Goats eating away at problem weeds at Piper Creek Gardens

By Josh Hall and Troy Gillard
July 7, 2017 - 12:47pm

The City of Red Deer is hiring additional workers to help restore one of its natural areas.

What makes this crew unique, though, is they have horns, four legs, and an appetite for noxious weeds.

A herd of 185 goats has been munching away this week at the Piper Creek Gardens on the city’s southeast outskirts.

Ken Lehman, Ecological Services Operations Coordinator with the City of Red Deer, says the pilot program to use goats to go after weeds at the site is one they’ve been looking at for a few years.

“We have tried it before this year, but it was a mixed bag of success. Some of it was just finding the right outfit to do the job out here,” he noted. “I stumbled across Jeannette and her crew last year, so I contacted her and she was eager to come in with a lot of goats. What was going to be a three or four day job was actually done in 24 hours.”

Jeanette Hall, owner of Mayerthorpe-based Baah’d Plant Management and Reclamation explained why goats are becoming a popular option for tackling weed problems.

“Goats are ideal for coming into an urban setting. They’re quiet, very little smell, work really quick, easy to manage. They’re incredibly gentle and kind to the public, so it’s safe with kids being around,” she said.

The City of Calgary brought the goats in last summer to help clean up weeds at one of its parks. At the Piper Creek Gardens they were put to work along a creek running through a one-acre area. The parcel had been used for many years for cattle grazing, leaving it with little to no stream-side vegetation.

“We have a lot of Canada thistle down there and some Yellow Toadflax and we needed to control that in some way,” Lehman pointed out. “The goats were just a great tool in terms of hitting that target weed, leaving the stuff that needed to be left and to allow the native vegetation to come up and not be outdone by the noxious weeds in the area.”

The City is bound by the Alberta Weed Control Act to maintain the area, but Lehman says they have other reasons for wanting to eliminate them.

“They have the potential to take over a lot of native vegetation. What that does is inhibit the streamside vegetation from thermo-regulating the water, it displaces native grasses and forbs, and the native woody species that are needed by wildlife. There are a lot of reasons why we need to maintain native vegetation for biodiversity and ecological function,” he explained.

Lehman adds the goats go well with other projects underway at the Piper Creek Gardens.

“The Piper Creek Restoration agriculture project is a five year plan that has incorporated pollinator plantings, pollinator-focused beds and gardens, food forests and community gardens. The goats fit into the ag scene out here, but also the ecological restoration piece. The mandate, if I was to mandate for this site, would be restoration using agriculture.”

City officials say the pilot program comes with a $4000 price tag. If the weeds were being handpicked by City employees it would cost between $10-15,000.

There are other advantages, according to Hall, to using goats to go after bad weeds.

“We’re helping sequester carbon, stimulating root growth, as well as the microbes in the soil. We’re also contributing to high-quality fertilizers and nutrients that slowly release over a few rains. When you chemically spray fertilizers, a lot of times there’s not enough of a root base and that stuff ends ups in waterways.”

The City of Red Deer will be keeping track of its progress over the next two to three years to see just how effective the goats are at eliminating the noxious weeds from the area.

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