Not a baa-d plan: city to use sheep to munch invasive plants

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IF ewe haven’t herd, they’re taking the sheep way out at Winnipeg’s Living Prairie Museum with a two-week pilot program to control vegetation.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/06/2019 (1162 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

IF ewe haven’t herd, they’re taking the sheep way out at Winnipeg’s Living Prairie Museum with a two-week pilot program to control vegetation.

The ram-arkable program starts today when 20 female sheep from a local farm will be brought in to munch their way around the St. James museum’s grounds, which is one of the few remaining areas of the city that still has native tall grass prairie.

Sheep puns aside, it’s not a baa-d idea.

Bon appetit! A sheep at Living Prairie Museum will be among a flock taking part in a test of using sheep to control vegetation. (Photos by Sasha Sefter / Winnipeg Free Press)

“This is the naturalist branch (of the City of Winnipeg) looking for a new, innovative way to control invasive species, so hopefully, this will help us determine if sheep grazing can help us control unwanted weeds in natural areas with a more ecological approach,” Living Prairie Museum director Sarah Semmler said.

“I think this is a very progressive approach to plant management.”

The sheep will spend their weekdays munching vegetation within a temporary, movable fenced enclosure. A large livestock trailer will be open and accessible with a constant water supply and shade so they can come and go as they choose.

Living Prairie Museum director Sarah Semmler calls the plan "a very progressive approach" to controlling vegetation.

The sheep will be housed overnight in the livestock trailer and their comfort will be monitored around the clock by staff from the city’s naturalist branch, Millar Safety & Environmental Services, Prairie Habitats Inc. and the sheep farmer. The sheep will return to their farm for the weekend.

Semmler said the sheep will graze on all vegetation — grass and weeds — and that’s part of the pilot project, too.

“The plants that are on this site have adapted to fire and grazing over thousands of years, so they should be able to recover just fine after the grazing. The hope is that the invasive species (of weeds) will have a tougher time coming back,” she said. “This is actually very high-quality forage for them (sheep), so they’re going to be getting nutritious forage to feed and it should be pretty healthy for them.”

It's important people know not to feed or disturb the sheep for the short time they're chowing down on a piece of land, Living Prairie's Sarah Semmler says.

People are invited to observe, but not touch, the sheep.

“The big thing is that people are respectful of the space that the sheep need so they know not to feed, touch or disrupt them. They’re going to be on the landscape for a short time and we want to minimize their stress,” Semmler said, noting a strict “sheep at work” protocol will be in effect.

Whether sheep will return in the future depends on how the herbivores-over-herbicides project goes.

“We did some measurements of vegetation before the sheep are going into the paddock; then we’re going to take some measurements once they’re done,” she said. “What we’re hoping to see is the native species of prairie plants are going to overtake the weeds.”

John Morgan, president of Prairie Habitats, said he approached the city with the urban grazing idea at a prairie restoration conference last year, noting that bisons took care of this work on the Prairies centuries ago.

“It (animal grazing to control weeds) has been very successful in other prairie cities, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Red Deer,” Morgan said. “For managing vegetation in urban areas, it’s had some wonderful results and the public loves it. Sheep have a wonderful ability to select often invasive species. I’m excited about it.”

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, June 10, 2019 5:05 PM CDT: Adds new photos.

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