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Goats returning to certain Calgary parks for weed control this summer

For the fourth year running, goats are hoofing it to McHugh Bluff to combat invasive weeds and plant species.

Passersby will be able to glimpse billy goats gruff from July 15-25.

Since 2018, these fuzzy weed-whackers have been munching their way through invasive plant species that hurt native plant life.

Information provided by the City of Calgary said that numerous species have seen significant drops in population size in the McHugh bluff area where the goats are chomping away.

Eyesores like Canada thistle, black henbane, yellow clematis, and scentless camomile are starting to gradually disappear from McHugh Bluff.

While the decrease in invasive species is a welcome sight, the return of native flora will be a long process. The returns on the use of these goats won’t be seen for several years, said Trisha Striker, parks ecologist with the City of Calgary.

“It’s a long-term process. We’ve been seeding each year after the weed control has been performed. Over time it will eventually become more natural, replacing these areas where there are just weeds. But for now, it’s a long-term restoration project,” Striker said.

Benefits of using goats

The positive developments that have accompanied the goats are surpassing the effectiveness of traditional herbicides in some cases, without some of the dangers herbicides bring.  

The spots where the goats are most effective are along bodies of water and steep hillsides. Using herbicides along bodies of water is inadvisable, so the goats provide a good alternative.

For the hillsides, it’s often difficult for crews to reach these spaces with their herbicide equipment. The goats, however, have no such trouble scaling the hillsides in their endless search for food.

Even the less appealing attributes of the goats contribute to an overall positive outcome.

“They also provide other benefits, including allowing more native vegetation to grow, which encourages healthy wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Plus, goat droppings fertilize the soil, and their hooves work the earth helping to till, aerate and condition the ground,” read information provided by the city.

With all of the benefits the goats provide, more widespread use seems like a logical next step.  

As it turns out, wrangling herds of goats is not as easy as one would like it to be.

Challenges associated with using goats

The goats come with their own challenges and problems that make their widespread usage unrealistic.

There are more logistics involved with the planning of the goats. A goat grazing contractor has to be hired, while sites where they will be allowed to feed have to be secured.

The goats themselves need a herder and dogs to keep them together during the day. Pens are needed at night to keep them from wandering. They are living beings. They need water, food and other necessities to keep them going.

This complicates the process and involves more steps than just normal herbicide usage.

As Striker said, while the goats are invaluable to helping out the parks they work at, they are only one part of a much larger system.

“There are a lot of other naturalization and restoration works going on right now. The goats are just one tool that we use to help restore Calgary parks. In terms of expanding, there are no plans. We just use this program as needed,” Striker said.

While there aren’t any plans for major expansions or a complete replacement of herbicides, the program is including one more park in its efforts this year. In addition to McHugh Bluff, goats will be seen at Ralph Klein Park in the southeast.

There have even been considerations of bringing in grazing animals besides goats. Sheep have been used in the past at Weaselhead Park, and cattle are another option on the table for the future.