The GoatWorks Pilot Project was an innovative program using goats to manage noxious weed infestations in Rundle Park from 2017 to 2019.
Why We Used Goats for Noxious Weed Control
Reducing Herbicide Use
In June 2015, City Council approved a motion to ban herbicides with some exemptions on City-owned land. The aim of the ban is to eliminate non-essential uses of herbicides on City-owned land while recognizing there are circumstances where herbicide use is required. Herbicide is now only used on a very small percentage of public parkland. In many areas, the City uses a combination of mowing, trimming, hand pulling and biological controls to manage weeds.
Goats are the best animals for the job because they are all-terrain browsers. Because of the uneven and often elevated terrain in Rundle Park, it is uniquely suited for us to test the effectiveness of using goats as targeted browsers when other means are unavailable. We contracted Baah’d Plant Management and Reclamation, including their herd of approximately 400 goats, to target and remove invasive species in Rundle Park during the pilot.
How Targeted Browsing Works
These particular goats have been trained to target weed species like Leafy Spurge, Canada Thistle, and Toadflax, so they are ideal for potentially sensitive areas where herbicides or other control methods would be impractical or inappropriate.
The goats targeted noxious weeds, but also sampled dandelions and other vegetation. They are also effective means of fire management because they reduce kindling and other dry materials at the base of trees and shrubs.
When seeds pass through a goat’s digestive tract, germination is reduced in some plant species. The goal is to have the goats eat the weeds before they go to seed. Goat poop becomes an effective fertilizer that degrades quickly.
The goats were never left alone. A skilled shepherd was on site 24 hours a day, and used voice commands, dogs, and other means to manage their herd.
It took the herd roughly one week to target browse an area of 10 Ha in Rundle Park. Each day they were contained to a different area, which ensured that the goats effectively removed noxious species while maintaining the health of natural species in each area.
The pilot project concluded in 2019. We are working on the evaluation of the pilot. Future decisions will be communicated.
In 2019, a Sustainability Scholar joined the GoatWorks team to evaluate our public education and engagement strategy and provide recommendations for its improvement.