Prior to moving the goslings from their brooder (see Keeping Geese Part 1 and Keeping Geese Part 2) out into the orchard, we gave some careful thought to fencing arrangements. Our initial plan was to allow the geese to free-range and not to worry about fencing but, after further consideration, we decided this wasn’t an option. Our borders are full of gaps and we were worried that there would be nothing to stop the geese wandering through the holes in the hedges and onto the road or neighbouring land. We also wanted to give the geese access to the stream, but had no way to stop them swimming off and away. Plus the goslings were still only babies and more vulnerable to predators than adult birds would be. So we started to look at fencing options: permanent fencing or movable poultry netting.
Permanent fencing was very costly because, rather than just fencing the orchard perimeter, we would ideally need to fence the entire orchard and divide it into different sections. This would allow us to rest the ground as needed in order to keep parasites down and let the grass grow back. Electric poultry netting was a much more affordable solution, and could easily be moved around the orchard to cover different areas. However, it didn’t look very pretty, and we had read in a few places that goslings could get themselves fatally tangled in it, which obviously concerned us immensely.
Eventually, after a lot of research, we decided that permanent fencing was too tricky and expensive to execute at the time, so we went with the poultry netting option. We bought three 50m rolls of green netting (which blends into the greenery of the orchard, unlike the bright orange alternative), and allowed us to cover a space of around a 1/3 acre at a time; a generous-sized enclosure. We started with just one roll worth of pen initially and increased to the three nets as the geese got older. We purchased an energiser and reel of insulated lead out cable, which we could plug into a socket in the garage, and a galvanised earth stake. We also bought some extra poultry net posts to help stabilise the fencing, as our uneven land made the netting flop in places.
To avoid the danger of getting tangled, we let the goslings learn for themselves (under our watchful eye) that they needed to be wary of the fence. Their natural curiosity and interest in nibbling everything, meant that the grass-like strands of poultry netting were irresistible to them. One sharp shock through the beak on their first day in the enclosure, was enough to put them off going too near the fence edges again. We’ve had the geese for nearly three years now and luckily never had an issue with them getting caught up in the netting.
Overall the poultry netting has worked well. It was far less expensive than permanent fencing and doesn’t cost much to run off the mains day-to-day. It also doubles-up as a pen for our flock of chickens, which is very handy. We are able to move the geese and chickens onto fresh land every few weeks by relocating the enclosure (we just have to mow the strip of grass underneath the netting to stop the circuit shorting). This process is fairly straightforward to do, but it is a bit of a chore and definitely not our favourite way to spend a couple of hours at the weekend. It is, however, well worth doing, as the orchard grass and trees are much healthier for it. The geese mow the grass, the chickens scarify it (when they are scratching around whilst foraging), and both fertilise the orchard.
We’re still using the poultry netting today, but when we are in the garden to keep an eye on them, we will often let the geese spend the day waddling around outside of their pen and swimming in the stream. As it turned out, we needn’t have worried about them wandering off. They have a strong sense of home and have no desire to stray too far from where they can find us. However, we haven’t spoken to anyone who lets their chickens or waterfowl roam free who haven’t suffered predator attacks. Indeed, we happen to have a rather smart little fox living in the field next door, who often visits the orchard, and a badger that regularly strolls through the fruit trees at night. So, although we would like to think that the six geese could see off a predator together, we don’t want to risk it, so the poultry netting is staying put for now.