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Goats help Aquinas College manage invasive plant species on campus

Posted at 4:33 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 16:33:10-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A few new guests on Aquinas College’s campus this summer will be looking for invasive plants later this month.

About 20 goats will be on campus from July 17 to 23, grazing on invasive species and brush to remove unwanted plants in a sustainable way, according to a news release Monday.

“Sustainability is part of Aquinas College’s identity, and we wanted to find an eco-friendly way to handle undesired growth on campus while being good stewards of our campus and our creek,” said Jessica Eimer Bowen, director of sustainability. “This project uses sustainable landscape management as an alternative to the use of herbicides and equipment that uses fossil fuels and pollutes the air.”

City ordinance currently prohibits goats and other livestock, so Bowen worked with the Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee, advocating for the temporary use of goats to use this as a pilot project that could inform future regulations.

“Although this method of invasive species control has been used in other areas of Michigan, it is new for our local area,” Bowen said. Over the past three years, we have worked through all of the details with the committee to obtain approval from the City of Grand Rapids for this exciting, forward-thinking project.”

The herd of working goats will graze in two areas on campus: the wooded area in front of the Academic Building and the wooded area between Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel and the Theatre Arts Annex along Coldbrook Creek.

The goats are contained in these areas by a marked, solar-powered electric fence.

Garrett Fickle, owner of Munchers on Hooves and caretaker of the herd, will be onsite to monitor and move the goats from patch to patch as they much on the weeds and brush.

The animals prefer to eat invasive plants and are “incredibly efficient” in removing them because they pull from the root, according to Aquinas College.

Then the goats’ digestive systems process the plants, destroying the seeds, so they are not replanted with the animals’ manure.

They can clear about a quarter of an acre in three days.