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Control kudzu with goats, not chemicals

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A more responsible, earth-friendly way to clear land and control invasives like kudzu, honeysuckle, privet, multifloral rose and poison ivy is to use goats instead of toxic chemicals. It is the most environmentally sensitive method second only to hand pulling each plant.

Some preparation work may need to be done to make it easier for the goats to do their job well. Removing trash and cutting invasive plants that are over a few feet tall such as Tree of Heaven, Mahonia and Chinese Privet will let the goats eat the invasives to death. This can usually be done by community volunteers who look forward to the arrival of the goats.

Probably the most recognized invasive plant in the world is kudzu. This plant is native to Asia and became a gift in 1876 to the United States at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition when it decorated the Japanese pavilion. It soon became a popular ornamental vine in the South and then an erosion-control crop. Farmers were paid to plant it by the federal government during the Great Depression.

Kudzu grows about one foot per day taking over the land and even houses, killing out native plants. The South is known for it, but it is surviving winters in some of the Northern States like New York where an article appeared about it in the New York Times in 1988. Prevalent in Texas and Oklahoma, it also grows on at least a million acres of federal forest land and millions more of private land.

Using heavy metal chemical compounds and big machinery may clear the land, but nothing else will be able to grow there for years due to compaction and toxicity. Goats can clear where it is impractical or unsafe to bring in heavy equipment. It may take two to three times of goat clearing before the invasive vegetation is eradicated and there are no guarantees it will never come back.

There are some possible issues. The goats are electric-fenced and occasionally may escape. Sometimes llamas or dogs need to be used to protect the goats from predators. Goats will not eat the woody part of plants so those will need to be collected, chipped and mulched by people to totally clear the land. Working goats were stolen in Spartanburg, South Carolina, but they have worked out well in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Tryon, North Carolina.

An added benefit is the about two pounds daily of natural organic fertilizer each goat applies as it works. The goats can go anywhere on any type of terrain. They are more quiet and cheaper than using heavy machinery. Goats are the sustainable method for land management.

Communities which cannot find goats locally can hire them from companies like Goat Busters in Afton, Virginia, owned and operated by Goodling Enterprises, L.L.C. since 1996. Telephone 434.531.6166 or email jace@ceva.net. The goats have cleaned up "vineyards, private backyards, and along country club golf courses, as well as pasture improvement, creek bed, fence line, and field margin clean-up, and poison ivy, honeysuckle, and general weed eradication."

Cost will vary according to the size of the job and number of goats needed. The Goat Busters website says "in 2010, the cost to clear an acre of overgrown land ranged from $725 to $1250, depending on how thick the vegetation was, how difficult it was to set up the fence" and some other factors. They do provide free estimates.

Notes Ron Searcy, owner of Wells Farm in Horse Shoe, North Carolina and the goats used on the two acre site near IGA on South Trade Street in the Town of Tryon, "They can probably ingest somewhere between 15 to 20 percent of their body weight a day, so a 100 pound goat is going to take in 15 to 20 pounds of green vegetation a day." Telephone the Searcys at 828.877.5109.

The Pacolet Area Conservancy (PAC) received a grant for the Tryon project from the Polk County Community Foundation through their Kudzu Eradication Initiative, according to PAC's Director of Stewardship and Land Protection Pam Torlina. Their 25 goats will also eat other invasive plants like tree of heaven, bittersweet vine, honeysuckle and privet in addition to the kudzu. The goats are funded for three years at a total cost of $9,000, living at the property for one month and returning in fall to tackle re-growth. View the attached video of the goats' work in Tryon.

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