Goats winning war on weed

goats feed on leafy spurge

It was an especially productive season for Flagstaff County’s favourite bearded weedeaters.

Between May 20 and the end of July, as many as 180 goats grazed a quarter-section of Flagstaff County-owned land near the Town of Hardisty in a cost-effective bid to purge the area of an infestation of leafy spurge.

The hungry herbivores, who have an inherent taste for the noxious weed, belong to Mallaig-area goat herders Darci and Michael Penner. The Penners have been contracted for the past two years to oversee this innovative program, which offers a natural alternative to spraying chemical herbicides.

“We got farther this year than we did last year, so we’re happy with that,” Darci says, noting the goats made it through the entire section. “I think we’ve got it figured out now.”

The Penners’ goats ranged in age from one to nine years and included a mix of males and females.

A Maremma sheepdog watched over the goats and kept vigilant for predators, such as coyotes, as the domestic ungulates followed a rotational grazing schedule behind a portable electric fence.

Plans are in place to continue the program, initially conducted at the site in 2013 and 2014, on an annual basis. The area is expected to be essentially free of leafy spurge within the next five years.

Besides being environmentally friendly and easily manoeuvrable, goats have proven to be cost-effective and efficient in dealing with leafy spurge in this spot in recent years and through other jurisdictions as far back as the mid-1980s.