CLAYTON COUNTY, Iowa - The state’s experiment with using goats to manage unwanted vegetation on recreational land is being called an initial success.
Two weeks after being turned loose in Ensign Hollow state wildlife area near Strawberry Point, the 60 goats have chewed their way through more than three acres of giant ragweed, stinging nettles, wild parsnip, poison ivy and other undesirable species.
“They seem to eat what we want to get rid of and ignore the beneficial vegetation,” said Mike Steuck, the Department of Natural Resources’ northeast Iowa fisheries supervisor.
The goats also consumed considerable amounts of undesirable woody vegetation including willow shoots, box elder and buckthorn.
“They don’t necessarily kill the woody vegetation, but they help control its growth and spread,” Steuck said.
“The true test (of the experiment’s success) will come a year from now when we see how much of the undesirable vegetation recovers and comes back” he said.
After two weeks on one side of the creek in the seven-acre wildlife area, the goats were moved to the other side. When that side of the creek is thoroughly browsed, the goats will be removed for a while and brought back for a return engagement in the fall.
The overgrown vegetation along the creek has inhibited the area’s recreational use, Steuck said.
“We want to open it up so folks who want to fish, hunt, trap, bird watch or hike can get through more effectively,” he said
The DNR is paying the goats’ owner, Twin Pine Farms of Delhi, $2,000 for the trial project, which includes the goats’ return visit this fall.
The fee is comparable to the cost of bringing in equipment and a crew for a few days, according to Steuck.
“This could be another tool in our toolbox; to keep areas in prairie, versus having succession go to woody vegetation and trees that we cannot actively manage without a lot of manpower,” he said.
The agile and sure-footed goats could be particularly advantageous, he said, in hard-to-access areas with steep banks and rocky shorelines.
The creek itself serves the same purpose as a fence in constraining the goats’ movement, he said. “They don’t like water.”
Goats, which weigh much less than cattle and have smaller hooves, have done no damage to the stream banks, he said.