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goats eating buckthorn

Grazing Goats help eradicate invasive buckthorn!

June 18, 2020  |  Topics: Stories

By Eddee Daniel, with input from Ozaukee Washington Land Trust

The goats arrive at Mequon Rotary Park in a large silver livestock trailer. All 38 of them stand inside waiting quietly, patiently, but alert with anticipation. They’ve been through this before. It is new to me, however, and I also wait with eager anticipation.

I had watched as the crew strung temporary fencing to contain the goats. The trail leading into Rotary Pukaite Woods Nature Preserve was lined with fencing that led into the woods to a one-acre paddock within which they would be free to roam. A dense thicket of buckthorn filled the paddock. It doesn’t take long to understand the need for the fencing!

When the trailer door is opened the goats spill out one by one and trot swiftly down the trail. But they don’t wait for the woods. As soon as they reach a spot where some grass and brush protrude within the confines of the fence they drop their heads and chomp away. Then the goats following behind catch up and shove past, encouraged by the crew. Herd instinct carries them all forward into the paddock.

Immediately upon encountering the thicket a veritable melee ensues. A feeding frenzy! I’ve never seen anything like it. The herd moves through the underbrush en masse, chomping and tearing at everything they can reach. I follow along, trying to get in front of the herd now and then, but they never slow. It’s grab and go until they’ve made an entire circuit of the paddock. Then, without a pause, they start in again. They will be at it for several days, I’m told, before being moved to another paddock.

Welcome to the ‘Grazing Goats Crew!’ This endeavor was organized by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust Stew Crew in partnership with the Mequon-Thiensville Sunrise Rotary Club. The hired goats, which are Spanish and Nubian breeds, were provided by Green Goats LLC. In addition to buckthorn, the goats are here to help manage honeysuckle, another non-native invasive species.

Have you ever had the thought, as I often have: wouldn’t it be nice if there was some kind of animal that would eat all this buckthorn that is choking out our native plants? Well, it turns out that it isn’t as simple a process as it may seem. First of all, there is a city ordinance prohibiting hooved animals in city parks. The Mequon City Council Parks Department had to be persuaded to grant an exemption, which it did.

Then, just bring on the goats, right? Not so fast. Here’s how it works: The goats browse away on invasive brush, completely defoliating these unwanted plants and giving native trees and plants a chance to recolonize. Sounds easy enough, except that the hardy invasive plants grow back.

It requires repeated grazing to exhaust the target plants’ energy reserves and eventually to kill them. How long it takes depends on the strength of the individual plants. Multiple years of grazing are required to reach desired results. (Other control options also take multiple years to achieve effective results.)

The beauty of using goats to reclaim land overrun by invasive brush is that there is no need for herbicidal chemicals or fossil fuels. Thus, pollinators that frequent the woods are supported. The goats also reduce the need for physical labor! The timing, intensity, frequency, duration and targeting of grazing to invasive brush is key to controlling them and to avoid negative impacts to sensitive natural areas, just as with other control strategies.

The virtues of using goats go beyond questions of environmental sustainability as well. This type of project supports farmers, allows for community buy-in and engagement, and keeps the goats happy by giving them a food source.

If you want to see the goats in action, check out this amazing video, by Leona Knobloch, Development Director of OWLT.


Thanks go to the Mequon-Thiensville Sunrise Rotary Club for their support of this project. However, it is expensive and more support is needed. The goats will be working at this site for several weeks and will return later in the season for a subsequent graze. Ozaukee Washington Land Trust hopes this demonstration project will lead to a local goat herd servicing the Ozaukee area in years to come. If you would like to “sponsor a goat,” please go to the OWLT website.

Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks. Ozaukee Washington Land Trust is a project partner of A Wealth of Nature.