Baaaaaah ….. Goats eating up Red Deer’s invasive weeds

Pilot project could one day expand to other natural areas

It took a herd of goats a lot less time to demolish an acre of Canada thistle than anticipated — one day versus three or four.

The City of Red Deer’s pilot project this week to use a non-chemical method — goats — to target invasive weeds in sensitive areas was an edible success, according to Ken Lehman, ecological Services Operations co-ordinator for the city.

The 100-plus goats and their owner, Jeannette Hall of Baah’d Plant Management and Reclamation, were contracted by the city to clear a field of thistle at the Piper Creek Restoration Agriculture Project south of the city’s Waste Management Facility.

The weeds were close to Piper Creek, an ecologically sensitive area, which couldn’t be sprayed or effectively weed-whacked.

Goats love the thistle and any sort of woody material, Lehman said.

Several herders and their dogs kept the goats from eating what they shouldn’t. Overnight the dogs kept coyotes over around Waste Management Facility away from the goats.

The goats arrived Wednesday evening, and were done the field of thistle by Thursday evening.

The ecology of the city-owned property is being restored and re-naturalized into parkland, said Lehman, who is a conservation biologist. Some of the other partners involved include Rethink Red Deer and Trout Unlimited.

When the thistle is removed, the native vegetation will return to the parkland. Willows and dogwood have also been planted as filters to protect and improve the health the creek.

The project cost of using the goats is about $2,500, Lehman said. They will return later in the season to clear more thistle.

The public was invited to see the goats on Friday to showcase how effective they are. One day they may be used in other city areas. “I want to use this as a tool throughout the city,” Lehman said. There are park areas in Red Deer where there steep slopes that they can’t mow, and they don’t want to use chemical in the area.

“It really is an effective tool,” Lehman said of the goats.

Hall said her goats are a great project for the City of Red Deer because they are used in a riparian area where typically herbicides cannot be used.

They help create a healthier environment, she said.

Hall has a variety of goats, including Spanish and dairy goats. She put the herd together over the past seven years, and they have been doing mainly brush control. Goats live 16 to 20 years, depending on the breed, she said.

The herd was headed next to do some weed control for the City of Lacombe.

barr@reddeeradvocate.com

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