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Subdivision enlists goats to help eradicate noxious weeds - (article)

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Posted by GoatWorld on June 27, 2002 at 20:40:19:

Subdivision enlists goats to help eradicate noxious weeds
Helena IR Staff
Thursday, June 27, 2002

HELENA – Driving past the new Crestwood Green Estates subdivision on Montana Avenue in the Helena Valley, motorists will notice many things typical of a new development: freshly graded and blacktopped roads, a billboard map of the plots available, skeletons of a few new homes being built ... and 1,700 goats.

The goats aren’t there to attract attention to the development, although that’s certainly one of the side effects. Instead, they’re grazing as part of a weed management plan. The goats thrive on leafy spurge, one of the most troublesome noxious weeds in the state and particularly thick in the Crestview Greens area.

“It’s a different method of weed management, and one that requires a lot less spraying,” said David Brandon, owner of the suvbdivision. “It’s just something I thought was worth trying to see how it works. The big benefit is that it uses less chemicals, and that’s something that’s attractive to all of us.”

The 238-acre development, approved by Lewis and Clark County last October, will eventually include 38 lots in the five- to eight-acre range. The goats are concentrating on the easternmost 120 acres, where the leafy spurge is thickest.

A weed management plan is one of the conditions of approval of all subdivisions in the county. Goats are acceptable as part of a plan, according to the county extension service.

“That’s one of the ways to manage noxious weeds,” said agriculture extension agent Larry Hoffman. “What he’s doing is taking away the seed production. He’s reducing that seed source.”

The goats are owned by Canyon Creek-area ranchers Ed Chevallier and Joe Dooling. The men bought the goats from a Texas outfit a little more than a month ago. In addition to the Crestwood Green job, the goats are scheduled to eat weeds at a ranch in Winston and on some Bureau of Land Management acreage near Stemple Pass. At the end of the summer, once they’ve gained about 30 pounds, the goats will be sold for meat.

“If you had asked me five years ago if I would have 1,700 head of goats under a herder eating leafy spurge, I would have said no,” Dooling said. “But it makes sense when you see the problem with noxious weeds. We just use them as a grazing land management tool. We look at the problems and figure out ways to make money off them as opposed to just fixing them.”

At times Dooling still can’t believe he owns all these goats, and that they’re grazing in such a busy area in the Valley.

“Every time my phone rings, I think, ‘Oh no, I’ve got goats out on Montana Avenue,’ ” he laughed.

While also eating grass, the goats clearly prefer the yellow flowers of the leafy spurge. Five minutes after the herd grazes into an area, the ground is covered with the milky stalks of spurge that held flowers minutes before.

Brandon will likely still have to spray chemicals to keep the spurge down, as the goats chew off the flowers but leave much of the rest of the plant. But he won’t have to spray as often, and he can dillute his chemicals so they’ll go further.

“The goats are usually used in combination with other things,” Hoffman said.

Once the leafy spurge begins seeding, it’s too late for the goats to do any good, as eating the spurge flowers will only serve to move the seeds around.

Dooling sees goats as a way to grow the state’s economy and control weeds at the same time.

“Noxious weeds hurt Montana’s economy, and if you spray, the profit just goes to the chemical companies,” he said. “I’m not anti-chemical, but we need to find projects that grow the economy. The goats are a way to put wealth back into Montana’s economy. Noxious weeds are a problem, and this is one way to turn them into something. Goat meat demand is rising. If we can turn the weed problem into 95 cents a pound (the expected return from selling the goats this fall), we’re improving the economy.”

The goats have been at the development for about 10 days, and Brandon says it’s too early to tell whether they’re working well enough for a return engagement. The covenants for his subdivision do allow buyers to temporarily bring in goats and sheep to help control weeds.

Dooling hopes the project works.

“As a person who loves agriculture, I wanted to do something different, and this is what I came up with,” he said. “They kind of grow on you. They’ve got some personality.”

Reporter John Harrington can be reached at 447-4080, or

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