City of Dubuque employing goats to clear overgrown brush in pilot program

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) -- The city of Dubuque is employing four-legged grazers to take care of unwanted weeds along a waterway.

Maggie the goat eats weeds near the Bee Branch retention basin in Dubuque on Thursday, May 23. (Allison Wong, KCRG)

As part of a pilot program, Dubuque hired goats to clear less than one acre of land along the Bee Branch Retention Basin. The goats, owned by a local company called Goats on the Go, will eat all of the plants in the fenced in area.

Owner Peg Harbaugh said, "we’ve got about 50 goats here and it’s about an acre, so it should take them about a week because so many of the goats are small.”

The city is trying this out because it's helping it reach its goal of becoming more sustainable.

"The goal is to reduce the use of chemicals," Harbaugh said. "They (the city) have a sustainability initiative and so we’ve partnered with them to try to offer them an alternative to spraying chemicals, and goats are that solution.”

Goats are great at climbing and can get to hard-to-reach places. Dubuque's park division manager Steve Fehsal said it's safer for the goats to do this work than city employees.

"It’s kind of a safety concern for us," he said. "There’s kind of steep slopes, so we don’t want to get equipment in there. It’s close to the basin so it is kind of saturated. We don’t want to rut it up with our equipment."

Harbaugh said the grass is great food for the goats. While they're eating, they're also preventing the spread of these plants.

"They actually have a chewing mechanism with their teeth that destroys the viability of seeds so it will not replant," Harbaugh explained.

The city is spending $1,250 on this pilot. Fehsal said he doesn't have a figure for what it would cost to have city staff clear the area, but he guesses it's comparable. He said the city is happy to spend this money if it means keeping the environment clean.

"It’s close to a water body where we don’t want to spray chemical if we don’t have to," Fehsal said.

The goats should finish clearing the area in about a week. Harbaugh encourages people to check them out but warns people to not touch the electric fence.