As anyone who maintains a small farm knows, you cannot always keep animals just because they are cute. They need to serve some practical function as well. What can a flock of geese do for you?
The guardian goose.
There is a blog post or a YouTube video floating around out there somewhere that suggests keeping a single goose with your chicken flock to protect them from predators. I have never personally encountered the original source of this information, but I have read enough blogs and such to have encountered the reference repeatedly. A lot of our customers also come out to our place looking for a 'guardian goose' for their flock. They tell me that they read that they could raise a single gosling with their chickens and it will bond with the chickens and fight to defend them as part of its own flock.
I really hate to burst bubbles here, but it simply is not true. I will give the benefit of the doubt and say that individual animals have their quirks - and it is possible that someone somewhere ended up with a goose that seemed to do exactly what they are advertising. However, such a goose is an exception and, if he does indeed exist out there, he is in imminent danger.
In our experience, a single goose will not actually bond with chickens (or guineas or turkeys and so on) no matter how young the goose is when you bring him home. It is within the realm of possibility, though I am purely speculating here, that if a gosling were actually hatched by a chicken he would imprint on the chicken and, therefore, appear to have bonded with the other chickens. However, imprinting happens a lot earlier than a couple days later when you bring a gosling home from someone else's farm. Bonding is something else entirely. A goose bond is very strong and it is not handed out all willy-nilly to any other creature just because it happens to have wings. A goose will bond with another goose if another goose is available, but a lonely gander's second choice is... you. (Because if that gosling had been incubated and hatched by humans, chances are high that he imprinted on a human.) Sure, you may be able to isolate a goose to the point of him following your chickens around in desperation for company, but he is not going to stick his neck out (pun intended) to defend those chickens. Any such behavior is self-defense and nothing more.
And this is where the real problem comes in: A single goose cannot defend itself against a determined predator. A flock of geese work together to defend their territory - circling, honking, hissing, and snapping like a multi-headed monster. To the unwary predator, that is exactly what the flock is. It is no longer a scattering of meal-sized birds, but a single, immense, obnoxious, and potentially painful creature that is just not worth the trouble for a snack. If you are following me here, you can clearly see how one goose and a flock of chickens cannot produce the same effect.
The guardian flock.
None of this is to say that I advocate keeping a flock of geese simply to defend your flock against predators either. A cunning predator will work until a single goose is separated from the rest of the flock -- and at that point it is over for the unlucky candidate. Unfortunately, once one of your local predators figures out this trick it will return day after day (or night after night) until your flock is gone. They are not predator proof.
However, a healthy flock of geese will work out well with the rest of your predator-proofing measures as an early warning system. You (and the rest of your animals and probably your neighbors) cannot ignore the sound of agitated geese. Stealth attacks become more rare. As an extra bonus, geese seem more aware of aerial predators than any other animals we keep. When the flock is grazing or resting, there are always at least two sentinels who remain on the lookout and are most often seen watching the sky. Given enough time, your other birds can learn what the goose alarm honk for "HAWK" means and will run for cover.
Having gotten one of the major myths out of the way, I wanted to talk about something practical that geese will do for your farm, guaranteed. And I really like this because it appeals to my lazy side: Geese are lawnmowers.
Goose lawn maintenance.
We keep a flock of geese because they are beautiful. They are fun to watch. They are highly intelligent. Their eggs are huge, nutritious, and tasty. They are our remote doorbell and air-raid siren. Lawn-mowing is a side-benefit. But it's a good one.
I have often heard it said that goats are great lawnmowers. Whoever started that rumor apparently did not own goats. It is true that they will eat grass when they're hungry enough and absolutely nothing else is available - but goats are browsers and not grazers. They prefer tall grass - probably much taller than you would like your lawn to be... And, given the choice, they will eat your shrubs and trees to the ground long before they return to start eating that grass. Basically, goats are great bush-hogs. Lawnmowers? Not so much.
By contrast, grasses make up the primary diet of a goose. Unlike chickens they are strict vegetarians. (Again, sorry YouTube, but they will not keep your property free of ticks or eat snakes.) Also unlike chickens, they have decent night-vision and remain active throughout the dark hours - continuing to silently graze while the world sleeps.
When their protein requirements are high they show a preference for broad-leaf plants and weeds. Chickweed and dandelion are a favorite among young geese or the adults in springtime after a long winter. There are a few weeds that they will not eat and those preferences become rather obvious after the flock has done a full sweep of your lawn.
With the weeds all but completely gone, they move around constantly keeping the grass trimmed short and neat.
Not only does this mean that we no longer have to mow our nearly two acre plot of Bermuda grass, but we also purchase very little supplemental feed for our flock.
Some maintenance tips.
It would be wrong for me to end this without at least mentioning the disadvantage of using a free-ranging goose flock for lawn maintenance: Goose poo. High-nitrogen goose poo in large concentrations will quickly kill your grass... Which I suppose is one way to keep your lawn trimmed, but it probably is not what you are going for. Therefore, it is necessary to first be sure that you have enough room for the number of geese you will be grazing. Alternatively, you can set up a system of rotation so that grazed areas can rest. In some favorite areas, particularly near water sources, it may be necessary to break up matted grass with an iron rake and dilute any manure with ample fresh water from time to time. Scooped manure can be added to your compost pile (or new straw bale garden!) to get it cooking quickly.
WARNING: If you decide that you would like to have some geese do your yard maintenance for you it is very important that you do not ever use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides on your grass.
Ready to get started?
If you are in the NE Oklahoma area and are interested in finding out more or would like to start your own flock of geese, contact us.
Posted by Anita
Goose guardian. Hates mowing the lawn.