The city of Chestermere tackled weeds in the off-leash dog park with 471 goats instead of applying traditional chemicals. They were “weed eating” from July 2 until July 6.
Goats are targeted browsers and will generally consume weeds including Canadian Thistle but exclude natural grasses, said City of Chestermere Parks Manager Rick Van Gelder.
“They chew it down, and when the weeds come back, they eat it again,” Van Gelder said.
He added our goal is to assist the natural grasses get healthy and naturalized while choking out the weeds.
Unlike other species, goats have enzymes in their stomachs that kill the weed seeds, so they are not redistributing the seeds, which makes them ideal for weed control.
During their stay in Chestermere, the goats browsed for weeds to eat, fertilized as they went, and occasionally would bed down on a bare spot or an area where the soil was dead if instructed by their Shepard, Owner and Operator of BAAH’D Plant Management & Reclamation Jeannette Hall
“When they stand up, they will start to revitalize those target areas, depending on how we are managing the animals we can really influence the site,” Hall said.
She added, “The goats’ poop is very clean since there is very little bacteria in it, there are very few flies, which makes the goats great for urban settings like this. We can come into more intimate spaces.”
There were multiple reasons for the city’s decision to go with goats to control the weeds instead of herbicides, including the park’s proximity to the irrigation canal.
“We cannot chemically control the weeds beside an irrigation canal. We cannot spray chemicals within 30 meters of the area,” Van Gelder said.
“It’s such a big area, we don’t have the time to attend to it with manpower, and it would be expensive mechanically,” he said.
“We feel the area being an off-leash area, and a general use park for a lot of people, we didn’t want employ chemicals, and we just can’t do it mechanically ourselves,” Van Gelder added. “Goats were our best option because of where the park is.”
The herd of goats in Chestermere were Hall’s best trained. This herd goes to all high-profile sites, and sites where there’s the most potential for things to go wrong, including, people walking by, vehicles, water safety hazards, dogs off leash, wildlife, and steep slopes.
The herd knows where to go and what to do being trained to respond to Hall’s verbal cues. Hall added, she needed a lot of training time and dedication to the goats, with limited exposure to dogs and fencing.
“The fences are never to keep the goats in. Goats will get out of any fence, but they are so well behaved,” Hall said.
Not only did the goats do a remarkable job chomping the weeds, but residents in the community also love coming to visit the herd.
“The goats were received very well, people loved them, they were fascinated by them,” Van Gelder said.
He added, “They did a really good chomp down. I noticed a big difference this year compared to last year. The natural grass is much healthier and the weeds are much smaller.”
Van Gelder was first inspired by the City of Calgary’s use of goats as weed control after the city had seen a high success rate.
“I heard from the City of Calgary parks department that they had a good success rate with the goats, and I thought it was a good thing for Chestermere to try,” he said.
The herd included goats of all ages and will visit Chestermere at least three more times throughout the summer.
“They have the mature ones, and the goats in training, it’s pretty cool to see,” Van Gelder said.