Goats have an appetite for buckthorn in SE Minnesota

Hikers on the Hay Creek area trails near Red Wing may have some unusual company this week. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is employing a herd of goats as part of a strategy to get rid of invasive buckthorn growing in the area.

Ranchers Keith Hill and Lanette Nadeau leased their goats to the DNR for the project. Hill says goats are a "natural way" of removing invasive species like buckthorn. "You start spraying in to kill these plants, you don't know what you're doing to affect other ecosystems. [The goats] just actually go in and do what they've been doing for years and years, and that's just eat."

On average, Hill says, it takes roughly ten goats about a week to clear an acre of brush. While the goats will eat many woodland plants, they seem to have a strong appetite for buckthorn.

"We have found that by putting them out into the oak areas, they don't eat the oak plants. Whereas with the softer bark, like some of these other invasives that come in there and just take over the forest, they will actually strip the bark off and kill these plants," Hill says.

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The goats have been grazing the trails at Hay Creek for four weeks and will continue until Hill comes to retrieve them at the end of the growing season. While this is the first year for the goats at Hay Creek, the DNR has used goats on buckthorn in other parts of the state.

The goats have been not only environmentally friendly but also cost friendly on another buckthorn removal project in Houston County, according to Jaime Edwards, a non-game wildlife specialist with the DNR.

"When we bid it out per acre to do one pass through of cutting and treating the buckthorn, it was going to be $2800 dollars per acre. The goats were about $300 dollars per acre. So with the money we had, we were able to do a grazing plan that would last four years," she says.

The goats have been grazing on that tract in Houston County for three years.

The only hitch in this program so far is a shortage of goats. The animals the DNR has grazing on the bluffs in Houston County came from a contractor in Wisconsin.

"I hope to see an increase in use of grazing as an alternative for managing areas. It would be great to have more goats available to do more grazing projects," Edwards says.

The DNR plans to bring the goats back to both sites next year.