No kidding around — goats being used to tackle noxious weeds at Edmonton park

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A shepherd, horses and dogs herding more than 100 goats — it may sound like a novel set in 18th century England but it's happening down the road in Edmonton's Rundle Park.

About 170 goats are munching their way through the park terrain as part of a pilot project to control noxious weeds in a more environmentally friendly manner than using herbicides.

The goats are trained specifically to nosh through invasive weeds like Canada thistle, leafy spurge, tansy, common burdock and yellow toadflax on a varied landscape. 

"We have a hillside as well as some understory that's a little bit more rocky, so these goats will be great to use in those areas," Joy Lakhan, the city's goat program coordinator, explained.

"Thistle is known to be pretty expansive and can get quite out of control on the landscape." 

The municipality is in charge of controlling noxious weeds and has traditionally used herbicides in Rundle Park and other areas.

Jeannette Hall, the shepherd and owner of Baah'd Plant Management and Reclamation, has brought eight different breeds of goat.

"I have a variety intentionally," she explained. "There's different personalities and energy levels and some of them tend to mellow each other out."

She even has names for all the goats and knows their behaviour patterns. Some are great for clearing underbrush, for example. 

"We also have brushy guys who are smaller — the Spanish goats in particular can get right into some of the nitty-gritty spots," said Hall. 

Big meat goats slow down the group, she added, and the odd dairy goat is there to provide milk for kids.

Goats are ideal for urban settings, Hall explained, because they're easier to manage than sheep or cattle. They're relatively quiet, their droppings are small and discreet and they handle stress well.  "And they're incredibly intelligent, so they can start to figure out my programs after a while," she said.

The goats will be in the park until next Wednesday and will return for a stint in August and again in September, to control weeds in late summer.

When the goats return next month, the city plans to hold two public meet and greet events. Outside those events, the public is asked not to disturb the goats.

Goats are friendly but Hall would like people to keep a respectful distance.

The city is also working with Olds College to evaluate how effective the program is at controlling noxious weeds.