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Question. We have an acre of property, try to stay organic, and have a hill infested with a big swath of Japanese Stilt Grass—about 20 by 40 feet. We will not use Round-up or similar chemical herbicides. What are our options?
---Cindi in Bethlehem, Pa
We have Japanese Knotweed taking over the banks of creeks that run through our property. It has been suggested that I cut the stalks and paint the ends with RoundUp – but I really don't want to do this. And I don't think high strength vinegar should be used near a creek either. Can you suggest a solution? This weed is tough; it just keeps coming back year after year.
---Keith in Bryn Mawr, PA
An invasive grass is taking over everywhere I look; is there any safe way to eradicate it?
---Leslie in Hunterdon County, NJ
I've tried many things but can't clear my yard of the brambles and vines that are taking over…
---Sheila in Wilmington, NC
Answer. Invasive plants are a very complex problem, especially when they appear in ecologically sensitive areas, where herbicides pose great dangers to fish, amphibians and water quality—and where eradication without immediate replanting can lead to erosion problems that are much worse than any issues caused by the weeds. Luckily, there are numerous ways to handle such problems in a sensible, sustainable manner, including one we don't discuss nearly often enough on the show: Utilizing animals that eat bad plants, like ducks, geese and goats!
Yes, goats! We've had several invasive plant experts on the show over the years, explaining how herds of goats are used in many parts of the country to regain territory once lost to invasives. But this week, we thought we'd leave the 'talking' to listeners who have written in to tell us about their goaty success!
Phil in New Hope, PA, writes: "I heard part of your response recently to a guy who had invasive plant problems on a large scale. Don't forget the power of critters to help with this cause! A herd of goats, pigs and chickens will clear any property of any problem plant. Goats love to devour the above-ground growth of plants like English ivy; pigs love to expose and eat plant roots; and chickens will eat every little seed in the soil. I have goats, and lend them out to friends who need to clear some land. None of us have ever had to remove the dreaded invasive ivy by hand!
"I did a little amateur study by fencing the goats into a small area to see what they would eat and at what rate. They ate everything: Japanese stilt weed, autumn olive, multiflora rose—if you leave them in an area long enough, they will eat everything down to the ground, just as hungry deer do in winter.
"Just be aware that goats will only go down to about four inches above the ground—so you'll need to follow them with pigs if you want the roots removed. And you always want to have at least two goats working to eradicate bushes and trees. They work as a team—one will push down the tree or shrub and the others will jump on it like sharks to bait."
Gwen in Woodward, Oklahoma chimes in: "We proudly raise Nubian and La Mancha dairy goats and were intrigued by your report a few years back on invasive plant experts using goats as overgrowth control. I recall reading that Florida also uses goats to control kudzu, a vine that grows up on power poles and causes lots of problems for the power companies.
"There is a woman who travels in the central plains area with a herd of goats every summer, helping landowners get rid of pest plants. She winters at Freedom, OK, and has been a guest speaker at Langston University in Guthrie, OK, where they have a goat research station. The goats can perform three services at once: they control unwanted plant growth, fertilize the soil, and can stomp the seeds of desired replacement plants into the ground as they move and graze. The goat herders just broadcast the new seed as the goats eat the old plants!
"Goats are mostly browsers," she continues. "They'll eat everything at eye level and above before they'll begin to graze, greatly preferring trees and shrubs over grasses—perhaps because the tannins in so many trees and shrubs contain natural de-worming agents. But they are also capable of grazing, and will eat what is underfoot after all the trees and shrubs are gone. Anyway, I realize that this a little far afield of your usual subject matter, but I thought you and others might be interested. I enjoy your show!"
And I greatly enjoy these kinds of emails! Obviously, homeowners who 'rent a goat' would have to protect or fence off their wanted plants, but it sure sounds like a great way to get rid of a lot of plants that people don't like. And concerned groups trying to clear invasive plants from sensitive areas might want to consider goats an answer of first resort!
Want more info? This Wikipedia entry has links to several articles about using goats against invasive plants. And Phil in New Hope added a hilarious 'P.S.' to his email—this link to a bit on Steven Colbert's show that features weeding goats in action, and warns American landscapers that the goats are preparing to take their jobs. (Warning: This bit contains a fair amount of "bleeped" language.)