Friday, May 20, 2016

Weed Warrior Update

By Barbara LaBoe

Last summer we used goats to wage war on weeds in three areas across the state. How did our four-legged weed whackers do?

We're not ready to buy our own herd, but we are still interested in goat mowing. It turns out that goats, aside from being seriously cute, are effective weed control in certain, specific locations. Our Vancouver-area pilot project, for example, worked so well that officials in the greater Seattle-area are now investigating doing the same.

Our Southwest Washington weed warrior herd is growing! These
kiddos will join the heard once they've put on a few pounds.

The goats kept weeds in fenced stormwater facilities near Vancouver under control as well as traditional methods by our maintenance crews and would be slightly cheaper – about $300 less per acre according to our overall estimates. (For the pilot the goats were donated by an employee, but we used contractor quotes for the cost estimates). Goats also are much more environmentally friendly than gas-powered mowers and, in rocky terrain, can reach some areas easier than our crews.

Not every goat weed warrior assault was as successful, though.

In our Olympia and Spokane roadside locations, contracted goats and herders cost more than traditional methods of mowing and spraying with herbicides – especially if extensive fencing is needed as it was in Olympia. Costs with the contractor in Olympia were $11,993 per acre, compared to $4,574 if our maintenance crews had cleared it with mowers and other equipment. (Those costs also included traffic control crews to shut down roads to load goats in and out of the location.) In Spokane, the contracted goats and herder cost $395 more per acre compared to having maintenance crews to do the work. In addition, traditional mowing and herbicide methods were deemed better at clearing and controlling vegetation overall in both locations. Goats might still be considered in certain roadside locations and situations – if herbicide is prohibited, for example – but overall likely won't be used often in these types of locations.

Meet the newest additions to the Southwest Washington weed warriors,
Mary and Joseph. They were born on Christmas Day 2015.

So, are we sold on goat power?

We plan to use goats as one of many tools in our vegetation control tool box – when and where it makes sense. Goats may not be a frequent tool, but they will remain an option to our crews. Vegetation control often requires a multi-prong approach, so more options certainly helps our efforts.

Flurry and Snowflake are learning to get around. Once they're stable
on their hooves they'll join the herd in Clark County this summer.

Last summer's study was also a chance to develop good cost-benefit numbers for goat use both for ourselves and other states. From that standpoint, the pilot was a success, identifying areas where goats work well, areas where they're more challenged and other issues – such as liability, union buy-off and the need to solicit bids and develop an on-call list of goat contractors for when we need them – that still need some refining before goats can be used long-term. We hope it helps others make the best decisions possible for their own agencies. It also will be shared with the national Transportation Research Board.

In the meantime, the photogenic goats in Vancouver – including some new babies -- are getting ready for another summer of grazing – and their next close up.

1 comment:

Kellie Thorne said...

Can I borrow your goats? The blackberries are taking over my yard!