Calgary

Why target browsing with goats is growing like the weeds they eat

Goats being used as organic weed control is not a new concept, but it sure is getting more popular.

Business is booming as more municipalities and companies chomp onto organic weed control

The organic weed control program plans to expand to other cities in Alberta. 0:39

If you happened to notice more than 100 goats munching away near Calgary's Shaganappi Trail recently, you should know they were on the clock and not to be disturbed.

The goats belong to Baah'd Plant Management and Reclamation, which has in the past been hired by the City of Calgary to clean up the weeds at Confluence Park

This time the four-legged weed-killing machines are spending the summer working for the West Campus Development Trust. The new gig comes after a successful workshop last year.

"It creates that curiosity for people asking why the goats are on the side of the slope in the University District. Obviously the City of Calgary uses them, some of the other developers are using them as well," said director of marketing and communications Maureen Henderson.

The goats move from site to site as needed.

"And it's working exceptionally well for the other people that have used them," said Henderson.

Gawking at the goats

Baah'd's owner and shepherd Jeannette Hall says there have been lots of visitors — sometimes as many as 200 a day.

"Right now we're working quite close to Shaganappi," she said, adding drivers have been noticing.

Hall encourages interested parties to drive up to the parking lots south of the Alberta Children's Hospital.

"We are in a pretty public spot, so we knew there would be a lot of people around too."

The owner of Baah'd Plant Management and Reclamation is asking drivers on Shaganappi Trail to not stop traffic to check out the goats "browsing" near the south storm pond. She says it's better to come to the West Campus parking lot south of the Alberta Children's Hospital. (CBC)

She says the goats are economical, environmentally friendly and more effective than pesticides that kill everything. They are trained to grow a taste for specific weeds and have shepherds, dogs and horses around to move them to new areas when needed.

Their droppings fertilize the soil, and their hooves help till, aerate and condition the land.

Hall adds they're also an ideal animal for weed control because, unlike other species of livestock, they don't redistribute the invasive species through their feces because their stomachs are very acidic.

Business growing

Business is booming and Hall says they have plans to expand to Red Deer, Lacombe and possibly even Edmonton.

She's been working with Conrad Lindblom of Rocky Ridge Vegetation Control, based out of Beaverlodge in northern Alberta, to get professional standards in place.

He has been at the forefront of the idea, but now wants to retire. 

Lindblom says there are many other companies starting up to take on the challenge, and they can make good money.

He has offered workshops at the University of the Fraser Valley, and is hoping to develop curriculum for Williams Lake's Applied Sustainable Ranching program.

Other applications

There are also so many other applications to the business model — the newest being to help ranchers clear their cattle grazing fields of weeds, but leaving the grasses for their livestock.

There is also the potential for goat meat, if companies can get livestock designation for their mobile operations.

And the industry creates jobs for professional shepherds who guide the goats to the right weed targets. 

The goats are coming back to Confluence Park this year, and their numbers are expected to double. Watch for them in early July, but remember to give them space. (CBC)

But many in the business want to see the job done right, and are hoping to see professional standards. Hall says they avoid the "set it and forget it" approach.

"You can't just do it with any group of farm goats," he said.

Hall agrees training is needed, and is happy to help others looking to get into the business.

"There is just so much demand for it. I think it will do really well, but we have to make sure we are facilitating ourselves to succeed," she said.