. One more tool in the gardener or farmer arsenal is a small flock of weeder geese.

Why Get Weeding Geese?

  • With weeding geese, farmers and gardeners can use fewer herbicides. Using fewer herbicides may save money and time.
  • Geese can weed in the rain, and can weed all day (do you have time to weed all day?).
  • Geese have a lighter footprint than humans or equipment and heavy machinery. This means less compaction on soil structure, and the ability to work on wet soils where humans or machinery should not work on when wet.
  • Weeder geese can clean ditches and other hard-to-access areas that are awkward for equipment.
  • Weeding geese fertilize the soil with their droppings as they work.
  • Best of all: geese lay awesome eggs.
  • Finally, geese are good at letting you know someone has arrived on your property.
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    weeder geese
    Image by Ozzy Delany on Flickr

    Weeder Geese Back in the Day

    Humans have been raising geese for thousands of years, since Egyptian and Roman times.

    "Archaeological excavations in ancient Egypt have proved that goose husbandry was common as early as the third millennium BC. Romans dedicated geese to Juno, their highest goddess, and authors such as Plinius and Horace described goose husbandry techniques and delicious goose recipes," writes Susann Hugo of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    Nowadays, flocks of weeder geese are more commonly used in central Europe and Asia for weed control.  Once common in the United States, use of weeding geese in this country peaked in the 1950s and started to disappear in the seventies when herbicides became more widely available than ever before.

    weeding geese and weeder geese
    Image via Library of Congress

    The Cotton Patch Goose was a friendly goose that Tom Walker remembered from his childhood in Arkansas during the Great Depression.

    "They were brought over by the English in the 1600s. This was the bird of early America. People picked the feathers and down off live geese to make pillows, mattresses and comforters. The geese required no special food other than grass and no shelter, and they suffered from no known poultry disease. They also provided eggs, meat and grease. This became the all-American bird," Tom told the Delta Farm Press.

    Mr. Walker's Cotton Patch goose was common in the cotton fields of his childhood, but they were hard to find when he sought them out as an adult. As a result, he began a breeding program to bring them back.

    The Cotton Patch Goose breeding program is still ongoing, and Mr. Walker has since passed on the responsibility of his breeding program to Flip Flop Ranch. The Cotton Patch breed is now listed as critical by The Livestock Conservancy.

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    What Kind of Goose is a Weeding Goose?

    Good weeding geese breeds: the Cotton Patch Geese, the Shetland Geese, white Chinese geese, the African geese, the toulouse, and the Embden breeds.

    If you are interested in heritage geese The Livestock Conservancy has a Breed Comparison Chart with several weeding geese.

    goose with blue eye
    Image by Chris McInnis

    Managing Weeding Geese

    Weeding geese require hands-on management to keep them from eating your strawberries, tomatoes, and crop plants. If you were to just leave them in a small garden, you'd likely return to find mayhem and almost everything eaten.

    Geese need to be fenced out of crops they might find tasty.  This means weeding geese are not quite the fairy tale you may imagine.

    The secret to weeding with geese is that they prefer grass and new weed growth and they tend to avoid broadleaf weeds and plants. Young goslings learn to eat certain weeds. Without training, geese may avoid certain weeds you wish they would eat (so you will still need a hoe).

    Geese love love love grass, so they will eat new growth that looks similar like young corn, and they will also eat lettuce and mature veggies and fruits. Some gardeners fence in their raised beds and let weeder geese weed between the beds.

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    Weeder geese are effective in large areas such as orchards, in a cotton field, in strawberry fields (until the berries ripen and then they need to be removed to another field), in potato plots, among sunflowers, in vineyards, in sugar beet plantings, in hops, with many ornamental flowers, and in more mature cornfields.

    They also are excellent in nursery stock and nursery plantings and post-harvest fields to cut down on weeds and sprouts for the next planting or next season.

    weeder geese
    Image by Jill Laurie Goodman

    How to Have a Successful Flock of Weeder Geese

  • Keep geese moving throughout a field by moving their water buckets.
  • Fencing is a requirement. Moveable temporary fencing is useful to fence geese in or out of a crop. An electric fence may not be effective with the downy insulation of geese.
  • Weeder geese need a source of shade to keep cool (with all that down, they need some shade).
  • Water is essential for weeder geese - provide multiple sources of fresh water daily.
  • Always keep an eye on your weeds and your geese. The right number of geese per acre may vary depending on the number of weeds available, and always supplement feed when needed. If there are not enough weeds, or weeds of the right nutrient balance, they can starve or attack valuable crops in search of something to eat.
  • Farmers consider younger geese to be better weeders. At the end of the season, farmers sell older weeder geese for the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table.

    flock of weeding geese
    Image by Jill Laurie Goodman
  • In conclusion, you don't need hours of weeding time spent bent over with an aching back or squatting to weed, no, all you need are... a flock of weeding geese!

    Would you use weeding geese, or have you seen them in action? Let us know in the comments below!

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Everything You Need to Know About Weeding Geese