Domesticated over 3,000 years ago, geese were some of the first animals to become part of humans everyday lives. While they have been a barnyard constant since Roman times, geese have never gained the popularity of backyard flocks like ducks and chickens.
The uses of geese in ancient and modern times are numerous: The first records of domestic geese show them being fattened and butchered for food and sacrifice, but by Roman times, geese were also being raised for their eggs and carefully bred for specific traits such as calm personalities or luxurious feathers.
Geese as Guard Animals
Geese came to the forefront of Roman life in 390 BC. Sacred to the goddess Juno, a flock of geese that were kept in her temple noticed a troop of Gauls sneaking up the hill to attack the city of Rome. The alarmed honks of the geese awoke the Roman guards who attacked the invaders and successfully defended their city.
Geese are still used as guard animals in many parts of the world today. Unable to be bribed with treats and exceptionally loud, geese have keener eyesight and hearing than humans and will not miss a potential strangers intruding. They are currently used throughout China's Xinjiang province to guard police stations, and in West Germany, geese were on guard duty at to guard U.S. military bases.
A 1986 Associated Press article describes how the Army had purchased 750 geese from German farmers to guard their military sites. The geese made ideal sentinels, requiring little feed besides naturally growing grass, honking non-stop at any out-of-the ordinary activity. One hundred and twenty geese were even used to watch over the Ballantine Brewery in Dumbarton, Scotland, from 1959 to 2013 — disbanded only when modern security technology rendered them obsolete.
However, geese are not just for guarding and food. Since Roman times, certain breeds of geese have been raised for their downy feathers to be used in cushions and upholstery. Upon visiting Britain, Caesar remarked that though it was illegal to eat geese in ancient British culture, many farmers kept them simply for pleasure and entertainment. Geese also were kept to weed crops in ancient times, and still are today.
Geese for Weed Control
At our farm here in Maine, we use geese to keep crops weeded. Pastured with appropriate plants, a goose will nibble all of the surrounding weeds to the ground but not touch the vegetable leaves around them.
Ideal crops to raise geese with include strawberries, raspberries, many herbs, tobacco, and anything grown on a small bush. Besides reducing the need to hand-weed, the nutrients in goose droppings help to keep the soil rich for fruits to grow.
The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener's Association further describes geese as “the closest foragers known,” applauding their studious consummation of weeds and inexpensive upkeep. The practice of geese to weed is not new: A 1986 Los Angeles Times article tells about a farmer who rents 20,000 weeder geese a year in California.
Geese may not be a common fowl on most homesteads, but their purposes are wide ranging and their entertainment value enormous. They've been part of farm life since before any other poultry. Over-dramatized as aggressive and bad tempered, geese will make a helpful and entertaining addition to the farmyard.
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen farms about 2 acres of a suburban homestead using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find her online at Days Ferry Organics Blog.
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