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Goats vs. weeds

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 2:37 PM

An 11-goat team mowed its way through branches, bark and other vegetation, taking small breaks to lie in the sun or drink a sip of water on Tuesday.

“It’s a nice, peaceful open space — and (the goats) seem very much laid back,” Ottawa County Natural Resources Manager Melanie Manion said. “Every time I’ve been here, half are eating and half are laying out. It seems like a good life and they get a beautiful view of the river.”

The hearty herd of goats is Ottawa County’s newest weapon against invasive vegetation. Officials say goats are a cost-effective way to reduce the need for herbicides and allow access to locations where machines can’t reach.

“This is the first of a three-year experiment,” Manion said. “We’re learning how fast they eat, how many goats to put on the ground (and) how much fencing we need.”

The start-up cost for the project was $5,500. It was supported by gifts, including a donation of $2,500 from the Friends of the Ottawa County Parks. County Commissioner Philip Kuyers donated the goats.

Manion noted the grazing simulates mowing. Initially, mowing stimulates growth, but repeat goat “applications” could eliminate 90 percent of invasive plants over three years.

“We didn’t know how fast they would go — that was the big unknown,” Manion said. “They might be going a little slower than expected, but that’s good for us because we can deal with unexpected situations like a goat having a baby.”

Targeted plants include bush honeysuckle, autumn olive, Oriental bittersweet, poison ivy and buckthorn. Three county parks will be treated: Eastmanville Bayou, Bur Oak and Riverside.

Park visitors are welcome to watch the goats, but are advised not to touch them since poisonous oils from some plants can be transferred to humans. People are also asked to steer clear of the electric fence.

To read the whole story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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