County parks officials say the goats provide an innovative, simple method to reduce herbicide applications, are cost-effective, and allow access to locations where mowers can’t reach.
Ottawa County has one of the first park systems in Michigan as well as the country to test this method of invasive species management, and data collected this summer will help create a model for the project and provide information to create a viable business model for local goat contractors.
”In many places out West and down South, you can rent goats on Amazon to do this work,” said Melanie Manion, Ottawa County Parks’ natural resources management supervisor. “But currently, there are very few places in the Midwest where you can find goats to rent. We hope to change this.”
In all, six goats are currently dining at Eastmanville Bayou, a county park along the Grand River in Allendale Township. They are munching on Oriental bittersweet, which is an invasive plant that grows rapidly, quickly choking out native plants. The plant wraps itself around branches and trees, and can pull over mature trees.
While the goats won't eradicate the invasive plant, they can push it far enough back, making management and removal easier.
The project also has an educational component.
In 2015, the county partnered with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s Careerline Tech Center — a partnership that’ll continue this year. Students in the center’s Agricultural and Environmental Science Program purchase goats at auction, do basic goat training and conduct a wellness check prior to bringing them to the park to work. School and park officials say the partnership gives students hands-on training while reducing staff costs for the parks system.
A summer intern is brought in to care for and look after the goats on-site. Travis Scholten, a recent CTC graduate, will have the opportunity to do this work this summer in a position funded by the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.
"We have been grateful to have such excellent partners throughout this project," Manion said. "Much of the cost has been funded through private donations and grants, and we have had so many amazing volunteers donate their time.”
Manion noted that donations from the Friends of Ottawa County Parks provides the county with the fencing and shelters to keep the goats safe during their time at work.
“Partnership is what makes initiatives like this possible," she said.
Residents can visit the park to watch the goats at work, but are advised not to touch the animals and to stay clear of the electric fence. Oils from plants like poison ivy do not harm the goats, but can be transferred to humans.