Friday, March 8, 2013

Field Trip...with Goats

I brought my undergraduate Landscape Restoration class to "my" preserve yesterday for a field trip to review ecological restoration strategies in our woodlands and native grasslands.  We walked the trails to observe how our land managers cope with invasive plants and lack of tree regeneration attributable to abundant white-tailed deer.
Stewardship Assistant Chris briefing the students about techniques for establishing native warm-season grasses
The highlight of the trip was a visit with our four she-goats that we have used for a year to clear invasive plants from the woodland understory.  The goats have been largely confined to their pen for most of the winter (a neighbor had agreed to upgrade his barn so that the goats could spend the winter in larger, warmer, more comfortable quarters, but his handyman was slow to get to work, and the barn upgrade still isn't done after three months of renovations).  Because there's not much greenery in the woods for the goats to eat, they haven't been earning their keep, and we've been feeding them hay and sweet meal (or "goat cocaine," as our goatherd calls it) (i.e., goat chow with molasses) to tide them over.

The stewardship staff has begun preparing an area for the goats to clear once spring arrives.  The staff members have to use a string-trimmer fitted with a cutting blade to clear a perimeter so that they can install the goat's electrified field fence.  Once they are back in the field in a few weeks, the goats will be happy.
Meanwhile, the goats crave and enjoy human attention, and the students were happy to oblige.


robin andrea said...

I like the idea of having the goats clear the invasive species. How do you keep them from eating the good stuff?

packrat said...

All I can tell you, Scott, is your goat story made me laugh out loud.


Carolyn H said...

Well, that certainly looks like a fun outing!

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: In general, we only locate the goats in areas where the understory vegetation is largely (or exclusively) comprised of non-native invasives--which, unfortunately, includes large areas of the preserve. Sometimes, though, if the goats get rambunctious (or very hungry), they will strip the bark from desirable trees, so we have to watch them carefully and move them to "greener pastures."

Scott said...

Packrat: I'm glad that I could brighten your day with the goat story. The students really enjoyed the interaction. Right now, our abundant and semi-tame Wild Turkeys are our biggest "tourist attraction," but I think that the goats could become real contenders, especially since they're so good-natured.

Scott said...

Carolyn: Letting the students interact with he goats was an enjoyable experience, but I think that, as a result, the remainder of the field trip was a bit of letdown. How can I compete with goats?