Riveredge Nature Center in rural Saukville has hired a herd of notoriously voracious eaters to devour invasive plants like garlic mustard, buckthorn
Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville is turning to a herd of goats to tackle the ongoing challenge of controlling invasive plants.
The nature center has contracted with Vegetation Solutions for the four-legged assistance.
Based in Muscoda in southwestern Wisconsin, the company rents herds of goats and sheep to graze on unwanted plants.
In Riveredge’s case, the help will be coming from a herd of 50 visiting goats. They will be grazing in fenced in areas on the center grounds for a week to 10 days later this month.
Putting the goat herd to work costs Riveredge about $100 a day.
The target will be dense undergrowth and invasive plants, especially buckthorn, which grow aggressively and have a tendency to crowd out native vegetation.
“This approach is not new, but it is the first time I know of goats being used at nature centers in southeastern Wisconsin to control invasive plant life,” Riveredge senior naturalist Mandie Zopp said.
“We are partnering with the Schlitz Audubon Center on this project, which will bring down the cost of transporting the goats to our area.”
Zopp said manually pulling buckthorn from the landscape is a labor-intensive effort. The task can be next to impossible when the goal is to remove the plants from inaccessible areas.
Those problems will be overcome when the goats are put to work.
“All they do is eat. If we provide them with water and an area to work, I’m told the goats will do the rest,” Zopp said.
The goats will initially graze in the sumac stand in front of the nature center’s building, then around the kettle pond and rock pile.
An electrified fence will be used to keep the animals from dashing off or roaming across the highway.
According to the company, the grazing herd can be an effective way to manage such problem plants as garlic mustard, wild parsnip, crown vetch, thistle, leafy spurge and kudzu.
Zopp said she read about the possibility of teaming up with livestock to clear the landscape in a newspaper article, and learned more at a number of conferences.
“The (Department of Natural Resources) has used goats for some time and it has been really effective. It is a good alternative to chemicals,” Zopp said.
In a recent Riveredge newsletter, she explained that the hungry herd is actually a return to the area’s bucolic past — before subdivisions and highways crisscrossed the landscape.
The problem of invasive species grew when the land was no longer being worked for agriculture.
“Much of the land in southeastern Wisconsin was once farmland, however, once the land was no longer farmed, the lack of natural or man-made disturbances allowed for an explosion of brush and invasive plant species to become densely established,” Zopp wrote.
“Goats will help provide an efficient way of land management in areas where access is limited and an opportunity to educate the public on land management options.”
According to Vegetation Solutions, the goat approach is most effective if used repeatedly, because once plants find a favorable environment they tend to regenerate. For that reason, Zopp said the animals are expected to make a return visit in spring.
Image Information: A HERD OF 50 goats will eat invasive plants to their hearts content at Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville.