We inherited an old, ride-on lawnmower with our cottage to help us manage the grass in the orchard and paddock. A temperamental, somewhat rickety machine, it regularly conked out mid-mow and refused to restart without a lengthy rest period and some careful engine tinkering. Keeping the grass in check soon became a full time job that we just didn’t have time for. By the end of our first summer here, half our land had turned to scraggly, buttercup-filled meadow. Quite pretty, but not very practical. Unable to afford another sit-on mower, and keen to try a greener option, we began to look at some animal-powered alternatives for a replacement.
Underneath the orchard are a few water springs, that rise to its undulating surface and puddle the grass in wet weather. We therefore needed animals that wouldn’t mind the occasional damp spot, would make use of the windfall fruit, keep on top of the grass, and be economical. We extensively researched every form of livestock that we thought might be suitable (cows, sheep, goats, alpacas etc.) and eventually settled on geese.
Geese primarily eat grass, so we felt a small flock would be able to graze and manage our orchard area comfortably, leaving just the little paddock for us to mow (we thought a self-propelled push mower would be sufficient for this). As a result of their grass diet, feed costs for the geese would be minimal. They would just need a few handfuls of wheat to keep them going over winter when the grass has stopped growing. Plus we would get rich goose meat and eggs to boot. Overall, we thought it was an interesting, sustainable and cost effective alternative to relying solely on a petrol-guzzling machine.
The plan was to buy a few goslings in the spring and raise them on the verdant summer grasses, surplus fruit from the orchard, and garden vegetables. Then, come winter, keep hold of a pair or trio for breeding the following year, and dispatch the others in time for Christmas dinner. We could then repeat the process from our own stock year after year.
Early that spring, we went ahead and ordered some traditional, commercial white geese (with Embden heritage) from a certified organic breeder. We decided to buy them at just a few days old, so that they would imprint on us and therefore be tame and easy to handle.
We collected them from the farm on a grey, drizzly April evening. The six, tiny goslings, fluffy-feathered and mottled in soft shades of grey and yellow, were nestled snugly in an old shoebox filled with golden straw. They were adorable. For the whole car journey home they chatted to each other in hushed tones and cheeped loudly if we spoke to them. We arrived back at the cottage, opened up the box and introduced them to their new home. The very first animals on our smallholding.
The decision to keep geese was definitely a good choice. They are very easy to look after, do a great job of mowing and fertilising the orchard, and have grown up to be friendly and extremely characterful birds that are a pleasure to keep. Our original master plan didn’t pan out quite as we expected though. Our feathery gaggle completely stole our hearts and, in the end, we couldn’t bear to dispatch any of them. Their multi-purpose roles as lawn mowers, egg-layers and guards allowed us to justify this decision somewhat. We found it gives us far more happiness to see them waddling amongst the apple trees every day, than to have them on our dinner plate.
We’ll continue to share some of our experiences and tips about goose keeping on the blog over the coming months. In the meantime, in case it is of interest, Keeping Geese: Breeds and Management
was our go-to book on all things goose. We found it to be an invaluable resource.