Return of the goat
Jeanette Hall with goat (Photo by Molly Dube)
Molly Dube was the 2019 communications intern for the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) Alberta Region. She is currently studying natural resource conservation at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Molly is passionate about Canadian conservation and environmental protection. Her goal is to communicate conservation information in a way that will get people excited, inspired to learn more and take action.
In 2018, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) used specially trained goats to eat the invasive weeds that had taken over the Fleming Ranch property, located west of Edmonton. Invasive plants are a huge problem because they can choke out native species and make the area less appealing for wildlife to live in.
Now, the goats are back, and they’re hungry.
Jeanette Hall is the founder of BAAH’D Plant Management & Reclamation. Working with her are about 500 goats and 17 working dogs, who shepherd and guard the herd. Every single one of her goats is a weed removal specialist. These goats are trained in the art of target browsing.
Target browsing, also known as target grazing, is a way to manage vegetation by using livestock, like goats, to munch away on specific weeds to help control the unwanted plants. This is the second year of a multi-year project where the goats help manage the weeds on the Fleming Ranch property.
Successful weed management usually takes consistent work over multiple years because invasive plants are resilient and hard to get rid of. Even when the weeds are eaten completely, the plant can often regrow as long as the roots are alive in the ground. However, continual grazing efforts can deplete the plants’ resources and eventually keep the plant from growing back.
There’s a lot more to target browsing weed management than just letting the goats loose on the property. Jeanette has extensive knowledge of the local vegetation and land. Knowing which plants are weeds is only half the battle. Deciding when to let the hungry goats get to work is crucial as well. There are many different types of weeds, all with their own life cycle. This means that each species has its own unique window of time when the goats will make the most impact.
Baahd goat (Photo by Molly Dube)
Jeanette’s goats offer a number of other advantages when it comes to weed management. Sarah Yuckin, NCC’s natural area manager for the Fleming Ranch property, agrees that the goats are doing a great job. “Since the goats’ first visit, the grass has grown up considerably and there are less weeds!”
Goats can be a better option than other weed management methods, such as chemical sprays, which can have unwanted impacts on other plants. “The native plant regeneration wouldn’t be this good if we sprayed every year,” Sarah says. This is likely due to herbicides being a little too effective. When an area is sprayed, it often kills many of the other plants in the area, including native species. Weeds can also become resistant, which makes them even tougher to manage.
NCC plans to continue to work with Jeanette and her goats to tackle invasive weeds at Fleming Ranch and on other properties. Jeanette’s weed management program is organic, environmentally friendly, and focused on bringing effective and long-lasting change to the lands she works on. NCC also aims to apply quality conservation actions that will make a positive impact over the long term. Effectively managing invasive plants is a big part of taking care of the land.
All in all, it’s not a baah’d solution to a tough conservation challenge.
The Conservation Internship Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Summer Work Experience program.