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By David Walton

R.R. #1, Chatsworth N0H 1G0 (519) 794-3159

(Weed control is a problem that will never go away. Here's an approach that may have some merit in your operation - if you can control the control.)

About eight years ago I read an article in the New Farm magazine about using weeder geese in strawberries. Having just planted strawberries, I was quite interested. I got some goslings that year and raised them for weeding. I have been doing it ever since. Some years I get better results than others. Despite a few disadvantages, I think weeder geese are a valuable tool for an organic grower.

Although any breed of goose can be used, the white Chinese breed is the best weeder. Their main advantage is that they are smaller and therefore they trample fewer plants. Another advantage of the white Chinese is that they don't seem to bother flying out of their enclosure if they have enough to eat. Other breeds will need to have their wings clipped. However, the white Chinese are harder to find.

The favourite food of geese is grass, but they will also eat broadleafed plants if these are young and tender. Some grain will be required to supplement their diet of greens. Be careful though not to feed them too well, or they won't eat the weeds! Although they eat grass down very well, if you have a bad grass problem it will come back the following year.

We use the weeder geese only during the establishment year. We are concerned that when the plants are bearing in the subsequent years, the geese might decide that the berries taste good. So, even though they won't eat the strawberry plants, I don't want to give them a chance at the fruit.

The geese must be fenced in, or they will wander wherever they want. I fence them in with wire mesh, with a single strand of electric fence on top. The electric fence doesn't bother the geese, but it does a great job at keeping dogs away from them! In future I want to try an electronet fence because it might be easier to set up and move.

Here's a few other tips. To ensure the whole patch is weeded when the geese are young, I move the water bowl around. As they get older, this tactic doesn't seem necessary. I lock the geese into a shelter at night, to protect them from owls and other nighttime predators. The fence is necessary, because geese love other things - carrots, turnips, and potatoes are a few. They will dig the potatoes right out of the ground. A couple of times when they got out on me, the geese demolished some of my carrot patch, and the whole turnip patch.

You still must do a good job on weed control before planting, so the geese can do their part. And, although the geese are a big help, you will still need to hoe and cultivate.

I've got more to learn about managing weeder geese, but they've already proven to be a valuable tool. They're a particularly good option for organic growers - especially since the are the only `weed control' that you can eat at the end of the season!

Copyright 1994 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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