This Canberra winery is using geese droppings to make a better drop

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The Canberra Times

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While many Canberra wineries spend countless hours in pest control to protect their valuable drops, one has outsourced the job to unusual workers.

Collector Wines has employed 14 geese and guinea fowl to protect their vineyards from damaging bugs, making their crops herbicide free in the process.

The geese and guinea fowl have been used on the property since 2011, and wine maker Alex McKay said they've had a huge impact.

"They're extremely good at their job," Mr McKay said.

"They're all part of a series of measures to manage the vineyards."

Managing pests isn't the only task the birds undertake in their role at the winery, helping to maintain soil quality and mowing the grass.

"It's all about managing the carbon cycle, and the manure the birds produce help control the grasses and weeds on the vineyard floor," Mr McKay said.

The winery produces more than 40,000 bottles of wine every year since it opened in 2005, and protecting the vineyard has been one of the most important jobs.

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In the eight years the geese have been getting rid of pests and turning over the soil, Mr McKay said the vintages have been getting better.

"We've noticed a real increase of the wine quality in the vineyard since we've started using the geese," he said.

"It's been a slow and steady process over a number of years."

The idea to use geese on the winery came from the property's owner, who previously lived on a farm in the Outer Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland.

"They lived in a pious area, where you weren't able to operate lawnmowers without incurring the wrath of the neighbours," Mr McKay said.

"So she became acquainted with geese and brought them to the farm and used them to mow the grass."

The prospect of training geese for a particular purpose seemed like a daunting one, but Mr McKay said the birds picked it up quickly.

"They may look quite aggressive, but it's the same as training a puppy or any other animal," he said.

"Geese need to be broken in and they'll behave responsibly."

A lack of grass during drought conditions meant the geese cheekily nibbled away at green shoots on the vines, but Mr McKay said the recent rain had now solved that problem.

 
Kirstin Redding