MOORHEAD — Sheep will soon be able to graze within Moorhead's city limits under a new pilot program approved this week by city leaders.

The City Council voted unanimously Monday, Sept. 27, in favor of a five year program, with the first testing ground to be the Oakport Prairie in far north Moorhead. A final reading of the ordinance is planned for the next council meeting.

Lynn and Jason Kotrba of Harvest Hope Farm, who first made the request last year, plan to have their sheep graze parts of the prairie along the Red River.

The farm near Oakport is an education focused operation promoting sustainability, food resources and environmental stewardship.

One goal of the grazing program is to determine how it can aid in prairie management. Jason Kotrba said there is hope that North Dakota State University students can use the prairie to study rotational grazing and its benefits, especially for addressing invasive plant species.

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The council voted in favor of the ordinance after the city planning commission approved it on Sept. 1 after addressing residents' concerns, Council member Deb White said.

Some of the concerns, mostly from neighbors in the Oakport neighborhood, dealt with noise, odor, wildlife impact, proximity to homes and overgrazing.

Revisions to the original ordinance included lowering the number of sheep allowed from 100 to 40, eliminating any accessory buildings, requiring setbacks from nearby homes and roadways, a requirement for the sheep to be kept healthy, and stronger language allowing permit revocations for violations.

It was also made clear that guard animals are allowed, including llamas and donkeys. The farm currently has a llama that guards its flock.

A manure removal plan must be included with a permit application, although on parcels larger than 2 acres a bimonthly removal isn't necessary if there's no odor, unsanitary conditions or complaints.

A parcel must be at least 1 acre to allow any grazing.