Goat Maintenance: The Kids Are Hungry in Red Mountain Park

Posted 08/08/14 by Katie Harris in Building Trails

Photos © Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Acres and acres of overgrown thickets of invasive plants: It is a land manager’s worst nightmare, but a goat’s ultimate dream. It’s time these two were introduced.

Ian Hazelhoff, natural resource specialist at Red Mountain Park, is overseeing a goat-browsing project to evaluate the effectiveness of goats on invasive species removal. Fifty goats are feasting on foliage at the park outside of Birmingham, Ala., this week.

What do these goats eat? According to Hazelhoff, everything, so he does recommend caution when one is considering making use of the enthusiastic eaters.

“In an area where you have both native and invasive plants, goats might not be an ideal management tool, because they’ll eat just about anything,” he explains. Hazelhoff adds, however, that in the 3.5 acres in Red Mountain Park where goat maintenance is currently taking place, the two main culprits, kudzu and Chinese privet, have outcompeted nearly all other plants—"requiring a heavy hand from a management perspective." For this particular plot of land, the goats fit the bill.

If the goats weren’t munching away, what would be the solution for removing these invasive species? 

“Most of the time for this part of a restoration project, we have to use heavy machinery. We can clear roughly the same plot of land in about a day’s work, but it has some negative aspects,” explains Hazelhoff, adding that the machinery requires diesel fuel and leaves biomass such as sticks, leaves and seeds that can propagate and allow the invasive plants to return, despite all of their work. “With the goats, there is no problem of leftover biomass; they don’t leave anything in their wake. Goats eat all of that, and there is much less site preparation as the restoration moves forward,” says Hazelhoff.

Creating innovative solutions and sustainable management practices are important goals for the folks at Red Mountain Park, and the goat-browsing project satisfies both objectives. Hazelhoff cheerfully reports on the goats’ progress after a few days of their buffet: “I’m quite pleased with the volume and speed at which they’re clearing the plot!”

Red Mountain Park isn’t alone in their goat-grazing ways; land managers in Bozeman, Mont., have used goats at a local trailhead to deal with invasive plants. Weiser River Trail in Idaho has integrated goat grazing into their noxious plant management plan. But it’s not just trails and rural areas that are benefiting from goats’ appetites. Even Boston, Mass., is jumping on the goat bandwagon! And the city of Wilsonville, Ore., uses goats to control the English Ivy in a municipal park.  

Invasive species removal is a major task for many trails and conservation areas around the county, and solutions like Red Mountain Park’s goat grazing pilot project will inform other land managers for future projects. But for now, graze on, goats, graze on!

Want to learn more about other management techniques used on trails across the country? Check out our management and maintenance toolbox pages for a bevy of helpful resources!

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