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City seeks 'professional shepherds' to manage weed-munching goat herd

01/22/2018

Published on: January 10, 2018 | Last Updated: January 11,2018 10:03 AM MST

ANNALISE KLINGBEIL

Goats, sheep and other four-legged plant-eaters could becoming to a green space near you this year, as Calgary looks to hireprofessional municipal shepherds.

While other city job postings attract a flood of applicants,Chris Manderson, urban conservation lead for Calgary Parks, said that likelywon’t be the case for this one-of-a-kind expression of interest posted Monday.

“I don’t have a lot of experience in this … I think it’s apretty select field,” Manderson said.

“We’re looking for anybody that has experience or skills inworking with livestock for grazing, particularly if they could do it in amunicipal setting. The idea is to just see who is there.”

The city’s search for “experienced livestockmanagers/professional shepherds” comes following a successful bylaw amendmentin July that saw city council approve alternative land management tools,including goats, to munch on vegetation within city limits.

The bylaw change was spurred by a successful two-year pilotproject that saw about 100 goats — along with shepherd Jeannette Hall, fourdogs, two horses and a tiny house — live at Confluence Park in the city’snortheast in 2016 and graze on invasive weeds. The goats munched at ConfluencePark and Ralph Klein Park last summer.

Target browsing is a new industry in western Canada and Hallsaid to the best of her knowledge, she’s the only shepherd in Alberta workingon a commercial scale.

“It really is a profession and it takes someone who reallyknows what they’re doing,” said Hall, who previously worked as an environmentalconsultant and started her company BAAH’D Plant Management and Reclamationafter noticing a demand for organic weed control.

The recent bylaw change in Calgary means urban ungulates cannow legally descend on parks throughout the city, though don’t expect astampede of weed-eating creatures.

“We’re not going to have goats everywhere, suddenly,” saidManderson.

“We want to try this out in different sites, in differentseasons, and go cautiously but optimistically and see what it brings us.”

Manderson said parks staff are starting to plan for thecoming year, looking at areas where grazing may be preferable to moreconventional weed-control methods.

“Herbicides (are) still a staple of our program because itdoes work, but we know we want to minimize the use wherever we can,” he said.

Through the pilot project, the city found using a shepherdand goats, costing about $35,000 for 35 hectares, has a smaller price tag thana conventional herbicide application, which rings in at roughly $1,500 perhectare.

Not to mention, said Manderson, animal-powered weed controlhas less of an impact on the natural environment than spraying herbicides,particularly close to bodies of water, and the all-terrain browsers have theadded bonus of getting Calgarians talking about weeds. 

“People connect to goats, and that’s pretty cool,” Mandersonsaid. “People don’t really connect to somebody out there with a backpacksprayer. So, if this is a way to talk about weed control, that’s worth it to meas well.”

NOT JUST GOATS

Manderson said the city hasn’t restricted the type oflivestock allowed under the amended bylaw to just goats or sheep, though headmitted, “as you go up in size, things get a little more complicated.” 

And, he noted, goats aren’t the only creature the city hasused as a weed management tool.

Flea beetles are being used to help control invasive plants.

Since 2006, Calgary has introduced insects such as the fleabeetle and weevil to keep invasive plants such as leafy spurge, houndstongueand scentless chamomile under control.

Bugs are currently used at 96 sites across the city,including along the rivers in Fish Creek Park where the leafy spurge — afluorescent green plant with a milky sap — is popular.

“If we have a population of this weed, you release thisbeetle. In a couple of years, it will gradually start to feed on this thing andyou’ll see the (weed) population pretty much disappear,” Manderson explained.

“It takes a little bit longer, but it’s proving to be reallyeffective. I think it’s the neatest thing we’re doing because it’s really justletting biology do the job for us.”

Even more interesting than weed-eating ungulates?

“Neater than goats,” Manderson said with a laugh.


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