If you go for a walk at Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust, you may run into some unusual workers recently enlisted to deal with weeds.
My friend and I went there for a walk last Monday and came upon four goats inside an enclosure made of electrified wires. These handsome creatures were merrily munching away brambles, multiflora roses, and oh joy, poison ivy!
Three young men wearing green shirts with the Pennypack logo were putting the final touches on the signs alerting people about the electric wires. We were full of questions for them and were pleased to see them eager to talk.
They told us that restoration programs have started using goats to control invasive vegetation, particularly in the West, and also in Staten Island, New York. Sometimes goats are more effective and more economic than herbicides or weed-whacking. Thus, these fellows convinced the director to start a goat program at Pennypack.
The four goats arrived last Easter and were put to work a month later, after a period of acclimation. Until now they had been doing their weeding job in secluded areas out of sight of visitors. This was their first day in a more visible place by the main trail. It is the visitors' turn to get habituated to the goats and to begin to appreciate their restoration services.
|Before and after. November 12, 2012|
|Before and after. November 16, 2012|
Everyday, these eager workers are brought to a patch in need of clearing and left there until dark. They may have to return to the same spot the next day if they haven't finished the job. After that, they are gradually moved to other patches. The goats spend the night in a roofed shelter safe from coyotes. Did you know that there were coyotes in Pennypack? Now you do.
I returned four days later to inspect the progress. The enclosure had been moved a short distance from that of the first day. The happy animals seemed to never stop chomping away at brambles and vines. At first, it wasn't easy to tell what they had accomplished; but after I found my bearings I could see that, in fact, they had disposed of a significant amount of tangled vegetation. They had also munched on the bark of some tree branches. They are not to blame for being so indiscriminate. It is the human handlers' responsibility to place them only where they can do no harm to valuable native plants.
The plan is to restore the goat-cleared areas by replanting them with native plants. This method beats using herbicides. It also beats using human workers, especially when poison ivy is abundant or when the mats of vegetation are impenetrable. Bear in mind that goats may cause damage to valuable plants if given the opportunity; so precautions are needed.
I will continue checking periodically on these four legged employees of Pennypack.
|Invasive vines waiting to be disposed of by goats|