The invasive weeds infestng the hills surrounding Missoula have had a five-year break to multiply without disruption. Last weekend, they suddenly became fair game for 805 hungry sheep looking for lunch.
This year, the City of Missoula contracted with the Helle Rambouillet ranch in Dillon to graze sheep on public lands in order to beat back non-native species like Dalmatian toadflax, leafy spurge and spotted knapweed.
The energy those sheep get from snacking on the unwanted plants will be converted into their thick, insulating Merino wool, which will then end up on storeshelves as performance apparel from the Montana-based Duckworth brand.
“The grazing program is a cost-effective, sustainable way to control noxious weeds on conservation lands and encourage the beneficial and beautiful wildflowers and native grasses we all enjoy,” said the city’s conservation lands manager Jeff Gicklhorn.
The herd has started munching the North Hills, and will graze other areas through late July.
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Because they’re attracted to flowering plants, sheep selectively target invasive weeds while native grasses are mostly left undepleted. The native flowering plants like lupine can handle a little bit of grazing, and almost