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You've Goat To Be Kidding: Introducing A Special Class Of Land Managers

You've Goat To Be Kidding: Introducing A Special Class Of Land Managers

DANA FULTON PORTER

Dana Fulton Porter is a publications supervisor in the DNR’s Office of Communications.

Removing invasive species is a challenge in many areas across Wisconsin. To assist in pulling the unwelcome plants and helping our native flora flourish, the DNR brought in a friendly, helpful group to tackle the task.

No, not the summer 2022 interns. We’re talking about goats.

In May, the DNR partnered with Regenerative Ruminants, a grazing service in northern Wisconsin. The company uses goats and sheep as a natural alternative to herbicides for removing brush and invasive species.

The hardworking and hungry team was brought into portions of the Brule River State Forest where buckthorn was running amok.

“Buckthorn has been a problem on the Brule River State Forest for a long time,” said Dan Kephart, DNR Brule River State Forest property manager.

The plant invades and thrives in oak forests and prairies. Buckthorn leafs out very early and retains its leaves late into the growing season, giving it a longer growing season than native plants. Buckthorn also creates dense shade, eliminating the chance for tree seedlings to grow.

“We want the forest to be able to regenerate our native species. If invasive species get in the way, it makes it very difficult to do so,” said Mary Bartkowiak, DNR invasive plant coordinator.

“If the invasives outcompete all of the native vegetation, we won't have the sugar maples, red pines or the white pines because they would be overtopped by the invasives.”

With that in mind, goats got the job.

GRAZE ANATOMY

The process is called prescribed grazing — when ruminants are placed in specific locations to nibble away.

“Prescribed grazing really thrives and works the best when you’ve got really dense invasive species,” said Brigid Reina Williams, co-owner of Regenerative Ruminants.

Just like the dense buckthorn growing in the Brule River State Forest. The goats rotated throughout the forest several times this summer and fall, feeding on fresh leaves that popped up.

Though the goats are on winter break, the gig isn’t over. Like other management methods, prescribed grazing is a long-term treatment.

Since the seeds of the invasive plants remain in the soil for several years, future evaluation will determine if the goats need to return to the Brule or be rotated to other areas.

You can help stop the spread of invasives, too. When visiting parks and forests, be sure to wipe your shoes and clean your equipment before arrival and when you depart. This small effort will help keep our natural Wisconsin plants thriving.

YOU HERD IT HERE

A few fun facts about goats:

• Goats are one of the smallest domesticated ruminants but come in various sizes with different hair lengths and colors.

• Goat eyes have a rectangular pupil, like many grazing animals, to help keep an eye out for predators.

• Goat lips help selectively grab leaves.

• Generally, goats are very social and curious.

— Source: Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

ROLL THE RUMINANTS

Watch a video of goat grazing at the Brule River State Forest on the DNR’s YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/PMBI50st9e4.