Edmontonians had an opportunity to get closer to the weed-eating goats in Rundle Park and participate in crafts and educational exhibits on Saturday, July 27, 2019.
Lisa Johnson / Postmedia
If it were up to the Edmonton residents who came to see the herd of 470 weed-eating goats in Rundle Park Saturday, the city’s GoatWorks pilot project would never end.The three-year project began in 2017 after city council moved to ban non-essential use of herbicides on city-owned land. The goats will work their last shift in the park in September, with no contract confirmed for next year.The amount of public support and positive feedback the project received has been immense, said Joy Lakhan, the city’s project coordinator. Dozens of families came out Saturday to see the goats in action at Rundle Park.“It’s good for nature, for the environment, for the kids and for us to come and see the goats,” said Djoudi Bousmia, an Edmonton resident who brought his family to Rundle Park for the “meet and bleat” event. His three-year-old and five-year-old girls were fascinated with the goats, trying to pet and feed them across the fence.For Jeannette Hall, owner of Baah’d Plant Management and Reclamation, it’s about more than just feeding cute animals.“When I saw the eco-crisis that we’re facing, I wanted to contribute in a different way,” said Hall, whose company also has additional contracts in other municipalities including Red Deer and Calgary.These goats are specially trained to target invasive species like Canada thistle and leafy spurge. A goat digestive tract will also break down seeds. That makes them specially suited to stop the spread of those plants.It costs the city $32,500 per season in operating costs, said Lakhan.But some cliffy areas make parts of the park inaccessible or too hazardous for mowing or spraying, so goats are often the best and cheapest option, said Hall.“It seems like a win-win. It’ll be interesting to see how far through the park they go,” said visitor Brian Baker, wondering how much ground the goats can cover.It takes the herd roughly one week to move through an area of 10 hectares, and one goat will eat an average of 10 pounds of vegetation per day. Each day they are shuffled to a different area, where they can target 175 different kinds of weeds, said Hall.The goats also manage fire risk, reducing kindling and other dry materials at the base of trees and shrubs.“For me, I’m just really excited about the fact that there was someone who was willing to go out on a limb (to solve) a problem,” said attendee Rebecca Lee, celebrating the environmentally-responsible approach. “It’s perfect.”
Weed-eating goats are specially trained to target specific plants with positive reinforcement such as apples, said Joy Lakhan, the city’s GoatWorks project coordinator. Lisa Johnson/Postmedia
The city’s GoatWorks program partnered with a group of researchers at Olds College to measure the number of weeds remaining in the park after the three-year pilot, and will release the results in 2020 for the city to decide the future of the program.If the city does put another weed-eating goat project up for public tender next year, Hall said it’s important to have good guidelines and demand high standards rather than opting for the cheapest bid. All goats are not the same.Having a licensing program and good oversight for a relatively new industry would help to “keep people safe, keep the goats safe, and keep landowners from getting scammed,” said Hall.firstname.lastname@example.org@reportrix