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Goats help control invasive species in Douglas County

They may not wash windows, but these furry employees do clean up buckthorn. A herd of goats is mowing down invasive plant species in rural Douglas County, one mouthful at a time. "They are very enthusiastic workers," said Rebecca Loken, who runs ...

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Rebecca Loken holds Frannie Nannie goat, one of Lake Minnesuing Farm’s pet goats, at the farm last month. Loken and her partner, Mike Mattson, have started a new business that tackles brush and invasive plants with the digestive power of goats. (Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram)

They may not wash windows, but these furry employees do clean up buckthorn.
A herd of goats is mowing down invasive plant species in rural Douglas County, one mouthful at a time.
“They are very enthusiastic workers,” said Rebecca Loken, who runs Lake Minnesuing Farm with Mike Mattson. Giddy Up and Go Goats is the farm’s newest offering. The couple also provides horseback riding and shares of organic vegetables and eggs through community-supported agriculture.
Loken and Mattson have 25 goats on the roster, in addition to 10 dairy and pet animals back on the farm. Their step into four-footed biocontrol methods has met with an enthusiastic response.
“Right now the whole neighborhood has something to be done,” Loken said. The goats are chewing their way through a nearby property on Kizlik Lane, clearing out invasive species and trimming back overgrown blackberry and raspberry bushes.
The goats could one day be used to clear county land of invasive plants like Japanese knotweed and buckthorn, which choke out native plants.
“They like the stuff we want to get rid of,” Douglas County Supervisor Terry White said.
Loken gave a presentation about her herd’s capabilities to the Douglas County Forest, Parks and Recreation Committee last week.
“I think it’s pretty exciting,” said Douglas County Supervisor David Conley, who serves on the committee. “I think it’s a doable project.”
The county is reluctant to turn to chemical alternatives to combat problem plants, he said. By ordinance, the county has to first consider all viable alternatives.
“Herbicides are a last resort, not a first resort,” Conley said.
Yet the march of invasive plants into the area has accelerated. The goats do more than mow down brush or take a bite out of invasive species. They leave behind fertilizer to enrich the soil for native plants.
“It’s such a positive thing, how can you not want to better the environment,” said Mattson, an advanced forest technician with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Giddy Up and Go Goats are being considered to help clear buckthorn and other invasives from Lucius Woods Park in Solon Springs.
“It’s a tool,” said White, who serves on the forestry committee. “Hopefully we can use it.”
Currently, he said, the buckthorn is being pulled by hand.
Goats have been used to control brush, clear fields and battle invasive species throughout the nation. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel featured a Wisconsin farmer and his goat clearing business in 2013.
White saw goats in action when he lived in California.
“I’ve seen it, and I believe in it,” he said, but the committee asked Loken and Mattson to bring back hard numbers on what it would cost to clear the Lucius Wood site to the July meeting.
And it took an ornery horse to get Loken and Mattson to take in their first goats.  
“I always had an aversion to goats until I got them,” Loken said. “They always sounded like troublemakers, and sometimes they are. It’s like having a pack of skateboarder punks around.”
But, she said, they’re funny and friendly, always playing.
“You can tell how much they enjoy life,” Loken said.
The couple traded their difficult horse for two goats, one of which was pregnant with triplets. The new additions started snacking on a swatch of 10-foot-tall Japanese knotweed, eventually clearing it. The animals thrive on broad-leafed plants like knotweed and buckthorn, preferring them to grass and other vegetation. Loken and Mattson did some research, created a trailer for the goats and picked up some portable solar netting - a netlike electric fence. Now, they hope Giddy Up and Go Goats eventually will become a full-time business with 40 goats on staff.
“I would love that because it’s a community service, too,” Loken said. “And because being in tune with nature is such a priority to me.”
The couple offers free estimates, including a mapping of where invasive species are located on the property. Mattson said the Natural Resources Conservation Service offers grants for combatting invasive plants, something landowners may want to look into.
More information on the goat initiative, as well as Lake Minnesuing Farm, is available online at lakeminnesuingfarm.com, by calling (715) 292-4777 or emailing farmtofamilyorganics@gmail.com .

Related Topics: DOUGLAS COUNTYENVIRONMENT
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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