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March 20, 2023

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Ridgefield turns to goats for help with wild weeds, invasive bushes

By , Columbian Small Cities Reporter
2 Photos
A goat languishes in intense summer heat in Ridgefield.
A goat languishes in intense summer heat in Ridgefield. The city of Ridgefield recently began a pilot program using goats to chomp down on overgrown weeds and brush. Photo Gallery

If you’ve driven past Heron and Lark drives in Ridgefield this past week, you probably noticed the grassy landscape was overrun with goats chomping away on whatever they can pick off the ground.

It’s no accident that they’ve ended up there, at the site of a fenced-in stormwater facility. And no, the goats didn’t just wander over on their own.

In June, the city began a new program using the small group of goats to mow down on overgrown weeds and invasive blackberry bushes. As City Manager Steve Stuart explains, the goats present a much cheaper and cleaner alternative to using machinery and potentially harmful chemicals to keep vegetation under control.

“It’s part of a continuing effort to innovate how we provide city services,” Stuart said. “This is one of many experiments in providing better service and using low cost, sustainable methods.”

The city sees a number of benefits in putting the goats to work on clearing brush: They’re quiet and safe, posing no fire hazards, and they can scale steep terrain. Then of course, the animals also provide free fertilizer while grazing the land.

Goats eat nearly anything they can find: berries, grasses, dandelions, maple leaves, alder leaves, holly, you name it. Contrary to popular lore, though, their diet doesn’t include tin cans.

Ridgefield isn’t alone in turning to goats for a little help with the weeds. In recent years, it’s actually become a trendy maintenance strategy for many landowners and government agencies looking to save some money on weed control.

The past two springs, the Washington State Department of Transportation also used goats from a La Center business to munch on shrubs and weeds at about a dozen sites. So far, that program has proven to be a success, with fewer weeds coming back this year at spots where the goats grazed in 2014.

Inspiration from Shoreline

The idea came to Stuart from the city’s maintenance supervisor Tad Arends, who read about a similar project in the summer 2014 issue of Washington State Public Works, a magazine for public works professionals around the state. The article told the story of how the city of Shoreline launched its own successful weed control program using goats. Soon after, Stuart reached out to the city for a little advice on how he could start something similar in Ridgefield.

A Woodland-based company called Westside Goat Girl provided the animals. For now, Ridgefield’s program is just in a pilot phase, but if all goes well, the city could begin using the goats in other parts of town.

If you haven’t seen them yet, the goats will be there well into mid or late July, said Casey Brewer, the owner of Westside Goat Girl.

“It’s going to take a few weeks, so they’ll be there for a while,” Brewer said.

Brewer is taking the goats away for the Fourth of July weekend, but they will return early next week. When they’re around, you can spot them just about any time of the day, Stuart said.

Columbian Small Cities Reporter