Bev Ness, who co-owns Goats on the Hoof, spends a playful moment with Alex, one of the 11 goats that were hired by the Regional District of Nanaimo to clear vegetation at the Blue Water Community Park in French Creek. — Michael Briones photo

Goat troopers reclaim overgrown Vancouver Island park

No kidding, goats weed out invasive plants north of Parksville

Who needs chemicals when you’ve got goats?

Beverly Ness and co-owner Alla Iwanyshyn operate a vegetation management business, based in Errington, called Goats on the Hoof.

Instead of using high-powered equipment and chemicals to get rid of weeds and a variety of invasive plant species, they’ve opted for a unique method – goats.

Goats on the Hoof was recently used by the Regional District of Nanaimo to clear approximately 2,000 square feet of vegetation at the Blue Water Community Park in French Creek. RDN parks planner, Renee Lussier said this is the first time they’ve ever used goats to do this kind of job in the regional district.

“We decided to use goats because we are looking at smaller footprint to how we provide vegetation management and looking at a sustainable option,” said Lussier. “We’re trying this out.”

When residents near the park heard about the goats, it sparked curiousity and also some concerns. But after watching the goats in action, they felt more at ease.

“We were totally skeptical about it,” said Kerry Mulhall, who lives two house away from the park. “It’s totally benign. I never heard them. They’re so quiet. I positively support this type of clearing.”

Mulhall said he was surprised at how the goats just gobbled up blackberry bushes, ferns and other unwanted plants in the park.

“I never imagined it would work,” said Mulhall.

The business partners have been providing this service on Vancouver Island for five years. They own 11 goats that have quite a penchant for chomping blackberries, which Ness said, is what they’re primarily called to deal with.

“What we like to call ourselves is an environmentally-friendly alternative to the traditional ways of clearing weeds, brush, blackberries, particularly invasive plants,” said Ness. “That’s what our goats like to eat. They’re not much for mowing lawns as they don’t eat grass very much but they really like to eat weeds. People are surprised that they enjoy eating blackberries. Most people think that they’re painful but they really like to eat them and they do a very good job.”

The idea of using goats to clear areas of invasive plants Ness said they learned from Tammy Dunakin from Seattle, who owns and operates Rent-A-Ruminant franchise.

“We wanted to try something unique for a job out here and we contacted her,” Ness. “She was actually our mentor. She trained us and we call us an affiliate of hers but we’re completely local and Canadian. We just thought it was a great idea. My background is in environment science so I really like the idea of a different way of doing things in a green fashion rather than using chemicals.”

Ness said the goats are so used to being loaded and unloaded to go anywhere they are needed, which makes travelling easier. And they also have a voracious appetite.

“We always put before and after pictures on our website and on our Facebook page,” said Ness. “They say a goat would eat about 10 pounds of plant material a day. That’s just a rough estimate. So much depends on what it is that they’re eating.”

Ness pointed out the nice thing about goats is when they consume the plants, they don’t spread the seeds around.

“They’re broken down in the goats’ digestive system,” said Ness.

Goats on the Hoof offer their services from Campbell River to Duncan and Ness said they are busy.

“It’s really catching on,” said Ness.

Ness, also a wrangler, is like a shepherd who watches over her flock while they feed, or in this case, while they are working. She stays in an RV 24/7 when they are at a site until the job is done.

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