Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Got goats? We do and we’re using them to remove invasive weeds and save money!

 By Tamara Hellman

In a creative approach to getting more done with less, Heidi Holmstrom, one of our maintenance technicians from our Vancouver office, came up with the idea of using her pet herd of goats to remove invasive weeds like the Japanese knotweed. Seeds from the knotweed plant are transferred by water and sediment; quickly becoming a big problem in Clark County.

Front row: Choco, Buttons, Fergie and Taffy.
Second row: Daisy and Irma.
Third row: Mocha, Latte, Cappuccino and Breve.

Heidi’s herd of 15 goats resided in an acre and a half of land this summer off State Route 503 near Brush Prairie. The area was fenced to make sure the goats did not take off or block the roadway. During the summer the group of goats chomped away at the invasive Japanese knotweed; but also other weeds like sweet pea, blackberry vines and scotch broom. Not only do the goats get a decent meal out of the deal, their two-stage digestion process ensures the invasive plants do not re-root and continue to spread.

Maintenance Tech Heidi Holmstrom with a baby goat.
The short-term saving for maintenance equipment and staff is about $15,000, with the only costs being some animal crackers to treat the goats and Heidi’s time to check on her babies.

Another benefit of going goat is we avoid costly herbicide on the knotweed. The most effective application, aside from using goats, is injecting herbicide directly into the root of each plant. That process takes time, equipment and staff hours away from other roadway maintenance work. Cutting down the Japanese knotweed isn’t a good option as it becomes a bigger problem, because segments will re-root themselves, becoming brand new plants that just keep multiplying.

Irma is ready for her close-up.
Aside from being a fun approach to a serious problem, goats are an eco-friendly, low carbon-footprint alternative to weed control. Previously maintenance crews would have to go into this area with gas powered tools and use herbicides. The other day, I was driving and couldn’t see around a corner. It made me realize how important the work of these goats was.

The goats are on winter break, but will be back to work in the spring and hungry for more.


The Geezer said...

Are these literally Heidi's goats?
Was she compensated?
No competitive bidding?

The public wants to know.

The Geezer has spaketh

Tamara Hellman, said...

Good questions! Yes, these are Heidi’s pet goats. As a maintenance technician she is always looking for ways to save the department time and resources, given our current budget. She was not compensated, other than her usual hourly wage for her time to transport the goats and she would check on the goats during her usual weekly route. The idea to use the goats was her idea and it was successful. Our maintenance superintendent estimates the project saved the department roughly $15,000 in labor and equipment costs.

clea said...

I love this idea !! Thank you for being creative, innovative and eco friendly!

Anonymous said...

Also, I think it's important to note even though Heidi was not paid compensation for her goats, they had eaten free food , but Heidi had to pay the gas to port them there and also had to get a truck.
Actually, she probably just broke even.
Goats consume weeds and prefer them over grass.
What sense is there in putting bids out if there is no pay involved. No one would do this for free.
But I respect you for asking about giving others a chance to bid on this 'no-pay' job.

WSDOT said...

Thanks for your input, Anonymous! We will update this story in the spring as we look at ways to expand the use of goats in our management of roadside vegetation.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I had read sweet pea is toxic to goats. Is it just the seed that is the problem, and the leaves are ok? Thank you

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