There’s a new game plan for in the fight for stemming the tide of encroaching invasive plant species and it has the advantage of being natural and sustainable. It is termed ‘goatscaping’, or letting goats assist in the management of unwanted plant pests. It began in the west but the use of goats is spreading throughout the United States as the country looks for greener ways to manage parks and refuges. Popular enough to have several DNR programs lament the fact that there are not enough goats to employ.
What makes goats popular landscapers? Well, it is an impressive list.
Goats apparently love such unsavory plants as poison ivy and buckthorn along with many other woody plants, but tend to leave hard barked trees like oaks alone making them wonderful eradicators of invasive species and choking brush where man and machine dare not go. Marshes, bogs and
other watersheds are difficult and expensive for man to clear and in many of those areas nature is left to her own devices or ‘helped’ along with chemical intervention. Goats however have no problem getting their feet wet and when they clear a patch of brush near a watershed there is no chemical runoff to contaminate the water supplies. They also have a habit of eating ‘high’, in other words they prefer brush to grass and tender woodland ground plants.
They are sustainable organic weed control on four legs. Goats can remove 90% of invasive woody plants over a three year period. Reports indicate a herd of ten goats can clear an average of one acre per week; four goats can clear a third of an acre a week dependent on conditions of the terrain.
They are quite cost effective. Treating and removing buckthorn, for instance, cost approximately $2800.00 an acre while goatscaping the same patch of unwanted buckthorn cost an average of $300.00 an acre. That is a the fact that intrigued the DNR to look further into using goatscaping as a means of weed and brush control in hard to manage areas.
But goatscaping is not regulated to wild areas. Chicago’s O’Hara Airport, Hyde Park in Boston, The Congressional Cemetery, George Wright Golf Course, along with many other parks are seeing the advantages of using goats in places bustling with human park goers. They have even discovered yet another advantage. Parks that use goatscaping have reported an unexpected 20% increase in attendance. The reason for the increase? Park enthusiasts claimed they wanted to see the goats in action.
No system is perfect however and so it goes with goatscaping. Goats eat what they eat; it cannot be regulated so there is sometimes ‘inappropriate’ binging on desirable native species, but the advantages far outweigh the negatives. During their ‘scaping’ goats also may require feed and grain to supplement their diets and possibly require containment. The usual method is electric fencing with a warning tape on the outside of the enclosed area to warn humans of the fencing. In some instances livestock guarding dogs are brought in to keep predators and sometimes humans away so the goats can do their job. (Knowing myself, I might be inclined to pet the help, and possibly hand out a treat….then Miss Goat would abandon her poison ivy patch in favor of following me around the park, trying
to get those peanuts out of my pocket.) And of course there are those humans who get into mischief where animals are concern and the livestock dogs simply will not put up with any of that. Not at all. (Warnings are posted.) In some areas of the country donkeys are partnered with the goats in a dual role as guard animal and… something nobody saw coming… donkeys love to munch on the much detested kudzu vine of the south.
This current wave of managing nature within the parameters of nature is not new but it certainly is having a rebirth in the wake of an environmentally aware public that is demanding less pesticides and herbicides in their parks and public areas. And we can also thank those who chose to find alternative methods in response to those voices.
Sometimes that step backwards is just what Mother Earth (or the doctor) ordered.