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Calgary parks goat-grazing pilot project a go

Pilot will happen over the summer and collect data on how effective the grass eaters are as City of Calgary employees

Goats will soon graze in Calgary's parks.

Courtesy/ Mjrichmo

Goats will soon graze in Calgary's parks.

You've goat to be kid-ding me! Well, we're not.

The City of Calgary is in talks with a shepherd and her professional dogs to bring a small herd – about 100 goats – to a park and put them to work. The grazers will be targeting the Canada thistle and other weeds as a green alternative to herbicides in Confluence Park.

"It's not that uncommon anymore, grazing is being used more and more frequently in urban areas and in general just as a way to manage landscapes," said Chris Manderson, Urban Conservation lead for Calgary Parks. "There's some interesting stuff happening in the U.S. – heck, you can even order goats through Amazon in the U.S. now."

The shepherd will introduce the flock in the next couple of months and collect data on their work – fine or foul. That information will then be reported back to council in hopes of allowing the city's parks department to add goats to their toolbox.

But don't be fooled, this doesn't mean you can trade in a lawnmower for a grass muncher this summer. Manderson said it wasn't easy to find the perfect spot to try out their proof-of-concept. City's current land-use bylaws don't allow for livestock in city limits – but his team found a loophole.

"There are some land uses that allow that in the city, because there are farms on the outside of the city that allow agriculture," Manderson said. He noted part of Confluence Park, where the pilot project is slated to happen, was never redesigned as a park and allows livestock.

Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said he's heard several complaints from constituents about using chemicals to get rid of unwanted weeds. He welcomes the pilot and is anxiously waiting for the results.

"The idea that we can go into our green spaces with a herd of goats and do the weed control in that natural way is a very very exciting proposition," Carra said. "Let's see if the pilot works, and that will just give us more opportunity and ammunition to address these regulations."

From research the city has done this method is cheaper than spraying, the pilot could cost $30,000 but the precise costs and details aren't nailed down yet.

Jeannette Hall, owner of BAAH'D Plant Managment & Recreation is the modern shepherd for the job. She describes herself as a combination between the farmer from Babe and a cowboy, complete with horse and herding dogs.

"This is a holistic approach to land stewardship," Hall said. When goats eat up the weeds a number of good things happen, they remove the plants' reproduction response and keep the integrity of the soil. "You're keeping your soil in better condition and you're contributing to natural plant succession, you're facilitating native species to take over."

Salem goats fired after failed pilot

The grass isn't always greener when you ditch mowing equipment and opt for livestock instead.

The City of Salem, Ore. recently had a herd of unemployed goats on their hands after they fired the expensive team for damaging trees, raising a stink and eating native plants – all for a contracted price of $14,475.

After completing a pilot on one of their parks, the findings showed in that location, the city could have paid inmate workers, or mowed the stretch for $3,370 – roughly one-fifth of the pilot project cost.

A report written by the city's assistant public works director Robert Chandler, said although the goats were universally welcomed by park users, goats were drawn to the bark of maple and hazelnut trees. They also were devouring native plants.

But the report hinted the city wasn't done with goat grazers just yet.

In Calgary, Manderson said they will be looking to the U.S. municipality for lessons learned.

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