Goats Go Head to Head with Herbicides
(Beyond Pesticides, October 8, 2003) Instead of allowing the school to do the regular dump of toxic herbicides over the hills of North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus, professor Jean Spooner has teamed up with Jean-Marie Luginbuhl in a funded project to use goats to eat through the tangled roughage and restore the area to its natural diversity - or at least, to make it manageable for restoration, according to a piece in the Raleigh, North Carolina News and Observer.
"'People seemed to think this was a funny idea when it was first suggested," Mr. Luginbuhl told a reporter from the News and Observer. "But it's easy to see the goats are making a difference."
The 20 goats, which feed on just about anything, are being brought in as part of an experiment to compete with a nearby plot where conventional herbicides are being sprayed. The objective is to get rid of a non-native invasive species called kudzu that has choked the land and engulfed a creek that is now barely visible. The roots of the plant extent 15 feet into the ground and the stems are so thick in some areas that chainsaws are needed to get in to spray the herbicides.
The project is being funded by a federal grant of $287,500 and is expected to last two to three years. Over that time the goats will be rotated around roughly 700 yards in half-acre penned lots. Usually goats are able to strip a mile-long stretch of all biodiversity in about 30 days - but given the depth of the kudzu root more time will be needed. The idea is that the goats will continuously eat the leaves and vines of the plant, which will expose the root long enough so that it cannot replenish its leaves and eventually will die.
Mr. Luginbuhl, an associate professor of animal sciences and head of the Meat Goat and Forage Systems Research and Extension Program at NCSU, knows the important contribution goats can make toward stemming pollution and limiting the use of toxic chemicals in land management. Although the idea is not new it may be one of the first times a federal or state government has funded a goat-eating project to compete directly with herbicides to see which can better kill the aggressive plant.
For more stories on goats as 'nature's lawnmowers, see:Alternative Weed Strategies, Pesticides and You;
San Franciscos Pesticide Phase-Out, Pesticides and You; and, Conservation Workers Employ Goats as Lawnmowers.