The way Harmony Davies sees it, the fields and plains where much of Westminster and Standley Lake now sit were once full of bison, elk and their heavy-hooved ilk. “Their hooves dug up the dirt and …
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The way Harmony Davies sees it, the fields and plains where much of Westminster and Standley Lake now sit were once full of bison, elk and their heavy-hooved ilk.
“Their hooves dug up the dirt and they ate all the weeds and kept it clear,” Davies said.
Her herd of little goats eating their way around the Standley Lake Regional Park fill much the same role today.
“They are turning over the soil, they are giving the grass more room to grow and establish itself,” she said. “We are just using the same formula.”
Davies is part of the team from Fort Collins-based Goat Green that brought more than 300 goats to the park beginning May 24 for 32-days of weed eating. The animals, watched over by Davies and her team as well as dogs, move around the park every few hours.
“If you look at the areas we’ve already done, you can see the difference,” Davies said. “The natural grasses are there, trimmed to about what a mower would do. But the weeds are gone.”
It’s part of the city’s efforts to cut down on weeds and invasive plants in its open spaces. The city employs people to pull weeds all summer and does spray weeds where it can.
But Standley Lake is also the main water supply for Westminster, Northglenn and Thornton and poisonous herbicides are forbidden.
“They’ll eat anything, especially things cows won’t touch,” she said. “The great thing about goats, not only are they stressing the weeds, but they are browsers not grazers. They prefer the weeds over the grass and they are one of the few livestock animals that don’t pass weed seeds. Their mouths are shaped and the way they chew and re-chew, they just obliterate all the seeds.”
It’s the third year the city has employed the goats and Davies said you can begin to see a difference.
“The places we did last year, the weeds are not as prevalent,” she said. “It’s a slow process. If you expect immediate results, it’ll take about three years”
Goats will eat just about any plant, preferring the thorny and bitter weeds to most native grasses. They like eating thistles, love teasels and even enjoy the thorny stems on Russian Olives. Russian Olives are an invasive plant in Colorado and can easily crowd out native plants.
“They have a hook in their mouths and they wrap up around the Russian Olive branches and will just strip eat — seeds, leaves and all,” said Russ McKenna, another of Goat Green’s goat tenders.
The goats are especially good for weeds that may have especially long roots and defy being pulled. When the goats are finished, the weeds are just are bare stems and the weeds must expend extra energy to grow again.
It’s good for the goats as well, who have been busy — and not just eating weeds. Many of the female nanny goats were pregnant when they first arrived and have been giving birth at Standley Lake. Although Goat Green started with a herd of 300 when they arrived on May 24, they could leave Standley Lake with a herd twice that size.
“We started down by the lake and we’ve come up along one side and swapped over to the teepees,” Davies said. “Then, we’ll head down along the road. City has some spots they really want us to concentrate on so we’ll move them. They’ll go to spots with more shade during the day and move them at night.”
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