Geese are effective weeders because they like grasses but do not like many broadleaf plants. At least in modern times, the use of geese as weeders began in the United States in the 1950s when geese were used to weed cotton fields. Since then geese have been used to weed a wide range of crops including asparagus, potatoes, fruit shrubs, nursery stock, tobacco, nut trees, grapes, fruit trees, beets, sugar beets, beans, hops, various ornamental flowers, onions and strawberries. In addition, geese can provide a second source of income in plantations by making use of the forage that grows under the principal plantation crop.
The number of geese needed per hectare for weeding depends on the level of weed growth and the crop. For a hectare of cotton, 5-6 geese are adequate while for a hectare of strawberries 6-8 geese are recommended. In addition to weeding traditional crops, geese can also be used to clean up the forage on dikes and in ditches that are difficult to access with equipment. In fact, it has been shown that white Chinese geese, if properly managed, will readily consume and control floating water hyacinth in drainage ditches.
The management of geese as weeders is simple because young growing geese are used. Generally, any reluctance by geese to eat the weeds is an avoidable problem. First, farmers should not provide palatable or lush grass to young geese before putting them in a weeding programme otherwise the birds will reject the low quality weeds. Also, geese kept for weeding are normally kept on a programme of restricted feed with any grain being given in the evening. The level of feed restriction will depend on the amount of forage material available in the area to be weeded. Birds must, however, be watched because very hungry geese will eat whatever is available and, under extreme conditions, they could damage the crop they are supposed to weed. Some crops, like beets, are more susceptible to such damage than others, for example, trees. As with any extensive management system, shade and water must be provided. The geese can be kept within the area to be weeded either through direct supervision or by enclosing the area with a relatively low (70-90 cm) traditional fence or an electric fence.
After the strong interest in the 1950s to use geese to weed various crops, the enthusiasm declined during the 1970s with the advent of a wider selection of effective herbicides. However, there is still a place today for the goose as a weeder, especially for the farmer or plantation owner who does not want to use herbicides. In addition, using geese for weeding has a positive effect on the environment due to the reduced use of chemical weed-killers and because their droppings provide a nitrogen fertiliser.
Although the objective is different from weeding, another low-cost goose production system is to utilise harvest waste. In some European countries it is a popular practice as a complementary feeding programme since it uses material which is both low-cost and which would otherwise be wasted. After being harvested, the by-products of many crops can be used for this purpose. These include cereals, vegetables (especially carrots) and salad crops where the waste portion of the crops is particularly palatable to geese.