Officials hire canine unit to manage problematic geese

Right dogs for the job | Director of Ag Canada research centre in Ontario says geese are causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage

Several thousand geese chowing down grain growing on research test plots at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa is at least a quarter million dollar headache for Marc Savard.

It sets back research, destroys important work and requires researchers to start over again at significant cost, said the director of operations at Agriculture Canada’s Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre.

“The problem is huge and it is getting worse,” he said.

“Last year was the worst because there are more geese and they seem to be hungrier. I would estimate the cost last year at a quarter million. It could be in the millions.”

Most of an oat research project was wiped out on one weekend.

“The researcher came in Monday and it was devastating,” said Savard.

“He was trying to collect seeds from the ground that could be replanted.”

Enter Bella and Nell, two Border Collies that Agriculture Canada hired this year to chase away geese from the 740 acres of research plots in the centre of Ottawa.

The dogs work early morning and late afternoon shifts five days a week for seven weeks in the spring when geese are coming back from their winter in the south and 12 weeks in the fall when they are looking to fuel their trip south.

They spent a 6:30-9:30 shift on a recent Sunday morning without a goose in sight.

“They obviously have done a good job,” handler Heather Williams from Border Control Bird Dogs said.

“Come back in the fall.”

The department is spending $44,000 on the canine patrol contract this year as an experiment to see if it helps deal with the goose problem.

Savard said it is a gamble, and because there is no Agriculture Canada budget to hire dogs, he has been scrambling within his own budget to find the money.

Some researchers are also turning over some of their funding for the project.

“So far there has been less damage to the crops this spring, but I’m withholding my judgment until winter when the season is over,” he said.

“But if there is a significant saving in crop loss, I will make a pitch for funding.”

If it doesn’t work, “we really don’t have a back-up plan.”

Canada geese are protected unless proper permits are obtained. There are limited options for dealing with the problem because the farm is in the middle of Ottawa. Vineyards in southwestern Ontario use simulated gunshot sounds to scare birds away from grapes, but that is not possible in a residential area.

Savard said the geese devour wheat, oats, soybeans and barley grown at the research farm.

“It seems they will eat almost anything, and it is a real problem for our researchers,” he said.

“I hope this works with provable results.”

For Bella and Nell, it must be close to a dream job because the miscreant geese are easy targets.

“They’re big and lazy and these fields are just such an attractive feeding area,” said Williams, whose company is also hired to deal with other urban bird problems in Ontario cities.

She said Border Collies are perfect for the job because they are herders rather than retrievers. It means they want to chase the birds away rather than grab them and drag them back, which would be an issue for many urban residents witnessing the scene.

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