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Alberta air force base to use goats, sheep to get rid of unwanted vegetation

A herd of goats munch on grass and weeds at Confluence Park in Calgary on June 21, 2016.
A herd of goats munch on grass and weeds at Confluence Park in Calgary on June 21, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A Canadian Forces base in Alberta is recruiting a new battalion of lean, mean, eating machines for a mission that will require limited action this summer.

The Department of National Defence has put out a tender for goats and sheep to graze on part of the base at 4 Wing Cold Lake.

“We did this in [CFB] Comox a few years ago and I have a feeling the idea kind of kicked off from that experience,” said Captain Mat Strong, public affairs officer for 1 Canadian Air Division based in Winnipeg.

“The reason we’re using goats is because the areas that need to be trimmed are in precarious locations such… where drainage ditches exist.”

The tender, which has now closed, said the base has areas that are difficult to maintain due to the degree of slope and accessibility.

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“To get people in there with trimmers and stuff takes days, because they do it by hand. But you can just dump a bunch of goats in there and they can take care of it in no time,” Strong said.

The contract calls for a herd of 250 animals: 70 per cent goats and 30 per cent sheep.

Strong said it’s not something planned for other bases across the country.

Using goats for weed control isn’t new. It’s been around in Europe for centuries and the critters have been employed in Kamloops, B.C., and Regina to deal with invasive weeds.

READ MORE: Edmonton’s weed-eating goat pilot project wraps up after 3 years 

The City of Calgary started to use goats to wipe out noxious weeds — most notably the Canada thistle — in a more environmentally friendly way at an urban park in 2016.

“We’ve got three different goat herds operating in the city right now. I would say it has been a success,” said Chris Manderson, who handles urban conservation for Calgary Parks.

Manderson said the newest area to get a goat herd next week is a steep bluff north of the Bow River downtown.

“Goats are a lot better at negotiating that hillside than people would be. A conventional approach would be guys out there with backpack sprayers.”

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READ MORE: Goats graze, till McHugh Bluff in Calgary as part of naturalization project 

Strong said removing vegetation is a good way to keep down unwanted wildlife at the base where bears, moose and deer have wandered onto the runway.

The new recruits will only be used as needed, he said.

“It’s kind of like a snow removal or lawn care service you’d have for your house,” Strong said.

“They basically use them for a defined period of time. And if they’re not needed again for a week or two, they go away and then they come back.”

Watch below: Some Global News videos about goats.