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Put them to work, grazing geese

 
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I've been enjoying permies for quite a while now, but have only just subscribed as a member.
I'm 27 year old, live in urban NW Europe, graduated last year at University where I've studied social and cultural sciences (history, sociology, filosophy, arts, literature etc.) My field of expertiece and passion is manly heritage in landscaping and architecture and how to preserve in a cost efficient and responsible way what we have. I've worked for a municipality over here for some time, have been in between jobs for two months and will start again in two weeks time.

Partly because I'm an animal freak, partly because I like to think I'm creative and can think of ways to generate income where others wouldn't be able to and partly because I'm always busy and involved in some odd project or endavour.

I live in a highly populated area which 50 years ago was highly industrialised through coal mining efforts. Twentyfive years ago all the former industrial sites have become forests, fields, recreational sites etc. Due to all this new outside green space municipalties have been confronted with quite high maintainance costs. In times of fewer and fewer € to spend, governments also become a bit more creative and think of ways to spend their money. A few years back one of the cities over here started to employ a herd of sheep to graze road sides, fields and open grounds. The added income which the owner of the herd can generate is substantial, it actually not really added but makes up for the largest part of his income. Due to regulations keeping sheep or goats is not the easiest to start a project with. You need all kinds of registration, have to vaccinate and medicate.

More and more municipalities have to cut on maintaining outside space and think about using natural grazing (animals). Usually the shepherds employ sheep, goats, heritage breed cows (in small numbers) or horses. Those using sheep or goats usually pasture the animals using electric netting to set of an area a 5000m2 (half a hectare) and let 25-50 sheep stay there for a week and them move them to another field.

I've never seen anyone use geese to complete such a task in the last 50-60 years. Personally I'd like to give that a try, I've kept them in small numbers before and don't really understand why employing them hasn't been tried recently. Is there something which they now and I don't?

Compared to a sheep geese are:

- a lot cheaper to purchase, €150 for a lamb vs €0.5 for an egg which I can hatch or €1,50 for a pullet.
- I can hatch the geese myself with a machine in large numbers
- because of this geese are a lot cheaper to replace each year or several years.
- sheep need medication, vaccination, registration in all numbers. Geese don't, up to 250 neither the geese or I need to do anything like that.
- sheep require shaving (which doesn't bring in any money over here), geese don't.
- sheep recquire hoof and teith care, geese don't

-downside is that there is no real market over here anymore for geese products and I'm only allowed to sell geese to the actual user/consumer.


My idea would be to approach (i'm actually in this fase right now) several municipalities in my area and get their permission to let me use some of their fields that have to be maintained any way as a pilot project geese grazing for a year. I'd like to start with 25-50 geese to keep it manageable and to find out what I don't know. I'm mainly concerned with what they will and won't eat when out free grazing/pastured 100% of the time year round and how much of it.
Since geese are just not used anymore no one over here can tell me about how many I'd need to maintain/ cut down a certain field and how fast I'd have to return. I'm hoping two geese will graze/eat as much as one sheep. Guess I have to find that out next year.

If it turns out that geese grazing is not for me or for the 21st century these 25-50 will end up making someone a nice meal. If it does work out to some extent I would like to increase to five flocks of fifty geese (to a total of 250). Before Christmas/winter I'd select/cull to keep the 10-20% procent (size/health/foraging/grazing/behaviour) and end up with a breeding group of 25-50 to keep during the winter.
When keeping geese I've noticed that the older they get, especially when past the first year and a half they start to eat taller grass, leaves, bark etc and not just the lush rich green grass.


Are there any members to might be able to shed some light upon how many geese per acre, which particular breed, how long to keep them, would you expect any particular problems in the field, does this sound like a feasible project etc etc?!


EDIT: I'm not a native speaker, sorry for any errors or faults in my posts.
 
steward
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Howdy Ruben, welcome to permies. I do not have any answers for you, but it sounds like a great idea to me. Be sure to keep us informed on your progress.
 
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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Hi, welcome to the forum. I don't have any practical advice for you either I'm afraid, but I wanted to say that a) your English is excellent and b) I'm really interested in your idea and look forward to hearing more about it.
 
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Location: The Great State of Louisana
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Few things Boss. There is a duck/goose forum here.
Tho i dont intentionally graze my geese ill say a few things i think are appropriate.
Also water and shade are a must. Be sure to grab a good foraging breed. African,chinese,whatever.
Unless you breed them id say only get females and then you can get eggs from all of them.
As to how many will overgraze an area in how long sorry Boss thats where experience will come in.
Id use your lawn at the house and try it out.If as you say 25-50 sheep take a week to finish a half hectare...whatever that is.
try a 3 or 4 to one ratio of geese to sheep and try it or give them 3 to 4 times as long. Just a guess tho.
Also do try the duck forum lots of hippies like this kind of thing someone there may be able to help you more.
 
S Carreg
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Bryzantium Langford wrote: lots of hippies like this kind of thing someone there may be able to help you more.



Eh? What do you mean? 'Hippies' like geese, particularly? Or 'hippies' like trying to come up productive, sustainable models for land management, in which case, isn't that what everyone on this forum likes? I'm confused!
 
pollinator
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I kept geese for grass control in garden and farm access areas for a few years when I lived in Georgia (USA) I found them to be about the easiest critters to keep, very hardy, resourceful, self-sufficient. I would shut them in a tight pen at night to guard against predators (and produce wonderful compost in the litter in the night pen--it naturally bred red compost worms in huge numbers!) The females would all lay eggs at about the same time, early in the spring, and after two or three days hatching each lot under it's own mama, all 5 to 10 mama geese would combine all the babies and raise them together.....a huge lesson in cooperative community! With that many watchful parents around, hardly a gosling got lost to any cause.....quite unlike ducklings, baby chicks, etc. (which all stay with their own mama only, and the small ones often get lost, get caught by the cats, etc...)
But this was on the farm. Geese in town are another matter. Here in the US both wild and feral geese are considered pests in places like public parks and golf courses, and great efforts are made to get rid of them from such places. The noise and manure produced by a number of geese living together can be prodigious and fresh goose droppings are long, green, and soft....both unlike and probably worse smelling than the small round pellets from sheep or goats. And geese can be quite aggressive toward people, small dogs, etc....especially if there are nests or babies in the mix. I can see you becoming quite unpopular if you turned a bunch of geese out somewhere in town, even with good fences and management, geese make NOISE.
The Muscovy duck is a possibility too. They graze like geese and are otherwise somewhat similar, except that they don't make noise....mostly they just make a nasty hiss. They, too, can be mean around their nests.
As far as marketing goes, I had gourmet restaurants in Atlanta paying me $1.00 US each for goose eggs, and they took all the eggs I could send them from ten or fifteen laying geese once I decided that was as many geese as I wanted to deal with. As for the old birds they went in the curry-pot, but then I maxed out at about 25 birds so there were never that many of those at any one time.....
 
Ruben van Boso
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Thank you for your replies and input!


@Bryzantium

Didn't know about the duck/geese forum. Maybe a moderator will be able to move my thread?

The water and shade has been taken into account, that will not be a big issue.

btw, I'm actually far from a hippie. If it's possible to make +- 600 dollars to manage 2.5 acres with an animal that would recquire no additional feeding, no registration, very little shelter and medication you could generate a nice (extra) income from this. But you'd have to find out probably through trial and error if they will consume enough vegetation. The shepherd which uses his sheep pastured with electric netting covers 50-60 acres and can add 16k dollars to his annual income with such little effort that it's just a side job to him. He's recently been contracted by the municipality to extent to more acres. Paying him and his sheep to do this is a lot cheaper than having someone on a lownmower to this every month from march-september.

@Alder

Geese in town are somewhat of an issue over here but more so farmers complaining about feral geese stripping the fields from lush fresh green goodies.
I have thought about the noise but since this will not be anywhere near as close as say 150yards to the nearest house, I don't think the noise will be an issue.

I've thought about the manure. But same as for noise applies to the manure in my opinion, at least to some extent. As long as the animals wouldn't use paths/road/bikeroads to dump the manure.

The geese will be kept just like the sheep, in electrified sheep netting. This should protect the geese from predators (dogs, cats, foxes, badgers, polecats etc). But it should also keep the geese in, so I do not have to worry about them being agressive towards people. But their attitude is a major pro to me why I've thought about them, I can not babysit them and have to rely on themselves to scare of any human predators which might think about entering the fenced pasture without invitation.


I like the muscovy a lot, only reason why I haven't really thought about them anymore than just that is that I think (please do correct me!) that a goose will be more able to protect itself and will eat more grass/vegetation. To avoid registration but make this work to some extent I would have to be able to match sheep grazing power with as the smallest number of poultry/fowl per sheep. I was hoping 2/3 birds to match 1 sheep, although if you compare the lbs of grazing power 3 geese total to I'm pretty sure you'd need more to equal a sheep. I hope they have a surprise up their sleeve. I could certainly mix in some muscovies just to try them and see how much they will eat and maybe if proper breeding will make them any bigger.


I've contacted some municipalities and agencies, due to the summer season it's a bit difficult to get in touch with the one you need. Hope I'll find out a bit more next week, we'll see if they will let me have a go.
 
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I keep Soay Sheep

7 keep an acre perfectly in trim all year without overgrazing
Soay sheep are near zero maintenance no shearing and no hoof trimming and they look after themselves mine lambed this year without any help at all.
I also keep three Brecon Buff Geese
I was told three Geese = one sheep for grazing
Wrong!

My Geese are very selective in what they eat without the Sheep I would have to mow what the Geese ignore in fact they hardly impact the grass at all!


If you were maintaining a piece of land with sheep you just put them on and let them get on with it
Geese means ensuring they are safely penned at night. They need large amounts of water changes as they will bathe in everything
They are just as easy to herd though.

Both need worming
Both will need supplementary feed in the winter.
Both are tasty!

 
pollinator
Posts: 685
Location: northwest Missouri, USA
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Not sure if this really applies, but here goes. In Northwest Missouri, we have thousands of geese that stay in the area around our lakes and ponds and feed around there and in the monoculture fields. We have a regular problem each year. Most of the beaches on these lakes where all the geese are near seemed to be closed down due to ecoli outbreaks due to all the goose droppings. It's gotten so bad here that it's becoming an expensive problem for municipalities to keep public areas safe for people to enjoy the parks and lakes and beaches. It's a shame, but geese here have become a detested bird. Their droppings are everywhere and are making a very unsightly mess and you know a small child is going to be more susseptible to ecoli because of their proximity to the droppings. In fact, media reports calls them an "invasive species" and report on their culling.

Just something to be aware of with large goose population in public areas. At least it is with us here in Northwest Missouri.
 
pollinator
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Nice idea, although there are concerns in public areas as others have said (dropping, noise and antisocial behaviour are the big ones).

Geese are also not very high value animals - could your grazing plan be both more profitable and more successful with different animals? Others have mentioned ducks, but i'd be concerned about predators feasting on them. What about goats instead?

Pygmy goats in this country sell for £100 plus per kid. They are relatively easy to fence (similar to sheep), will browse as well as graze and will be appreciated by your communities for entertainment value. If this was a longer term project you could breed your own flock eg selecting for temperament, effectiveness grazing, worm resistance etc...

They do need shelter etc... But you could rig up a mobile shelter that moves with them. They do suffer from worms, but again this can be partially controlled by good grazing practices and selecting for resistant animals.

I understand your concerns about registering your animals, but that is the nature of farming these days. Consumers demand safe food and accountable food supply chains. I don't know the laws in your area, but you should at least investigate the restrictions that keeping livestock would place on you. After all, all the 'real' farmers manage to get through the paperwork and still run profitable businesses. For example, i believe that most vaccinations are done on farm by the farmer and are not very expensive. Worming treatment should not be necessary at all with good animals and carefully managed grazing, bar occassional 'as needed' treatments - but you would probably cull that animal anyway!

Mike
 
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