Targeted goat grazing program in Lethbridge wraps up for summer 2019

Targeted goat grazing program in Lethbridge wraps up for summer 2019
The program began in June with the goats spending three weeks in Alexander Wilderness Park and Indian Battle Park targeting invasive weeds such as leafy spurge, wormwood and thistle.

After a month break to let the weeds regrow, goats returned to work on Aug. 12. Friday is scheduled to be their last day on the job.

“The program has been really successful so far,” said Jackie Cardinal, the city’s parks natural resource co-ordinator, on Saturday.

“The first round of grazing, when you came down here after they were done, it was incredible because the grass was long. It was beautiful, [and] there was no leafy spurge to be found, no big yellow flowers, no clumps of wormwood. It was just beautiful natural prairie, so that was extremely successful. And we’re hoping in the long run that it’ll look like that all the time.”

The goats have been trained to only eat the weeds and leave behind native grasses and plants, making it a compelling option to control weeds.

“We chose the goats because they are natural grazers, they are browsers, they’re really picky about what they eat,” said Cardinal.

“Not hitting the grass leaves it more natural. They really only go through and pick what we’re looking for. The goats’ stomachs are very acidic so they don’t pass the seeds, and the way that they chew actually grinds up more of the seeds, making them not viable when they pass through in their droppings.”

Although this isn’t the first time the goats have been in town, this is the first time the city has used them to control invasive weeds.

After researching similar programs in Calgary and Edmonton, city officials launched a pilot program in October 2018 to see if the goat grazing program was a viable option for Lethbridge.

“We just wanted to know what the logistics were… of how do you hire goats, how does it work, and how hard are they to deal with in a public setting,” said Cardinal, “and it went really well. We had a lot of positive feedback, we learned a lot in the fall and we knew we wanted to come back for invasive weeds.”

The logistics, Cardinal explained, aren’t that complicated. Goats are moved between parks with a double-decker trailer and whether they use fences around the grazing area depends on the park.

“If it’s really, really thick with weeds, we’ll fence them on it to really get them to eat it all the way down to the bottom,” she said.

“If it’s a little bit more spread out and we’re in a good park like Alexander that’s quite quiet, the herders will actually just walk with them with the dogs to kind of keep them all together and they’ll go and search out what they’re looking for.”
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