A six-pack of working goats has been attracting considerable attention in Gibsons.
“People are walking from far and wide to come look at the goats,” said biologist Paul van Poppelen. “It’s surprising how few kids have seen farm animals.”
Since the second week in July, van Poppelen has been camped out with his small herd of cashmere goats on Squamish First Nation lands east of Marine Drive.
The goats are being used for land maintenance and control of invasive plant species on the 10-hectare site, including an area where 27 formerly leased homes were removed during the past two years.
“It’s a nice way to keep things under control,” van Poppelen said. “Environmentally friendly and it saves a little money. It’s a very pedestrian process, but it gets the job done.”
Goats can be an effective tool to eradicate invasive plants, “but you have to be careful,” van Poppelen said. Giant hogweed, for example, could cause skin photo sensitivity for light-skinned goats, but would not be hazardous to others.
“You can make them eat almost anything,” he said. “But I’m making sure they eat the blackberry not the salmonberry. I make sure they eat the ivy.”
With the potential for well-intentioned amateurs on the Coast to start using goats for invasive plant maintenance, van Poppelen said his aim was to “bring some professionalism” to the practice.
“I want to make sure that we do this in a way that is sustainable,” he said.
Overblown claims and poor management practices could lead local governments to require a development permit, which van Poppelen would rather not see happen.
“As long as we keep to a few simple rules, we don’t need to have expensive permitting and all those things,” he said.
The 60-year-old Langdale resident has been sleeping in a tent on the site, driving home to grab a quick shower and then racing back to his herd.
“Because it’s such a public place, I’ve stayed here for 10 weeks, caretaking the site, talking to people,” he said.
Coyotes have been a problem, he said, but the biggest problem has been dogs running at large. One dog chased a goat into plastic fencing, and when van Poppelen knelt down to disentangle the animal, he was butted in the face and lost two front teeth.
His fondness for his charges, however, is unabated.
“The cashmere,” he noted, “is a very quiet goat, which means I can take it into a residential area if I want to.”
Van Poppelen said he expects to be moving the herd soon to other sites in the Gibsons area.