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Watch-Geese: The Natural Farm Guardians

Utilize the unique characteristics of geese to make them natural guardians and perfect protectors for your farm and flock.

| January 2018

  • Geese are naturally protective animals.
    Photo courtesy of New Society
  • Geese make intimating watch dogs for your property.
    Photo courtesy of New Society
  • A young African goose watches over a flock of hens.
    Photo courtesy of New Society
  • “The Modern Homesteader’s Guide to Keeping Geese,” by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen gives extensive details and tips for raising and caring for geese.
    Cover courtesy of New Society

The Modern Homesteader's Guide to Keeping Geese (New Society Publishers, 2017), by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen expert geese wrangler, tells everything there is to know about raising geese on a farm. From the history of guardian geese to their health and dietary needs, anyone looking to add some farm heroes to their lives will learn everything necessary to raise and care for their own flock. The following excerpt is from chapter 7, “The Farmer’s Alarm System,” which goes into the extensive qualifications geese possess as guardian animals and how to utilize their natural protective instincts on your farm.

Geese have been used as guardian animals for centuries. Why? Because they are uniquely suited to the task. Not only are their piercing honks excellent alarms, but they are instinctively protective and more naturally suited to guard work than humans, or even dogs.

Because birds can see ultraviolet light, their vision is far superior to that of people. Their distance vision is remarkably good (the better to spot possible predators), and they can sense movement long before an ordinary person can. While most birds don’t react to what they see in a way that is helpful to people, geese do. Geese sound off loudly and aggressively, ideal attributes for guarding. Geese are also territorial: they know where their home is, and they defend it, especially during mating and hatching season. Few domesticated birds share the same territorial tendencies, and fewer still have the pugnacious attitude for attacking intruders.

The History of the Guard Goose

The first example of geese being used for protection dates all the way back to Ancient Rome. Geese were sacred to the Goddess Juno, and so the flocks that lingered around her temple were left untouched by locals that might otherwise have eaten them. In 390 BC, Rome was under siege by the Gauls. Late one night, the Gallic army attempted a surprise attack by scaling the Capitoline Hill, where the temple of Juno was located. The local dogs did nothing to stop them, as they were easily bribed with fresh cuts of meat. But the flock of Roman Geese — a breed still surviving today — noticed the disturbance immediately and began to call loudly. Here is some of Plutarch’s description of the events, from his work Parallel Lives:

"About midnight a large band of them [the Gauls] scaled the cliff and made their way upward in silence .... Neither man nor dog were aware of their approach. But there were some sacred geese near the temple of Juno …. The creature is naturally sharp of hearing and afraid of every noise, and these, being specially wakeful and restless by reason of their hunger, perceived the approach of the Gauls, dashed at them with loud cries, and so waked all the garrison .... The defenders, snatching up in haste whatever weapon came to hand .... So the Romans escaped out of their peril."

This heroism of the geese did lead to a rather disturbing annual festival that included a display of geese dressed in purple and gold, but focused primarily on shaming the dogs for not sounding the alarm, leading to the festival being known as “the punishment of the dogs.”

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