Looking for an environmentally friendly way to combat tough weeds? Get goats

If a park, ranch or oil well lease is infested with nasty weeds, Jeannette Hall has a solution.

The owner of Baah’d Plant Management and Reclamation has been taking her goats around the province to clean up areas and put nutrients back in the soil in an environmentally friendly way.

She studied environmental technology at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary and decided her niche was grazing management. As an environmental consultant, she spotted problems such as overgrowth on oil and gas leases and listened to complaints from landowners about the ineffectiveness of many chemical sprays.

Hall wanted to farm, but as a small scale operator she needed something to earn money that still supported her beliefs in doing things naturally.

She has about 200 head representing eight breeds, hiring them out to do environmental clean up and selling the meat.

“There are not enough goats in Alberta to meet the demand,” she said at a small farm meeting held recently in Calgary.

The kids are born at her Cochrane area farm in winter so they are ready to follow their mothers during the grazing season, which could take them to municipalities, urban areas, parks, oil leases and small holdings.

“There is a real demand for them, and they are a good way to manage riparian areas,” she said.

“They don’t trample the shoreline the way cattle and sheep do.”

She chose goats because they are browsers and prefer brush, shrubs and broad-leafed plants. They willingly go after invasive species and in some cases are trained to select certain troublesome plants such as tansy, scentless chamomile and leafy spurge.

“It is incredible how fast they will eat leafy spurge. It is about 50 to 60 percent of their diet,” she said in an interview.

“We usually see a 95 percent reduction over a three to five year period.’

They eat plants from the top down, and unwanted weed seeds are destroyed in the rumen.

The city of Calgary hired her goats last year to chew through about 85 acres of weed-infested park near the international airport.

The goat pilot project was budgeted at $25,000, which is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than spraying with herbicides at a cost of $600 per acre, said urban parks manager Chris Manderson.

The site was infested with thistles, burdock, houndstongue and other stubborn weeds.

“They grazed out everything we were looking for, so from a logistics point of view we were able to bring in a herd of 100 goats into a city park with dogs and people and cyclists and nothing bad happened,” he said.

The goats did such a good job that Manderson and his staff plan to ask city council to allow livestock into the city for grazing.

“We are now hoping to go to council this spring and amend our land use bylaw to allow grazing as an acceptable land management practice,” he said.

He wants Hall and her crew to come back because the parks department considers grazing as part of an integrated approach to remove weeds.

“We want to put it into some efficacy trials and see how it works,” he said

He is also interested in using different livestock to maintain range health.

“Nose Hill Park is one of the biggest municipal parks in the country, and it has fescue prairie. A bit of grazing would not be a bad thing for the overall health of the park,” he said.

The goats became a tourist attraction during a meet and greet day in July when about 3,000 visitors came to watch them work.

“That was one of the better parts of the whole thing. We were able to talk to people about range management weed control and stuff people don’t get that interested in,” he said.

“Jeannette was a really good ambassador in talking about issues around land management and alternatives to the conventional spray approach.”

For more information, visit www.organicweedcontrol.ca.

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