Dancing With Goats

Expressions such as In the arms of goats and Getting my goat have been rather unkind to the frisky, curious , diminutive ruminant. In this month, when Capricorn symbolized by a goat rules, I thought I’d make some amends.

It has been an increasing problem to get rid of fast-growing invasive plants that are seen thriving all along our highways and byways. Any gardener who has dealt with freeing the garden of poison ivy or bittersweet will know exactly how hard that is. Typically, chemicals and/or machinery have been employed. But in either case, there are associated concerns. Chemicals poison the soil and are not good at preventing seeds from sprouting. Machinery disturb the soil too much and that results in erosion.

Enter the Eco-Goats. They are a group of goats that are available for hire one week at a time from May to November to chomp and destroy the offending plants up and down the northeast United States. It is a simple, time-tested biological solution to a more recent biological problem. The animals are more effective than chemicals or other methods because, between their strong, grinding teeth and their multi-chambered stomachs, seeds cannot survive. So once the area is cleared by the goats, no seeds remain to grow back. I do believe the extra bonus is the goat manure – the soil gets enriched while the goats feast!

Machinery brought in to clear the invasives are often too large and in any case cannot be used in steep, wooded areas. Goats can. Tall goats can access plants more than eight feet high. A trip of 35 goats can demolish half an acre of thick vegetation in about four days. Which apparently, is about the amount of time it takes the creatures to get bored with eating the same food.

There are now several well-established goat grazing companies around the country. They have been employed to take on phragmites and kudzu swamped spaces and doing quite well. More and more invasive species are being identified as fodder for the goats. In many cases, insects and other bio-controls have failed to be effective. Super-goats to the rescue! An environmentally sound solution to keep the environment sound.

Now tell me, does this not put a smile on your face?

Having cleared an area in your garden, I have a plant suggestion for you to invite into it. Goat’s Beard! Aruncus dioicus is an American native and an excellent choice to back a border in semi-shade or in a woodland garden. Its large, feathery plumes of white flowers draw butterflies and other pollinators. In fact, it is a host plant to the Dusky Azure butterfly. It blooms in May-June. Growing to a height of 3-6 feet, it spreads slowly rhizomatously to create attractive patches of itself. Goat’s Beard grows well from planting zone 3 all the way to zone 8. Hardy and innocuous.

A rather fitting tribute to the lowly, lively goat I think.


At a farm in Illinois. The goats are kept as pets.

At a farm in Illinois. These goats are kept as pets.

Goat's Beard

Goat’s Beard

Goat's Beard 2
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

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4 thoughts on “Dancing With Goats

    • Jo, Duke University is doing research on that and is aware of the goat solution. NC should put pressure on the elected officials to bring in the goats!

  1. Thank you for describing how using goats in this way works. I knew about this; however, didn’t know the details. Your writing flows so easily. Such a treasure you are!

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