Browsing goats complete their own Hyattsville vine crawl
BY GRIFFIN LIMERICK
The first thing you should know about Browsing Green Goats is that they are not here to mow your lawn.
“I get a lot of phone calls for that,” said Mary Bowen, owner of Prosperity Acres in Sunderland, home of Browsing Green Goats. “People call: Their lawnmower is broken down in July, and they want the goats to come out.”
Rather, as landscapers, goats are specialists: They work in hard-to-reach or vegetation-dense areas like wetlands, thickets and slopes — what Bowen’s website calls “places that machinery can’t reach and humans don’t want to go” — where they chew on broad-leaved, invasive vines, like kudzu and poison ivy, working the weeds down to nubs that humans can more easily remove.
“It’s the first tool in a toolbox,” Bowen said. “It’s not the end-all be-all. But it allows you to figure out what’s really going on on your property, so that you can start to map out a management plan.”
It was precisely in pursuit of such a plan that Hyattsville Environmental Coordinator Colin Morrison reached out to Bowen last fall about bringing the goats to Driskell Park.
“We’ve got a lot of invasive plants and a lot of invasive brush,” Morrison said. “The downside to having that sort of problem is there’s really only one of two ways of going through it.”
One is the use of herbicides, which Morrison said the city “would like to avoid doing at all costs.” The other is the deployment of volunteers to systematically tramp through and remove the invasives. The brush, however, often conceals dangers like thorn bushes and poisonous plants.
“These guys are a great counter to that,” said Morrison, indicating the goats.
A goat’s ideal menu is anathema to humans: not only rash-inducing plants like poison ivy and poison sumac, but also — according to Hyattsville Environmental Programs Manager Dawn Taft — prickly invasives like multiflora rose and wineberry.
“Goats can knock this back and fill their bellies, opening the way for our routine volunteers to get into those areas and continue our work,” Taft said in an email.
Taft, who is also the city arborist, conceived the project after receiving a $32,000 stormwater stewardship grant from Prince George’s County in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The main purpose of the grant is canopy restoration through the planting of new trees, the preservation of old ones, and — of course — the removal of invasive vines by the goats, whose efforts will be covered by the grant money.
According to Hyattsville Communications Manager Cindy Zork, Taft “has identified losing a lot of mature trees in the city to the overgrowth of vines.” Chief among those is kudzu, the Japanese invasive first introduced to the U.S. in the 1870s as a decorative plant that — once established — grows a foot per day.
Bowen said kudzu and other vines like wisteria are “choking out good hardwood trees.” The majority of Browsing Green Goats’ business consists of clearing out these (to the goats, at least) delectable treats — most recently in Brunswick, along the River’s Edge Trail.
“Their beautiful hardwood trees were so heavily pulled down from the kudzu that they had broken off into some of the trail,” Bowen said. “So, there’s a liability: They’re concerned if someone’s out riding their bike or taking a walk, that the tree comes down on them.”
Taft selected a similar location for the goats in Hyattsville, targeting them along the Northwest Branch Trail at the edge of Driskell Park where it meets the Anacostia River.
“I chose this area because residents have expressed the desire to have shade on the walking paths,” Taft said, adding that this location “allowed the salvage of a few naturally-occurring PawPaw patches and a few young trees, as well as making space for tree planting that will provide future shade to the walking path.”
From May 10 to 19, the goats browsed their way toward the bridge at the inlet stream, munching up high on branches and boughs (rather than grazing low like cattle), while adoring locals photographed them from behind a lightly electrified fence that Bowen assembles at every site to keep the goats focused on a particular patch of brush. A sign on the fence instructed residents not to touch or feed the animals.
Zork said some additional precautions, like social media posts advising walkers to keep their dogs on a leash and their children at a distance, had been taken.
“We didn’t want people to think it was a petting zoo,” Zork said. “They are working goats.”
As the goats feasted, they also tilled the soil with their hooves and left behind fertilizer, in what Bowen’s website calls “the good old-fashioned way,” which will help prime the land for planting saplings.
First, however, the goats will return in the fall for a second treatment.
“Having goats address the same area twice helps to reduce the seed bank and the regeneration of unwanted invasives,” Taft said.
Anyone interested in canopy-restoring activities, like participating in the invasive removal program on the third Saturday of each month or becoming a community steward who trains neighbors on the proper procedures for vine removal, can email firstname.lastname@example.org.