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Way to Goat

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There are a number of ways to deal with invasive plant species—from spraying them with chemicals to covering them with a tarp to wrenching them out of the ground with your hands—but former Dundas residents, Wayne Terryberry and Manon Tougas, decided to use a herd, rather than an herbicide, to get rid of invasive species on their property.

An invasive species is a non-native species, including plants, insects and animals which are introduced to an area. Invasive species adapt to the different growing conditions, lack natural predators, and, as a result, quickly spread throughout the region. Non-native species can sometimes live in harmony with native species but, more often than not, they displace native species, disrupt ecological balance and compromise biodiversity. Invasive plants can lower biodiversity so greatly that they create a monotypic community, where the invasive species is the only plant growing. Here in Halton, some of the most common invasive species include Zebra Mussels, Emerald Ash Borer, Gypsy Moth, Giant Hogweed, Garlic Mustard, Common Reed Grass, Purple Loosestrife, Dog-Strangling Vine, Buckthorn and Periwinkle—pretty but invasive!

The invasive species that Wayne and Manon found on their property were Japanese Knotweed and European Buckthorn. After researching various options, Wayne and Manon decided to purchase four goats and encouraged the goats to roam the property instead of spraying the land with chemicals. While they roam, the goats eat the leaves and seeds of the Japanese Knotweed and European Buckthorn. The seeds are then destroyed in their digestive tracts, which means that the goat droppings enrich the soil without the seeds of the invasive species being able germinate from it. In just a short period of time, the goats had eaten most of the Japanese Knotweed and European Buckthorn on the property.

About three years ago, Wayne and Manon moved from the property in Dundas and brought the goats with them to their new home. They now have more than 30 goats on their property, with four baby goats born just recently. Unfortunately, with the goats no longer around, the property in Dundas has become completely overgrown with Japanese Knotweed and European Buckthorn again. Consistent goat snacking can weaken the roots of the plant and, with enough time, eventually kill the entire plant, Wayne says, but it’s something you have to keep on top of.

This method of using animals, insects, parasites and pathogens to control invasive species is known as bio-control—a modern-sounding name for what is actually an old-timey tactic. Throughout history, farm animals, including cows and pigs, have been employed to mow lawns, munch weeds and eat up other unwanted plants but goats are definitely the most popular for this purpose. They can get to places that machines and even other animals can’t reach, the can handle steep, rugged terrain with ease, they are immune to many plants that would be toxic to most, they prefer a diet of woody, shrubby plants and they have hardy appetites. A goat can eat four to five pounds of plant per day and a herd of goats will take just one week to clear an entire acre. Needless to say, these lucky goats love their job.

Today, bio-control is coming back around as a sustainable and adorable way to manage invasive species, with farmers, landscapers, businesses, municipalities, conservation authorities and even homeowners welcoming the four-legging weed-whackers onto their properties. Wayne says that neighbours often ask him to bring the goats to their houses to chew up some of the invasive species on their properties. A handful of grazing goat companies have even cropped up in Ontario.

“From a conservation perspective, the goats are great educational tools to teach the public about the importance of controlling invasive species and the benefits of native species,” Wayne says.

Wayne is the Outdoor Recreation Coordinator for the Department of Athletics and Recreation at McMaster University. As part of his role, Wayne oversees McMaster Forest, which is a 115-acre forest that is used by the university as a conservation research site. One of the priorities in managing the forest has been to eliminate invasive species and replace them with native species of prairie grasses. As part of this effort, Wayne brought some of his goats to the forest so that the students from a Conservation Biology class could observe the foraging habits of the goats. Wayne thinks the use of goats in managing invasive species would make a great topic for graduate research and hopes to pursue funding in the future.

On June 23, 2015, Wayne and Manon became the first winners of the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System Watershed Stewardship Award for their stewardship efforts.

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Last modified: July 6, 2018

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