The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center is using an ingenious method to control invasive species on the property: prescribed grazing, or literally, setting 95 goats loose on the property to eat everything in sight. The goats work for Vegetation Solutions, LLC and they travel the region performing this valuable service.
Contained to treatment areas by a mobile electric fence, the goats make short work of invasive species including Buckthorn, Honeysuckle, Multiflora Rose, Garlic Mustard and Dame’s Rocket. They will enthusiastically graze everything up to where they can reach on their hind quarters, so grazing locations must be carefully selected.
Allowed to proliferate, invasive species will choke out diversity in an area, so the goats are an important tool to help restoration ecologists maintain balance in an ecosystem. The science of the practice lies in calibrating the number of goats, the duration of the grazing period, and the number of grazing episodes needed to fully exhaust the plants. For invasive woody shrubs as at Schlitz, it can take multiple grazing episodes over two to five years to fully exhaust the plants’ root supplies. Without this repetition you can actually worsen an invasive problem, because plants (like Buckthorn) with extensive root systems will continue to resprout until exhausted.
Prescription grazing is used in many situations, and the goats work in flocks of 10 – 150 depending on the size of the treatment area. They can be used as an alternative to chemical weedkillers, or a supplement to reduce the amount of chemicals needed to control an area.
In addition to being environmentally friendly, the goats clearly enjoy their work. They were a popular attraction at Schlitz during their stay – check out the photos below, or visit them next spring to see for yourself!
All images courtesy of the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.