Thunder Bay

No complaining, no wages, as goats chew their way through summer grass cutting season at Mount Baldy

A ski hill in Thunder Bay, Ont., is using a very European technique to keep its ski runs in good shape for the upcoming season.
For the second year, Mount Baldy in Thunder Bay, Ont., is using goats to cut the grass on the ski runs, instead of doing the mowing with weed whackers. (Jason Kardas)

A ski hill in Thunder Bay, Ont., is using a very European technique to keep its ski runs in good shape for the upcoming season.

The grass trimmers, gas-powered and heavy, have been put to the side, with a herd of 60 to 80 goats replacing them.

"Back in our days when we were on the National Ski Jumping Team, we used to train in Germany, Austria and Italy in the summertime. We all remembered seeing the goats and the cows all over the Alps, all over the ski runs," said Jason Kardas, one of the co-owners of Mount Baldy.

Kardas said when they originally bought the hill, they would cut most of the grass on the hill, which has many steep and rocky sections, by hand. He said the job would take weeks to complete.

Not only is much of the manual labour eliminated, also is the need for fossil fuels to power weed whackers.

"You do 300 acres, and you learn real quick how hard of a job that actually is"

This year marked the second year the ski hill had goats brought to the area, where they would be kept in a fenced area, which was moved around, based on where more grass and shrubbery was growing.

Goats graze on the grass at Mount Baldy in Thunder Bay, Ont. The ski area uses the animals instead of weed whackers to cut the grass on the ski runs. (Dan Kardas)

"If I show you a section, not only do they do the grass, but we have a lot of little tree shoots coming out. Those shoots, each year, they grow thicker and thicker and thicker. Even with a weed whacker, you're never really stunting them."

"With the goats, we learned they'll actually eat them down right to the little nubbies, and actually kill that and let the grass grow. Ideally, you want more grass growing as opposed to shrubbery."

Kardas said the colour of the grass is greener where the goats work compared to hand mowing - and he thinks it's because while they 'work' they also fertilize.

"We jokingly say they're the best workers out there. They work all day, and there's no complaining."

"They eat so much so quickly that every few weeks you have to keep moving that net. Each year we're kinda checking it out to see which areas they do well at, right, but they love the steep rocky stuff, which our employees and us, don't like the steep rocky stuff, so it's a win-win." 

Kardas estimates the goats can cut around 60 per cent of the trails at the hill, with the remainder done by a pull-behind mower around the ski area base. He said the area can be marshy, which would be difficult for the goats to move around in.

Kardas said the animals come from Giantview Farms, and there's a possibility more animals could be added to the mix next year.

"We were going to try the cows out. Apparently the cows do three, four more times than the goats do on the flat surfaces. So, next year, you might see a Mount Baldy fully fledged farm."

Kardas said many people do come to the ski area in the summer to take a look at the goats, who he compares to more of a family pet, than a farm animal.

"They have a mind of their own. They're unbelievable. They're very similar to dogs, I have two dogs myself. If you go near there, they make sounds when you're coming toward them. They're neat little guys."

"They love a scratch underneath their horns. When you come to the fence, they're so loud, they're so excited."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Walters

Reporter/Editor

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.

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