City to Use Sheep to Battle Noxious Weeds

Robert Thomas

The hills are gonna be alive with something, although it isn't music. Portions of City owned green spaces may soon be alive with the sound of sheep.

In an unanimous vote Executive Committee agreed to allow the Parks and Recreation Department to use sheep to control noxious weeds, namely leafy spurge, with sheep instead of herbicides.

The vote was required to exempt the City from the animal control bylaw which prohibits the keeping of sheep and goats within City limits.

Speaking to the Committee, Parks and Recreation Director, Ted Schaefer, said they had decided to look at four legged control instead of chemistry due to the Province cutting a program which paid 50 percent of herbicide control. Last year the spraying cost was $11,000; this year the budget is $10,000, with the City responsible for 100 percent of it.

"Formerly there was a 50 percent rebate program, which is discontinued, It got us looking at an alternative to that," Schaefer stated.

The idea is nothing new.

"Currently Calgary and Edmonton have them in their cities and in their urban parks."
Sarah Regent, Parks and Rec Head Gardener said the City would rent the herd,
along with a shepherd. She also acknowledged that the practice was pretty popular.

Councillor Don Mitchell said sheep had already been used within the City before, about 10 years ago, in Wakamow Valley but he was unaware if they had been granted an exemption.

 Photo: thatsfarming.com

Photo: thatsfarming.com

"Sheep next to chickens are the most passive and welcoming partners you can have in the domestic animal kingdom," Coun Mitchell said.

Talk turned to page wire fencing which kept the sheep enclosed in the Wakamow experiment and how that would factor in.

Councillor Crystal Froese said "the Wakamow program was also in partnership with the university and a whole lot of research was tied to it to."

Coun Froese said she was in agreement with the motion.

City Manager Jim Puffalt cautioned about the wording of what was being asked for, as the motion would allow goats and goats are not as docile as sheep.

Puffalt said sheep were nice and docile while "goats are not."

The move to sheep would only be used if it was cost effective, the Committee was told, when Councillor Dawn Luhning asked about costs.

"It all depends on how many acres...we have more spurge than budget to control," Regent replied.

Councillor Brian Swanson asked about the remaining leafy spurge.

"Do we just let the rest of the leafy spurge go?" Coun Swanson asked.
Regent replied "no, we work with the leasees, they have to control the leafy spurge."

Coun Swanson asked for a report about the program, outlining the costs.

"It would be interesting to see the details, this is not earthshaking or gigantic."

Schaefer replied "if it is not cost effective we are not going to proceed with the program...we are looking for the same budget for the same area."

Mayor Frasier Tolmie said he thought the report indicated it was an opportunity for a farmer to get free food for his flock and the shepherd was the only cost.

"We will have to work that out with the shepherd ' Regent replied.

Mayor Tolmie also added that since Wakamow Valley Authority had expressed interest they had to be prepared to pony up their share.

"If they want to get in on this program they are going to have to pay for it," the Mayor said.
Councillor Chris Warren asked what would happen if other land owners in the City would like to do the same thing?

"If we get interest with that it would require us coming back to Council with another report to Council specific to that," Schaefer replied.

It needs to be noted that in the report to Executive Committee, under the 2010 Weed Control Act, landowners, including the City, must control it.

Cattle and horses do not eat the weed and it devalues land it is on, as it spreads. Sheep and goats have the stomach for it.

In the end, the Committee decided unanimously to allow the exemption for Parks and Recreation to use sheep in areas they deem appropriate within the City and report back annually on it.