Glencoe, Community

For 20+ goats in Glencoe, dinner is served

Park district brings in goats to munch up invasive plants

It’s goat time.

Searching for a new way to clear invasive plant species, the Glencoe Park District has brought in nature’s solution: domestic goats.

Twenty-two of the animals from The Green Goats, out of Wisconsin, are taking up residence in Glencoe’s Milton Park through Friday, May 10, and are tasked with clearing as much buckthorn, honeysuckle, poison ivy and celandine as possible, said Kyle Kuhs, director of parks and planning for the Glencoe Park District.

“As a park district, we are thinking environmentally and sustainably but also fun and this is an opportunity for the public to come and see the goats in action,” Kuhs said. “So far the feedback has been very positive.

“We think it’s a really unique opportunity for us to try something different that isn’t seen much around this area.”

Glencoe residents like David Lavine (with phone) admire one of the Glencoe goats on their first day on the job.

The idea was born during a meeting of the district’s sustainability unit, or the green team,” Kuhs said. During a discussion on how to fight invasive species, someone recommended grazing goats, a modern and sustainable solution for erasing groundcover and invasive species.

After some research, the park district made a deal with The Green Goats, owed by Kim Hunter. Hunter and the district reviewed locations in Glencoe and agreed on Milton Park, which includes a natural wooded area adjacent to a playground and walking path at Dundee Road and Milton Avenue.

Kuhs said the district had not tended to Milton Park’s vegetation in some time, while invasive species in other Glencoe parks had more recently been addressed using one of the district’s other methods: manual removal, controlled burns or herbicide treatment.

“(Milton Park) had not been given any of those methods in quite some time, so it is the perfect opportunity to bring the goats in and let them have some good eating for a few days and clear this out,” Kuhs said.

A goat dines on buckthorn — one of the invasive species the park district is hoping to clear — in Glencoe’s Milton Park.

While unique in the North Shore, grazing goats is not a new technique; though, it has surged in popularity over the past decade as a way to reduce pollution and improve the ecological health of an area.

O’Hare Airport may have the area’s most significant goat program, bringing the animals in each summer to clear airfields that are not easy to access for traditional lawnmowers. CommonWealth Edison also puts goats to work under its powerlines in Pekin, Illinois.

Hunter’s Green Goats project humbly began in 2006, when she was looking for a better way to clear weeds on her parents’ 6-acre Wisconsin property. After acquiring two pygmy goats, Hunter wanted to train them to eat buckthorn and start a business.

The training wasn’t hard. She said the goats loved the buckthorn immediately.

“I said well that was easy. It’s their natural food. They are a browser, like a deer,” she said. “… They eat a lot of trees and brush, a lot of weeds, like thistle.”

Green Goats once had as many as 250 goats and earned public and private contracts in Wisconsin and Illinois. Hunter’s herd is currently at 47 goats, primarily Spanish goats and hybrids. She said a goat can eat up to 300 square feet of vegetation per day, depending on the density and makeup of the landscape.

Hunter explained that if the goats are in an enclosed area, like they are in Glencoe’s Milton Park, they will overgraze, damaging a plant’s root systems and its regrowth prospects.

Green Goats owner Kim Hunter with Bernie Sanders, one of of her animals that is helping in Glencoe.

“These plants we have are invasive here … because they don’t have a natural predator. The goats are a natural predator of the plants we don’t want,” she said, adding,” and the goats are very quiet and friendly. I’ve raised them all from babies and I’ve raised them to have good manners.”

Glencoe residents were enjoying their new furry neighbors on Monday, May 6, lining the fenced perimeter to see the goats in action.

The plant-munching action also caused a slowing of traffic along Dundee Road as drivers could be heard laughing and exclaiming things like, “Are those goats?”

Park district officials say the one-week run will cost between $3,000-$4,000, which includes the cost of the goats and possible additional cleanup of more mature invasive plants. More conventional methods, like chemical treatment, can cost up to $12,000 for a similar area; though, the treatments will likely last longer. The park district believes the costs are comparable.

Glencoe’s goat program is a trial run. Kuhs said if all goes well, the district may bring the goats back and “hopefully find a more sustainable way to manage some of these areas.”

“If it goes smooth and it’s well received by public and we see good removal of the invasives,” he said, “we’d look to do this again on a recurring basis, prevent new growth from coming in and regrowth and then over time after several grazes, it would wipe this slate clean of the invasives and reestablish a more native habitat.”

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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