Raise Pastured Geese and Ducks

Don’t be a chicken when it comes to raising all types of fowl on grass.

The author’s Pilgrim geese prefer grass but enthusiastically eat most other pasture plants too.
Photo by Carrie Hardie

Sheep, cattle, and other ruminants may come to mind first when your goal is to raise stock on grass, but we find pasturing waterfowl to be a rewarding and frugal endeavor. And when you see geese mowing down pesky weeds with gusto, you’ll wish you’d started them on pasture earlier!

We raise chickens, ducks, and geese on our small farm. As they can be messy creatures, raising them safely outdoors is ideal. While there are differences in our approach to pasturing chickens versus waterfowl, both types of poultry benefit from access to fresh greens found on chemical-free pastures. They aerate the soil, eat large quantities of bugs, and fertilize as they go.

Even ducklings (here, Muscovy) enjoy tucking to a meal of beetles, flies, and other insects.
Photo by Carrie Hardie

Pasture Perfect

Geese are weed-eating machines, and mainly herbivorous. Capable of getting most of their daily nutrition from grass and forbs, geese can, theoretically at least, be raised almost exclusively on pasture in its nutritional prime. (We supplement our pasture with fermented high-protein feed.) Watching goslings tuck into grass is a pleasure — and we provide chopped-up grass and chick-sized grit to goslings as soon as two days after they’ve hatched. Goslings and geese will tear into chicory, dandelions, burdock, plantain, and many of the other common pasture plants. Need a section of fence cleared? Pasture your geese around it.

Ducks, on the other hand, are omnivorous, and while they’ll enjoy bites of green now and again, they excel at clearing bugs from pastures and gardens. Because they relish young lettuce, peas, and other tender greens, I recommend using them to clear garden plots that have infestations of Japanese beetles, slugs, and other pests only after the plants have reached maturity and can bear some nibbling. Ducks delight in eating grubs and similar larvae, so cruciferous plantings with cutworm or cabbageworm infestations are prime targets for duck clearing efforts.

In addition, Muscovy ducks will consume frogs, voles, and mice. They’ll work to eradicate a pasture's fly population, and seem to have this drive even as ducklings. They’re experts in pursuing and catching insects. I haven’t seen any waterfowl as doggedly dedicated to chasing and eating bugs as Muscovy.

Hardware cloth’s small gaps prevent predators from grabbing an Indian Runner duckling for dinner.
Photo by Carrie Hardie

Housing and Fencing

Generally, we use the same types of housing and fencing for waterfowl and chickens while on pasture: low tractors, hoop tractors, and portable netting. Tractors are mobile coops; low tractors are about 2 feet high, while hoop tractors can be tall enough for humans to walk into. We house our young birds in low tractors, and then move them into hoop tractors when they’ve grown and can be integrated into the main flock with access to pasture. While ducks and geese generally won’t jump out of a low tractor, chickens can and will — and they can be quite a handful to corral.

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