July 9, 2014 6:13 pm

Sheep help save Saskatchewan rangelands from invasive plant species

Watch the video above: Sheep help battle invasive plant species

SASKATOON – Agricultural producers and government agencies have spent years dealing with invasive alien plant species and now sheep are coming to the rescue.

As a contract shepherd Jared Epp works with his dedicated dog Rex to herd dozens of sheep along Saskatchewan fields.

“The sheep are two-fold: they provide the grazing disturbance which invigorates the natural grasses, but they also target a lot of the weeds,” said Epp.

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According to the Meewasin Valley Authority, for the last decade, invasive species have been growing at a rapid rate, causing a lot of problems.

Fortunately, sheep love to eat many of them.

“They are particularly effective with leafy spurge, they love sow thistle and any farmer will be able to relate to those species because they’re a real problem plant,” said Luc Delanoy, with the Meewasin Valley Authority.

The South Saskatchewan River Watershed Stewards helped to facilitate a tour on Wednesday to educate agricultural producers, municipal leaders and agencies on how to control invasive plants.

Many of the alien plants came from Europe and Asia over the past 150 years, but grazing bison kept them at bay.  Now that the wild bison are gone, weeds like leafy spurge are taking over.

“In the U.S., there’s millions of acres of range land that have been covered with leafy spurge, and a lot of these lands have been lost to production for cattle producers,” said Renny Grilz, with the watershed stewards.

Leafy spurge is also out-competing grass, he explained, which is essential for stabilizing soil.

That can affect roadways and even drinking water during periods of heavy rainfall.

“There’s an increased potential for erosion, which will run into the watershed and cause silting, which will affect all of us with our drinking water supplies,” Grilz said.

“Here in the City of Saskatoon, they have to do a lot of filtering…it costs the taxpayers a lot of money.”

Municipalities and agencies are promoting the use of herbicides and bio-controls to protect range lands. But as long as sheep are around, they may not be needed.

The tour was held in Saskatoon’s northeast swale, east of the Saskatoon Wildlife Federation.

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