FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — After battling a jungle of invasive plant species with little success, The Villages of Urbana is leaving it to the goats.

This weekend, a herd of 25 to 30 goats occupied an electric-fenced area of almost five acres along the Sugarloaf Parkway to help provide a fast, environmentally safe alternative to weed control.

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“The goats can get done in 15 days what would take a couple of weeks for people and herbicides to do,” said Julie Virnelson, administrator of The Villages of Urbana Homeowners Association.

“We decided to use the goats because it was a more eco-friendly alternative to herbicides,” Virnelson said. “We’re excited to try them.”

According to Brian Knox, co-founder of Eco-Goats of Davidsonville, which supplied the goats, the Urbana retention area is overrun with almost every kind of invasive species.

“There’s multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, and poison ivy, which isn’t an invasive species, but most people don’t want it around,” he said.

Invasive plants are introduced species that reproduce easily, and, combined with a lack of natural predators, lead to overpopulation and destruction of natural species and habitats.

The goats target the flowers and seed pods of the invasive species, which helps prevent the plants from reproducing, but Knox stresses that completely removing unwanted plants is a long-term project.

“Seed lasts a long time … It can be waiting to germinate for eight to 10 years in the soil,” he said.

The goats typically work fairly quickly. One acre of land would take one herd of goats about four to seven days to clear of invasive plants.

“We’re shooting for 12 to 14 calendar days at Urbana,” Knox said.

After the first herd of 25 to 30 goats is moved into The Villages of Urbana, a second herd will join them, but Knox is unsure of when this will happen.

“The other herd is not quite done with another job yet,” he said.

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Staff members are on site with the goats every day.

“The staff feeds the goats, gives them water, checks the fence, and answers questions people may have,” Knox said.

The Villages of Urbana goat project has been in progress for quite a while.

“We started talking back last year some time,” Knox said. “It’s a strange thing for a suburban community to start utilizing goats. They needed to convince themselves it would work.”

In the past, The Villages of Urbana had a landscaping company remove the unwanted plants, but it was time-consuming and costly.

“Goats are an easy sell when people are faced with an impenetrable wall of ticks and poison ivy,” Knox said.

If the goats work quickly and provide The Villages of Urbana with the results it is seeking, Knox is confident that he will be asked to return.

“If (the goats) do what they set out to do, we will most likely have them back,” Virnelson said. “We’re hoping for great things.”

Eco-Goats is available to individuals, municipalities and private organizations.

(Courtesy: Frederick News-Post)


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