We used to just keep ducks in the backyard pen, and they were easier on the landscaping. Except for sticking their heads through the fence whorls to chew on rose leaves or taste the purple cone flowers, they concentrated on clipping dandelions, which my wife Linda and I considered to be a good deed. When we added two geese, they overturned the occasional chunk of turf and nibbled on the grass here and there. Things didn’t spin out of control until we moved the ducks to the barn and took in more geese.
We didn’t plan on getting the additional honkers. People started giving them to us. Because we love the emotional excesses of these graceful yet simultaneously awkward waterfowl, we couldn’t say no to orphans that had nowhere else to go. One male Embden had turned up wandering aimlessly in an apartment complex parking lot. Three female African Browns had been dumped in a roadside ditch. We took to them immediately, and they took to our yard. They probed the soil for succulent bits of dirt, mined for grubs, and made endless trips to the grassy salad bar.
One day the grass was stubble. The next day, it was gone. “We don’t have a lawn,” Linda complained. I took this to be an exaggeration until I looked up from filling goose wading pools to note an expanse of rocky soil unbroken by the usual sprigs of green.
It could have been worse. We still had our weeds. Geese, after all, are pikers compared to hens. When we built a pen behind our barn for our ducks and turkeys, we gave them a lush section of ground awash with thistles, nettles, wild mustard, catnip, bee balm, and vigorous grasses. The birds diminished but didn’t destroy the grass – and hid behind the other plants when I tried to shoo them into the barn after dinner. Then we took in a batch of homeless hens. The first year, they ate the grass but failed to conquer the larger plants. But the following spring they managed to consume every green shoot as soon as it shot up its head. Today our once natural hen pen has less vegetation than an asphalt parking lot.
We think we’ve solved our problem with the geese. We ran a chicken wire fence down the lower quarter of the yard to confine the waterfowl, and reseeded the rest with Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, and perennial ryegrass. But Linda, who hatched this plan, has already backslid so far as to insist, “The geese need to eat grass.” And I can’t really argue. Our lettuce bills have skyrocketed over the past twelve months.
So, as soon as we’ve watched our new lawn grow in, we’ll unleash the geese and watch it disappear again.
If you’d like to win a copy of Fowl Weather, Bob Tarte’s newest book about life with 39 animals, give us a little insight into your own victories, defeats, compromises, or enslavement to the animals that graze on your garden. Post it in the comments or post it on your own blog and put a link in the comments. We’ll announce a winner tonight.