Ottawa County Parks Natural Resources Management Supervisor Melanie Manion reported Thursday that there have been positive results in increasing biodiversity at the county parks after experimenting with using a herd of goats to “browse” the area.
From May through October, goats have browsed — fed on leaves, twigs and other high-growing (including invasive) vegetation at Eastmanville Bayou, Bur Oak and Riverside park properties. The browsing program started in 2014 with the intent of being a three-year pilot, but it was stretched to five years.
“There were lots of bumps along the way, but I feel we’re doing pretty well,” Manion told county parks commissioners Wednesday. “We’re recommending we continue the program because we’ve seen such amazing success.”
The parks staff still does spot treatments at the parks where goats browse, Manion said, but there has been a significant reduction of invasive species. The main goal of the pilot program was to manage dense invasive species by reducing the use of herbicide and staff resources.
In the case of the invasive Asiatic bittersweet vine, goats do a better job of getting rid of the vegetation than if it was treated with an herbicide method, Manion said. Less-aesthetically pleasing dead vines would be left after herbicide treatment, where goats to a good job of getting rid of most or all of the plant, she said.
The program is supported by the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation and Friends of Ottawa County Parks Foundation and other donations, resulting in a cost of about $500 annually, not including staff time, volunteer support and donated veterinarian services.
Acquiring and selling goats continues to be a challenge, Manion said, but the program will continue with the intent of having 10-12 goats each summer. Goats’ ages should not exceed 6 years, and they are sold and have typically been used for breeding, Manion said.
“They are so healthy because what they’re eating is all natural with no antibiotics,” she noted. “... My favorite part of the program is that it brings awareness to the issue and the conversation of invasive species to the dining room table.”