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Ducks Unlimited Canada enlists livestock to manage weeds

Ducks Unlimited Canada enlists livestock to manage weeds

Cows and goats are tasked with eating weeds across Western Canada

By Diego Flammini
News Reporter

A Canadian conservation group is sourcing its weed management specialists from local farmers.

Cows and goats help Ducks Unlimited keep weeds like tansy, common burdock and absinth, under control on prairie grasslands.

All three weeds are considered invasive, so having the livestock around to help prevent the weeds from spreading is a big help, said Jodie Horvath, a Ducks Unlimited conversation specialist from Saskatchewan.

Horvath works closely with a farmer and his livestock on the Touchwood Hills Conservation Ranch near Yorkton, Sask. A herd of about 200 heifers and cow-calf pairs eat and trample the invasive plants.

 “It’s one of the methods we use to manage our habitat lands,” she told today. “A lot of it comes down to timing of grazing, how long we plan to let the animals graze for and the time of year. From an ag perspective, it helps with production and making sure the cows are well fed. From a habitat perspective, it helps with weed control or, if the cows don’t like the weeds, they’ll eat the grass around the weed. Then we can go in afterwards to spray or pull it out.”

Jodie Horvath

The cows were put to work during National Invasive Species Awareness Week, which took place from Feb. 26 to Mar. 2.

Horvath highlighted the importance of being able to identify invasive plants.

“The reason (invasive plants) are so successful is that they move so quickly,” she said. “You try to eradicate them and before long it can become an issue of simply trying to contain them.”

Cattle aren’t the only farm animals honing their skills in weed management.

Goats at Ducks Unlimited’s Frank Lake project near High River, Alta. are eating leafy spurge in the area. The weed can release toxins into the soil, preventing other plants from taking root.

The City of Edmonton is also using goats to get rid of noxious weeds in a community park while also reducing herbicide applications.

Goats’ stomachs are so acidic they destroy seeds and prevent weeds from spreading. They can also digest weeds that could be toxic to other livestock, according to GoatWorks, Edmonton’s goat-centric weed management strategy.

Top photo: Cattle grazing on the Touchwood Hills Conservation Ranch/Ducks Unlimited Canada

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