The big question was whether goats would want to eat the gnarly weed known as Japanese knotweed.
And the answer is a resounding yes. They like it; they really like it.
Conrad Lindblom of Rocky Ridge Vegetation Control was in Chilliwack this week to take part in a pilot project near the Royalwood Golf Course, coordinated by City of Chilliwack.
“Knotweed is a very invasive plant that’s hard to kill,” Lindblom said.
They were working on a big, thick swath of Japanese knotweed, that looks a bit like bamboo. The invasive plant was choking out all other vegetation on the bank against Evans Creek in Greendale.
But the goats slowly chomped through most of it in a just a couple of days.
“I never met a weed the goats didn’t like,” quipped Lindblom.
They’ve been hired in the past for removing thistle and knapweed, he said, but knotweed is a whole new ball game for them.
It took a while for the weed-loving goats to get enthusiastic about it.
“They were cautious on the first day, just like when anything new is introduced, but they are going right after it now,” he said.
Lindblom spent a couple of days at the site. It was his second time in the community. The first was in March when the goats targeted Himalayan blackberries and that trial was also a success.
Lindblom was watching the goats Wednesday alongside researcher Natasha Murphy. Murphy is working on her master’s degree in Ecological Restoration at BCIT and SFU, studying the efficacy of goat browsing on invasive plant species.
“They are incredible,” she said about Lindblom’s goats, who were blissfully chomping.
They would strip all the leaves and stalks off the plants for about an hour or more and then lie down for an hour or so to chew their cud.
When they first arrived, the stand of knotweed was so thick, you couldn’t see the water of the creek.
By the end of the second day the whole area opened up, with only a few chewed up stalks remaining in their wake.
It will take several run-throughs to get it all, Lindblom said, and it could take up to three years to get it all.
“We can’t do it in just one grazing.”
Ideally they’d target the patch more than once, he said, when the shoots are young, to stress out the root system enough to kill the plant.
They’ll have to monitor and maintain, but so far it looks good for the pilot project with knotweed.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said she could see how using goats for weed control could be a big help for Chilliwack.
The premise is that using goats will save time and money in environmentally friendly way by controlling invasive plants better than pesticides.
“These curious, intelligent and gastronomically indiscriminate creatures have aided our city immensely,” said Gaetz.
With an estimated 924 million goats around the globe, the possibilities are opening up in terms of using goats to eradicate noxious weeds.
“I am grateful to our partners for approaching a complex problem with such ingenuity. Who doesn’t love goats?
“They are efficient, and cheap with an indiscriminating palate. They don’t work for peanuts, but Japanese knotweed is close second,” Gaetz joked.