Goats for weed control sprouts into an industry

Another trial in Chilliwack is set for May, but this time directed at a gnarly patch of Japanese knotweed rather than blackberries

Conrad Lindblom

Conrad Lindblom

It’s taken a lot of effort to prove that goats do a better job than herbicides when it comes to weed control.

That’s the word according to Conrad Lindblom, owner of Rocky Ridge Vegetation Control.

“Goats just love weeds,” he explained.

It because they are targeted “browsers” rather than “grazers” like cows or sheep.

The first time Lindblom transported the goats here was in March for a pilot project removing noxious weeds. He partnered with City of Chilliwack, UFV and the B.C. Invasive Plant Council, to test out the goats-as-weed-control theory.

They targeted Himalayan blackberries in a fenced area and it was a big success.

“The project in Chilliwack was great,” he said.

Next up is another trial in May, but this time directed at a patch of Japanese knotweed that’s popping up in Chilliwack.

“That one will be somewhat experimental, but our experience and research makes us confident that we can handle it,” said Lindblom.

“We never met a weed the goats didn’t want to eat.”

The plan is to get the knotweed at the right time of year, and let the goats graze heavily.

Originally from Alberta, the goat contractor is now based out of Kamloops, B.C. since securing some solid work from Crown corporations, and provincial bodies, to cities and more.

“There is a really active industry using herbicides.

“We’re trying to start one using goats.”

They launched Rocky Ridge Vegetation Control with a herd of 500 goats, and got contracts initially working in the forest industry.

“My wife and I started 18 years ago,” said Lindblom.

“We wanted to do something that was different — or better than using herbicides, and to prove it would work.”

They started clearing out weeds in cutblocks to make way for replanting of spruce and pine. It turns out using goats was 30 per cent cheaper than pumping out chemical sprays like Round Up.

“So if it was cheaper and healthier, why wouldn’t anyone use the goats?” he asked.

When the pine beetle situation hit the B.C. forest industry with a vengeance, they switched from working in forestry cutblocks to controlling invasive plants in parks, ranch lands, and cities.

They have also been working with BCIT’s Wetlands Restoration Program at Logan Lake.

There the working goats cleaned up weeds like thistle or knapweed in the wetlands, where the only alternative is hand-picking.

Given all this promise, he’s hoping to light a fire under any would-be goat herders in the Fraser Valley, who may be interested in considering a new career in weed control with goats.

“It’s the kind of job you don’t need to take a vacation from,” he said.

What is the demand for their services like?

“There’s no shortage of weeds in Southern B.C.” he quipped.

They’re even willing to help anyone get started.

“There is lots of work. We’re not worried about the competition.”

There is tons of support for the more environmentally friendly method of using the goats.

Goats have a bit of a bad reputation, possibly undeserved, and they’re good at what they do.

“People come up to thank us for what we’re doing. We get so much public support, it’s unbelievable,” Lindblom added.

There’s only one company in Canada right now — his — as opposed to the hundreds operating in the U.S.

As the only goat-herding weed control contractor of this kind in Canada, he’s been mentoring three other operators who want to hang out a similar shingle.

“I’m getting past my expiry date, but I don’t want to quit and not have this industry carry one.”

As a business, it’s economically viable, and more so than raising cattle for example, he said. It costs about $100,000 in trucks, trailers and goats to get started, and there’s at least $150,000 per year to be made eventually, after getting established.

Ideally, he’d like to work closely with UFV, to formally incorporate training of goats as weed control, into their agriculture program.

“BCIT is interested but they don’t have an agriculture program.”

It’s just about getting people to think differently about controlling vegetation.

They use a cattle liner for transporting the specially trained goats.

“They load up good, and we move them around like a big lawn mower.”

It’s not a new idea in any way, and is still common in Europe and the U.S.

“It’s an old idea being reintroduced. The chemicals aren’t healthy. So let’s get back to old methods that work.”

Check out Rocky Ridge Vegetation Control to find out more about goats as weed control.