Baby goats are baaaaack at Ottawa County parks

Six baby goats joined the Ottawa County parks staff this spring. These four-legged seasonal employees are part of the Prescribed Browsing Project, an initiative utilizing goats to combat invasive plants. This eco-friendly method reduces herbicide applications and allows access to locations where mowers or machinery otherwise could not reach.  
Six baby goats joined the Ottawa County parks staff this spring
It’s a job worthy of a goat’s appetite since they aren’t picky eaters. Goats love to chow down on woody, shrub-like invasive plants (and everything else), as well as pesky poison ivy, without negative side effects. 

“This initiative began as a three-year pilot to expire in 2018,” says Jessica VanGinhoven, spokesperson for Ottawa County Parks. “We have continued it since then because of the major positive impact they can have on our natural lands. Goats are efficient eaters, quickly clearing areas of thick woody invasive species that threaten our ecosystems. They work so much faster than we could.”

Grazing simulates mowing

Goat grazing simulates mowing, which can initially stimulate growth. However, repeat “applications” of grazing goats have shown to eliminate 90% of invasive, woody plants over three years. The goats aren’t able to eradicate unwanted plants, but they push them back enough that an herbicide follow-up treatment is possible and effective. 
The Prescribed Browsing Project is an initiative utilizing goats to combat invasive plants.
In previous years, the Eco-Goats, as they’re commonly called, have munched on invasive plants like bittersweet, honeysuckle, and buckthorn at Eastmanville Bayou, Bur Oak Landing, and Riverside Park. They also have helped with poison ivy control.  

“There were areas at Eastmaville Bayou where you couldn’t even see the river from the trail before the goats cleared it out,” VanGinhoven says. “Now, after a few years of the combined efforts of goats, volunteers, and staff, there’s a gorgeous view of the Grand River and the bittersweet is less of a threat to the trees along the riverbank.”

Bittersweet is strong enough to pull down a mature tree by wrapping its vines around the trunk, she notes.

Initiative leader

Ottawa County is one of the first park systems in the state, and the nation, to test this method of invasive species management, and project partners have made this initiative possible. Most of the program costs have been funded through grants and private donations, thanks to Friends of Ottawa County Parks. Park volunteers also generously donate their time to this project.

Currently, you’ll find these affordable kids (the name given to baby goats) at Eastmanville Farm munching on leftover Christmas trees and waiting for their spring assignment. Residents are welcome to visit the team of 12 – which includes six older goats – at work but are advised not to touch the goats and should stay clear of the electric fence in which they are enclosed. Oils from plants like poison ivy do not harm the goats but can be transferred to humans.  

The fact that that the baby goats are cute matters, too, adds VanGinhoven.

“People like them and want to learn about what they are up to,” she says. “It opens the door to have a conversation about invasive plants — why they are a threat, how to identify them, and, of course, what else you can do about them. Invasive plants and forest health isn’t dinner table conversation for most people, but the goats help spark curiosity.”


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