Chew on This: Clemson’s Goats Battle Invasive Plants

Published By: Clemson University; Written By: Jim Melvin

Armed with teeth, horns and cloven hooves, a herd of heroes has raced to Clemson University’s rescue, bravely confronting marauding invaders who have held a creek hostage for decades.

Dozens of hungry goats — immune to poison ivy and oak and impervious to the sharpest of thorns — have clomped heedlessly into dense tangles of invasive plants choking the banks and adjacent areas of Hunnicutt Creek.

Where we see kudzu, goats see dinner.

“It’s like candy to them,” Clemson Extension water resources specialist Cal Sawyer said. “I recently saw one of the big ones balancing on its hind legs just to get to the tail end of a kudzu vine and yank it down a little bit to get a better grip.”

Goats 1, kudzu 0. Game on.

Clemson researchers Sawyer, Donald Hagan and Jeremy Pike have teamed with campus landscape director Tommy Fallaw and a slew of student and civic volunteers to evaluate the effectiveness of using goats to lessen the spread of invasive plants. These non-native species include the aforementioned kudzu, along with Chinese privet, silverthorn, English ivy, nandina, liriope, Japanese stiltgrass and Japanese honeysuckle.

The project began Aug. 30, 2014, when a herd of 40 goats — on loan from Ron Searcy of Wells Farm in North Carolina — was released into a prescribed area adjacent to a portion of Hunnicutt Creek for 56 days. For the voracious ruminants, this was the equivalent of a free trip to a buffet. Within the confines of an electric fence, males and females of various sizes and breeds went about their business of chewing and swallowing.

“Goats benefit from a diverse diet,” Sawyer said. “Otherwise, they would be browsing single species of grasses in a field. Here, they get to browse on multiple species. And though invasive plants are a nuisance to us, they can be a healthy and highly nutritious food for goats.”

The results of the initial trial have been favorable. Within the browsing areas, almost every invasive plant species showed a significant reduction in cover, including three that were eliminated entirely. Even better, the goats were physically able to plunge into thorny thickets, maneuver within snarls of vines, and rub against poison ivy and oak with little risk of injury. They also clung to the sides of steep banks almost as nimbly as their mountain goat cousins.

This is an excerpt of an article originally published by Clemson University. Click here to view the full article at newsstand.clemson.edu →

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