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Wednesday, 12 October 2011 14:42

Goats prove usefulness to Catamounts

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An environmentally friendly weed-eradication strategy that has been gaining popularity across the nation made its way to Western Carolina University recently in the form of 70 kudzu-chomping goats.

The goats were transported from Wells Farm in Horseshoe to eat away a massive kudzu patch that had covered the site of WCU’s old landfill, said Roger Turk, grounds superintendent for the department of facilities management.

The three-acre landfill, located in a wooded area off Monteith Gap Road, closed in 1994, but it is still subject to annual inspections by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“After this year’s inspection, DENR officials expressed concern that the kudzu growing on the landfill site could attract groundhogs, which might then burrow into the cap, which is the compacted soil and clay cover on the landfill, and compromise it,” Turk said. “We did find evidence that groundhogs had been burrowing at the site, but no indications that the cap was breached. But we still had to remove the kudzu to eliminate the problem.”

Turk had read a newspaper account of goats being used to eradicate kudzu, and he suggested that method as an economical and green alternative rather than trying to remove the invasive plant with repeated applications of chemical herbicides.

Two trailer-loads of rented goats arrived during the second week of August and were let loose on four acres, encompassing the landfill site and a surrounding buffer zone, that had been enclosed with a solar-powered electric fence. The goats, which prefer browsing on any kind of plant life before resorting to grass, immediately went about their business of eating the kudzu, Turk said.

The goats remained at the site until the end of September. They were watched over for the entire seven-week period by a guard dog from Wells Farm that was bred and trained to protect the herd. The grounds staff fed the dog and kept a water trough filled for the goats, and the goats’ owner drove from Horseshoe once each week to give the goats supplemental feed.

“It was amazing to see how quickly and effectively they were able to clear the site,” Turk said. “The goats were able to do in a few weeks what would have taken my undermanned staff a few months to do by hand. I’m glad we were able to take care of an overwhelming issue of three acres of mature kudzu in an environmentally safe and fiscally responsible way.”

The goats will make a return visit next spring to eradicate whatever kudzu starts growing again, and then the grounds staff will apply a small amount of herbicide and seed the site with native grass to keep the kudzu from coming back in force, Turk said.

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