It’s a Lawn Mower! It’s a Weed Whacker! No…it’s a Herd of Goats!

By Sara Ernst

EPA’s research facility in Narragansett, Rhode Island recently enlisted the help of a highly skilled landscaping team to create more pollinator-friendly habitat on the premises.  The team doesn’t use chemicals or pollute the air with carbon emissions, can work on just about any terrain or slope, and loves to eat poison ivy.  So, who is this slightly peculiar dream team? A herd of goats from Laurel Hill MicroFarm in Hope, Rhode Island!

Before the goats and their herders arrived, the facility had a maze of invasive plants plaguing the perimeter of the property, however, over the course of 10 days, these impressive eaters were able to safely consume all the poison ivy and invasive vegetation in the area.

My family always says I have a hole in my foot because of how much I can eat, but let me tell you, I’ve got nothing on these goats!  One goat can eat about 100 square feet of vegetation a day, varying with density – and we were working with a team of 16!  The goats were constantly frolicking back and forth between various plants, small trees, and shrubs, eating to their hearts content and only stopping when they needed short digestion breaks.  When a designated area was cleared, they’d look at their herder as if to say, “Okay what’s next? We’re hungry!”

a herd of goats take on a big plant

goats hard at work eating plantsa white goat reaches up to take a bite out of a leaf

 

Habitat loss is one of the main reasons pollinators such as bees, birds, and butterflies have declined in abundance over the past few decades.  By removing overgrown landscaping and nuisance plant species from our property, the goats are protecting native plants that serve as pollinator habitat from invasive vegetation that could have easily disturbed their growth and threatened their survival.  Space has also been created so new pollinator-friendly vegetation has room to grow, and areas have been left free of plant life to provide habitat for ground-nesting pollinators like bumble bees.

Taking steps to protect and increase habitat for pollinators helps to mitigate their decline and strengthen their numbers.  These efforts are essential in protecting the health of the environment and in ensuring the sustainability of our food production systems, as well as their continued economic contribution to the agriculture industry.  EPA is committed to helping restore pollinator populations to healthy levels, consistent with the June 2014 Presidential Memorandum “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators”.

This is the first time EPA has used conservation grazing or “goatscaping”, and I doubt it will be the last.  Goats are efficient workers, environmentally-friendly, and able to work safely and easily in areas that may be dangerous or difficult for humans and heavy equipment.  Best of all, by using goats to clear overgrown landscaping, especially invasive plant life, we are helping pollinators prosper.  Visit EPA’s pollinator protection page to learn more about pollinator health, what EPA is doing, and how you can help!

About the Author:  Sara Ernst is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and works as the Science Communications Specialist in the Atlantic Ecology Division of EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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