Geese for Sustainable Weed Control

The US National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) explains how to use geese as a sustainable weed control method in an asparagus field and generally.
calendar icon 8 July 2014
clock icon 5 minute read

First, you should positively identify what type of weed species you have in your asparagus patch, as this will affect the effectiveness of weeder geese compared with other methods of weed control. Weeder geese will keep down most species of grasses; however, they will avoid weeds like Curly Dock and goldenrod. If you have quackgrass (a perennial weed), the pruning action by the weeder geese will make it worse. This is because weeder geese graze on the grass tops and leave the root systems relatively untouched. Eating the plant tops encourages root growth in perennial weeds and makes them more difficult to get rid of, and those weed roots will then compete with your asparagus crowns and roots.

(Image: Shutterstock)

If you have quackgrass, the best way to get rid of it is to hand-weed it. Weeder geese seek out young tender grasses/weed seedlings rather than large, established plants. This is also something to consider before buying geese, as they will not be effective in managing large, established weeds in your area. You want them to attack the new, young, succulent weed growth as soon as possible.

Another option to help address weeds in your asparagus field is to do a salt burn on them. This is an ancient weed-control strategy that is still in use today. Many people shy away from it because salt can easily burn many types of plants; however, asparagus is very salt-tolerant. ATTRA suggests mixing two pounds of table salt in one gallon of warm water and sprinkling it on the weeds. The best time to do this is either before the asparagus sprouts emerge or after you have harvested the asparagus and the ferns are left to grow through the summer months. Although asparagus is a salt-tolerant perennial, it is not recommended to apply the salt water to new growth, as you might burn the tender young shoots as they emerge.

In regards to containment and fencing, weeder geese require a fairly management-intensive grazing set-up to be most effective in weeding. If you turn them out on a large area for an extended period of time, they will likely trample small asparagus shoots as they emerge with their big feet and begin to feed on non-weeds (your crops), which is not desirable. That being said, weeder geese do best when allowed to graze in a small, managed area enclosed with temporary fencing. This prevents them from wandering off in search of better, tastier young shoots. It is also highly recommended that you closely watch them to make sure they are not eating your crops.

The stocking rate will vary depending on availability of food. For example, a dozen geese in a few hundred square foot grazing area for a short period of time – say several hours – should be sufficient.

In regards to feeding and nutrition, ideally you want to feed a ration of about 20 per cent grain and 80 per cent from grass/grazing. If you feed your geese too much grain, they will not be motivated to forage and eat the weeds. Additionally, weeder geese are most active foragers before breeding season (spring) and after their young are out of the nest. During breeding season, they will sit tight on their nest most of the time and eat very little while incubating.

Ideally, you want to get your weeder geese as young goslings direct from a hatchery. This will allow you to 'imprint' them, which will be helpful in keeping them easy to handle and move, as well as from wandering off. Domestic geese are poor flyers, unlike their wild migratory cousins, and while they way get a few feet off the ground, it is very unlikely they will far enough to fly away. They may see wild geese flying over and get excited and flap their wings, but you don’t have to worry about them taking off to join them.

Imprinting should begin as soon as you receive your goslings. This is accomplished by being the only person they see for about their first week of life. This includes you being the only person who feeds and waters them. Keeping young goslings in a brooder will help you accomplish this, which will happen in about five to seven days. After that, they will see you as their mom and stay pretty close.

July 2014

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