Goats return to Malmstrom for weed management project
Goats have returned to Malmstrom Air Force Base for year two of a three-year weed management project.
About 350 Spanish Boer Cross goats leaped from two livestock trailers Tuesday afternoon and raced to find the best weeds to munch on.
They started in a field they’d worked in last year and would spend maybe an hour in that patch before moving into the next area. The herd will grow in a few weeks when more goats arrive and they’ll be there for about two months.
The focus is flowering weeds, particularly Canada Thistle, spotted knapweed and leafy spurge. The goats naturally prefer the flowering plants, which are also non-native invasive species in Montana, according to Lora Soderquist, the project manager from Prescriptive Livestock Services.
The herd will be hitting all the same sites as it did last year to clean up more of those invasive weeds, disrupt the seed bank and reduce overall biomass, which also serves as wildfire prevention, Soderquist said.
After the goats left last summer, base personnel came back with about 1,000 pounds of native seeds to prevent the weeds from coming back in any bare spots.
She said there was a noticeable difference in the reduction of yellow clover in the first field the goats worked on Tuesday. Now it’s mostly native grasses and alfalfa, she said.
The goats first strip the plant of the flowers then go back and eat the leaves. It’s effective since the plant puts most of its energy into producing flowers and leaves and it rarely has enough energy for that and dies off.
Malmstrom is also using other bio controls for weed management, such as bugs, to reduce the use of chemicals.
Soderquist said these other forms of weed management are becoming more popular, as people recognize the importance of having additional tools to address the problem. Cost-wise, it’s similar to chemical spraying, making it economically and ecologically a good option, she said.
The Air Force has directives to reduce herbicide while reducing pollinators, base officials told The Electric when the goats were here last summer.
Malmstrom is leading the Air Force is using goats for weed control, though they were used for a few years in the late 2000s at F.E. Warren AFB.
The program is estimated to save $10,000 to $20,000 annually in personnel and herbicide costs, plus the goats also bring environmental benefits to the base and surrounding area by controlling noxious weeds and promoting native species, according to program officials.
The program is contracted through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with funds from the AF Civil Engineering Center and paperwork snags delayed the start last summer, but funding was secured for two years so the goats could start their work earlier this year. That gives the herd time to hit areas they didn’t have time to get to last year, Soderquist said.