Several goat-grazing businesses are offering their services to control invasive plant species, leasing their herds to landowners for a few days at a time.
Invasive plant species such as Kudzu and Poison Ivy are a pervasive problem in the US due to the difficulty in eradicating them. Kudzu was introduced as an ornamental plant in the 19th Century, but is now known as “the vine that ate the South” – it smothers large areas of land in the Southern states as it can grow up to a foot a day in their warm climates. It also fosters the ‘kudzu bug’, a beetle that thrives on kudzu and causes a burning sensation on the skin.
Powerful chemicals and digging machinery are often used to control invasive plants, but these solutions cause their own environmental problems such as erosion and contamination, and they often do not prevent new seeds from sprouting.
Intense grazing by a herd of goats is an effective method for controlling invasive plants because the goats don’t just eat the plants: they destroy the seeds too by the grinding motion of their mouths and the digestive power of their multi-chambered stomachs.
Compared to chemical solutions, this method is low cost, less polluting and minimises soil disturbance by diggers. A herd of 35 goats can clear half an acre of dense vegetation in around 4 days, and they can access steep and wooded areas – unlike machinery.
Image credit: ILRI / Flickr
This is a good example of a low-cost and simple biological pest control method that works with the grain of an ecosystem, elegantly upcycles waste (invasive plant mass is converted to goat meat), and minimises the need for chemical and fossil fuel inputs. Global agriculture is under pressure to feed a growing population while safeguarding the ecosystems we rely upon to provide us with fundamentals such as soil, fresh water and clean air; sustainable solutions to land management problems such as invasive species need to be effective without causing environmental damage or being overly reliant on high-carbon resources such as fossil fuels.