Posted September 27, 2013

Research proves grazing sheep are efficient at controlling vegetation

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Temple University’s Center for Sustainable Communities (CSC) has partnered with Upper Dublin Township and Upper Dublin School District in a pilot program that uses Katahdin sheep for plant removal.

Throughout the summer, the sheep have been clearing out invasive plant species from storm water basins and Upper Dublin High School courtyards like champions.

Susan Spinella Sacks, assistant director of Temple's Center for Sustainable Communities, loaned 10 ewes, one ram and one lamb to the township from the Sacks Family Farm in Perkiomenville
“Katahdin sheep are a crossbreed that were bred to specifically for vegetative management, said Sacks. “They are hair sheep; they don’t produce wool so there is no need for sheering, making them quite low maintenance.”

The sheep are currently working on their third storm water basin behind the Upper Dublin Fire House. “There are literally hundreds of basins in the township that are expensive and difficult to maintain," said Upper Dublin Township Manager Paul Leonard.

'The goal for us this year was to truly test if using sheep was a viable option for vegetative management — if it made economic and logistical sense. I’d say the pilot program has been very successful,” he said.

Storm water management is one of the main areas of research at CSC. “As more communities are exploring how to implement storm water best management practices, this may be a more economical way to maintain these types of facilities," said Sacks.

CSC Research Fellow Laura Toran, a professor in Temple’s Earth and Environmental Science Department, has been studying water quality in the basins that the Katahdins have called home to ensure that the sheep's impact is only positive.

“I placed auto-samplers where water came into the basin from the surrounding neighborhood and one where the water went out of the basin to see if the water going out was of the same quality as the water going in,” Toran said. “One of the things we particularly test for is the level of nitrates which can cause a lot of problems downstream with algal blooms and drinking water."

"The initial data is promising — there is no evidence that nitrate increased in the outlet waters,” she said.

While goats have been used to successfully manage plant material at locations such as the National Cemetery and Chicago International Airport, according to Sacks, this is the first study that has been conducted to see the impact on water quality in storm water basins.”

In addition to looking at the sheep's impact on water quality, Toran plans to examine how the animals may protect infiltration in the basins. “Mowers can substantially compact the soil to the point where water no longer infiltrates — the storm water basin is no longer doing its job at that point,” she said. “I have to think that the sheep would be much easier on compaction.