Got Weeds? Rent Goats

Weed-eating Goat | BCBusiness
Herds of goats make for eco-friendly weed whackers.

They’re cheap, they’re environmentally friendly and they can double as a children’s attraction, so why are more farmers not renting out goats for weed control?

When the City of Kamloops had a problem with invasive weeds in its parkland last year, it took a page from American farmers in dealing with the issue: instead of spraying the field with toxic pesticides, it hired a herd of goats to eat them. The plan was so successful that the goats—over 440 of them—are back again this year, noshing noxious weeds and invasive plants from Dalmation toadflax to thistles.

In the U.S., more than 70 farmers are raising goats for weed control, while here in Western Canada we have only one. Conrad Lindblom, owner of Rocky Ridge Vegetation Control who rents part of his 1000-strong herd to the City of Kamloops, doesn’t understand why the trend in using goats as an environmentally friendly method of dealing with weeds hasn’t caught on faster. He told the Toronto Star that he’s been working on this for 14 years, starting with logging companies in northern B.C. and Alberta, where his herd conducts weed control on forest clear-cuts.

Goats are reputed to eat anything, and while Lindblom says this isn’t technically true, they will eat almost any weed and not dispel the seeds, he told the Star. According to the article, by using the goats, the City of Kamloops saved $16,000 compared to its previous weed-omitting task force: inmates at the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre who hand-pulled them. And, the goats were more efficient.

Researchers at the UNBC who studied the use of goats as weed whackers found they were able to eliminate thistle growth around Prince George sewage pond at a 30 per cent reduction over the two years the university ran the project.

Five years ago, The New York Times published a story discussing the gaining popularity of goats and sheep as “a low-cost, nontoxic tool in the battle to control leafy spurge, knapweed, dalmatian toadflax and other invasive species,” noting that it’s catching on in places like ski slopes in Vermont and vineyards in California—similar landscapes to what we have here in B.C. The article further cited that a study by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University that “indicated nonnative weeds had invated 40 per cent to 50 per cent of America’s croplands, pasture and public lands, and were spreading at a rate of 1.75 million acres per year.”

Last year, the goats in Kamloops cleared 300 hectares of weeds in a local park. The National Post reports that they’re chewing at a rate of about $300 per hectare, about half the cost of chemical spraying or hand-pulling, and private businesses are watching with interest.