Geese have been raised in Europe for centuries and were brought to the “New World” by the European settlers. Geese can be raised for a number of different reasons, including to provide meat or down and feathers or to serve as weeders or guard animals. Geese are excellent foragers, and by the time they are five to six weeks old, they can get a lot of their diet from pasture. An acre of pasture will typically support 20 to 40 geese, depending on the size of the goose and the condition of the pasture.
Geese are effective weeders because they like grasses and stay away from broadleaf plants. Geese can remove grass and weeds that, because they are close to other plants, cannot be removed by hoeing. In addition to weeding traditional crops, geese can be used to clean up forage on dikes and ditches that are difficult to maintain with equipment. Geese work all day, removing grass and weeds as new growth appears. Geese will not damage the roots of crops. Geese will also graze whe the ground is too wet to hoe. Using geese as weeders also adds fertilizer and organic matter to the soil.
In the United States, geese were initially used to weed cotton plantations. Since then, geese have been used to weed a variety of crops, including asparagus, potatoes, fruit shrubs, nursery stock, tobacco, nut trees, grapes, fruit trees, beets, sugar beets, beans, hops, various oramental flowers (roses, iris, gladiolus, chrysanthemums, peonies, dahlias, and so on), onions, and strawberries. Geese kept for weeding are typically on restricted feeding, with any grain given in the evening. The level of feed restriction will depend on the amount of forage material available in the area to be weeded. If the restriction is too much, the geese may start eating the crop that is to be weeded. As with any range management system, weeder geese need to be provided with shelter and water.
Young growing geese are used in weeding programs. It is important not to give the goslings access to lush grass prior to using them in a weeding program, because they may reject the lower quality weeds. Day-old goslings are usually brooder for six to eight weeks before being placed permanently in a field without shelter. Younger birds can be used if shelter is available. It is not advisable to keep geese from one season to the next because older geese are less active in hot weather than young birds. It is also harder to keep them from crossing fences.
Chinese geese are typically the breed of choice as weeder geese. If a larger bird is desired, African geese can be used. These two breeds of geese are more active and energenic than Toulouse and Embden geese although these breeds are sometimes used.