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Goats help clean up habitat

Goats will help clear up buckthorn on property owned by Flint Hills Resources.

After all that modern science has provided, sometimes Mother Nature still wins out. Last week more than 120 goats were released on Flint Hills Resources property along the bluffs of the Mississippi River. Turns out, grazing goats provide a cheap and efficient way to reduce overgrowth and control invasive species.

The goats, which belong to the Goat Peak Ranch, are part of a new approach for maintaining and restoring natural habitat along the Mississippi River.

For two weeks, the goats will roam the bluffs devouring what they find. Keith Hill, owner of the Goat Peak Ranch, said the goats prefer weeds to grass, which makes them ideal for fire- and weed control. The goats have been fenced into a six acre area in the Pine Bend Natural Area.

Flint Hills has worked with Friends of the Mississippi River and Great River Greening since 2000 to remove invasive species and plants from the Pine Bend Bluffs. The goal of the partnership is to reclaim habitat along the Mississippi River flyway, which is a migration corridor for millions of songbirds and waterfowl.

Great River Greening restoration ecologist Wiley Buck said the goats are part of a new approach that will help control overgrowth of plants such as buckthorn without the use of machinery or chemicals. Additionally, the goats' hooves will work native seeds into the ground as they walk, replacing the devoured plants with more desirable plants.

"Goats are well-suited for this because they enjoy prickly brush and weeds and their agility allows them to easily navigate the bluffs," said Buck.

Goats are good at what they do, Hill said, because they pretty much just eat and sleep. While it's still a newer concept, Hill said using goats to control weeds is becoming more common in Minnesota. Hill said the goats have done a half dozen weed control projects this summer.

Goats are natural herding animals and work together to clear areas. Hill said he raises Spanish Brush breeds because they are a lower maintenance animal. While he raises animals for slaughter, Hill said the weed control goats will not be sold for meat.

Buck said the goats will be brought back next summer to graze again. After that they will evaluate the program to see how it works.

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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