Putney Mountain Association has embarked on a pilot project, using goats to control invasive buckthorn on the Putney Mountain summit. For many years we have been cutting buckthorn back on our annual clearing days. The hawk-watchers also contribute many hours cutting in season. However, to have good results, it requires cutting the buckthorn back three times in the growing season. Cutting just after leaf-out in the spring, then again mid-summer, and once again before fall, requires the plants to put much energy into leafing out three times. They are then unable to store energy from the third leaf-out before winter. Due to the extent of the infestation, we have not had sufficient volunteer labor to accomplish three cuttings per growing season, and have only seen an increase in the amount of buckthorn.
Casting about for ideas, and finding information about goats controlling invasive plants in many places around the country, we located the web-site of The Goat Girls in Amherst, MA. Hope, the proprietor, is a landscape gardener. Having become aware of the extent of invasives her clients are wrestling, with she founded The Goat Girls. She agreed to look at our situation, and was quite impressed with the extent of buckthorn.
To make a long story short, we were able to raise sufficient funds to engage The Goat Girls to come for two 2-week browsing sessions. They come with 15 goats, goatherds, solar charger and electric fence. The first two week session saw a dramatic change. The goats lit right into the job of eating buckthorn leaves, and it was clear where they had been at work and where they had not. The goats were quite a point of interest for visitors to the summit!
WCAX came and visited with their news cameras when the Goats were here in May!! See http://www.wcax.com/category/166239/video-landing-page?clipId=10210778&autostart=true
As expected, the plants have again put forth leaves. On July 21 the goats return for another 2-week session, covering the same territory. We are learning as we go along; it will be interesting to see whether the plants leaf out again with the same vigor. Two week sessions are not sufficient for covering the entire summit. Next spring we will observe differences in areas covered by the goats and areas not covered.
Planning for a third grazing session, we are applying for more funds. Our long-range objective is to take what we have learned from the Goat Girls, purchase our own fences, etc. and utilize local goats and volunteer goatherds to keep the summit clear.
Keep tuned for the next installment of news re this pilot project.