Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Goat “weed warriors” ready for battle this summer

By Barbara LaBoe and Tamara Greenwell 

Update for Sept. 13, 2016: A herd of 17 goats got back to work grazing invasive weeds at a stormwater pond in Vancouver. You might remember we deployed several herds of four-legged weed warriors around the state in a pilot-program last year. We found that goats as a mowing tool have some advantages over mechanical mowing, but only in certain, specific areas, such as those that are already fenced or an area that’s steep or hard to reach. 

In many cases, the costs of temporary fencing to keep drivers and the herd safe outweights the envriomental cost/benefits of using goat power. The program works along Clark County area highways, where we already have several fenced locations that can support the use of goats, without increased overhead costs. The end result; goats will remain one of many tools we use to remove overgrown vegetation in our stormwater facilities. 

Click on the photo below to watch an interview with our goat handler/maintenance technician Heidi Holmstrom. 

Update for May 2, 2016: Our Southwest Washington weed warrior heard is growing! These kiddos will join the working goats once they’ve put on a few pounds. The Southwest Washington heard did so well in 2015; they’ll be back clearing invasive weeds along Clark County highways again this summer. Goats sterilize weed seeds during digestion, preventing new weeds from taking root, and they can reach some rocky terrain more easily than our crews can.  

Update for Sept. 10: We'd like to introduce you to Watson and Dottie, the newest additions to our weed warriors program in Vancouver. Their mother, Luna, bravely worked during the day, Tuesday, Sept. 8, in a stormwater retention pond clearing invasive weeds and had these cute kids late that evening. The kids will be added to the heard when they are old enough to work.

Update for Aug. 26: Checking in on our heard of goats in Vancouver, we found the goats far exceeded our expectations of making a meal out of invasive weeds that once dominated a storm water pond off State Route 500 in Vancouver. The goats were at the site for 37 days and destroyed a jungle of blackberries, Japanese knot weed and other invasive weeds. Maintenance technician Heidi Holmstrom moved the goats on Wednesday, Aug. 26 to a new location. We will continue to bring you updates on their progress.

May 6, 2015

We're deploying some four-legged warriors this summer in our never ending battle with weeds along state highways and right of ways: Goats.

We first used hoof-powered weed control last year in Vancouver. This year – appropriately enough the Year of the Goat – we’re expanding the pilot program.  Goat weed warriors will tangle with brush and weeds in Olympia and Spokane as well as return to battle at more Vancouver sites.

We normally use workers with mowers and other gas-powered machines to clear these areas. Goat power has decidedly less greenhouse gas emissions and is better for the environment. Goats also sterilize weed seed through their digestive process, preventing new plants from taking root.  And, four legs are also better than two when it comes to storming some rocky, weed-infested areas.

Goats call this dinner; we call it a vegetative management approach.
Goats may be pretty ferocious with their fabled cast-iron stomachs, but they’re not necessarily cheaper weed eaters.  There are rental costs, temporary fencing needed in some areas and staff time involved in letting goats attack our weeds. (One project uses donated goats owned by a WSDOT employee, but even that project has fence reinforcement and staff time costs).

What we’ll be studying this summer in the pilot project is whether the goat benefits outweigh the extra costs.

We picked three goat deployment locations to ensure we’re testing the goats – and costs –in different situations and on different terrains. All costs, including labor, feed, transportation and fencing, will be recorded during the weed wars – some lasting a few days, others a good chunk of the summer.

Weeds, brush and small trees – all in a day’s work for our four-legged weed whackers.
We’ll issue our findings in a WSDOT Research Report, which will be shared with other states and the national Transportation Research Board. Goat “mowing” is growing in popularity, but few states have comprehensive cost/benefits figures.

Here are the locations of our goat test projects:

Goats from Rent-A-Ruminant will clear vegetation from a former homeless camp under the Interstate 5 interchange near Henderson Boulevard starting May 9. Temporary fencing will allow the goats and goat herder to remain on site for several days.

In addition to evaluating how the goats work in the field, this project also aims to remove brush and other overgrowth to make the site more exposed and less likely to attract future homeless camps. Such camps pose safety risks to our maintenance crews and also can lead to damage of state property. More than 2,000 pounds of trash was recently cleared from the camp.

Goats provided by Healing Hooves will be used to prevent or delay seed production in an 18-acre noxious weed infestation along US 395 near Spokane. These non-native weeds can quickly take over an area and choke out more native species. This type of four-legged mowing prevents flowering and seed production and allows for more effective weed control with herbicide later in the season when perennial weeds are most vulnerable. The 250 goats will be onsite late spring or early summer.

This is where our goat story began when maintenance technician Heidi Holstrom deployed her own herd of goats at a stormwater pond last summer. They’re back again this year and are gaining ground, now working at 12 sites. They start work at their first site today, May 6. While the goats are free again as part of the pilot project, other costs will be recorded as part of the statewide study. Water quality impacts also will be studied on a site with standing water and potential outflow.

Goat weed warriors fan out to tackle weeds in Vancouver last summer.
They’re returning this summer and also will be deployed in Spokane and Olympia.
Want to know how the goat warriors fared during this summer’s battles? Check back this fall when we’ll detail the results of this summer’s weed wars.


Anonymous said...

Yay! Thank you for being responsible for the planet!

AkbashWoman said...

Th8s is so exciting! I used to want to use my chickens to clear the roadside edge and drainage ditch by my home. Wasn't sure if the distraction would be too much for the drivers.

WSDOT said...

We’re excited to see the final results. As you reference, driver distraction is a serious consideration and something we’ll monitor as part of the pilot program.

AkbashWoman said...

Why don't you have a goat cam going?

WSDOT said...

That's an excellent idea. We'll look into the possibility and logistics.

Anonymous said...

"The Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded."

LBD said...

Who would I contact about these projects
Thank you

WSDOT said...

Hi, LBD. Your contact is Ray Willard, WSDOT's Roadside Maintenance Program Manager. He can be reached at:

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