Community

Newly included Eastern Iowa counties take advantage of goat-powered vegetation control

Second-grader Aiden Kline, stops by on his bike to see the Frog Hollow Farm goats after school at Shimek Elementary School in Iowa City, on Wednesday May 30, 2018. The goats of Frog Hollow Farm were introduced to the land behind the elementary school as a part of Goats on the Go, a natural alternative to clear weeds and brush from the land.
Second-grader Aiden Kline, stops by on his bike to see the Frog Hollow Farm goats after school at Shimek Elementary School in Iowa City, on Wednesday May 30, 2018. The goats of Frog Hollow Farm were introduced to the land behind the elementary school as a part of Goats on the Go, a natural alternative to clear weeds and brush from the land.
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Goats will eat pretty much anything, Cheryl Hopkins said. Except tin cans.

Cheryl’s husband, Mike Hopkins, gestured out the window at a white-colored goat loafing on the hill behind the house as it munched on a handful of grass and seemingly unfazed by the light drizzle that was falling.

“They might eat the label, though. They test everything,” he said.

Together, Mike and Cheryl own Frog Hollow Farm, near Walker.

The goat on the hill was off-duty, but several other members of its herd were hard at work at Shimek Elementary in Iowa City clearing away unwanted vegetation.

The goats at Shimek are part of an ongoing project for the Iowa City Community School District — just one of the partnerships Frog Hollow Farm’s affiliate Goats on the Go has begun since expanding its operations to Johnson and Iowa counties this spring.

Since becoming affiliates in 2017, Frog Hollow has tripled the number of goats they use for controlled grazing projects.

“On average, I would guess that each of our affiliates serves 20 to 30 customers a year,” said Aaron Steele, co-founder of Goats on the Go.

Steele started Goats on the Go in Ames in 2012 with Chad Steenhoek. the company has 15 affiliates in five states.

Anywhere between 20 and 200 goats may be used per job, depending on the size of the project. Steele and Steenhoek typically handle projects larger than 10 acres.

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Frog Hollow Farm has 150 goats total, allowing it to operate several teams at once and grazing up to 40 goats on a single project depending on the size of the area being managed. Most projects take about a week to complete.

The goal of Goats on the Go is to use goats as an alternative means of vegetation control instead cutting, mowing and using herbicides. The goats are more sustainable and cost about the same, according to Goats on the Go’s website.

When the Hopkinses first joined Goats on the Go they operated in Black Hawk, Linn and Benton counties. However, they don’t anticipate expanding again, as they don’t want to operate farther from Frog Hollow Farm than they do right now.

“By the time you go check the fence, check the water tank, move goats, that all takes time,” Mike said. “ I already spend 10 hours a day driving. By the time you drive from site to site to site, maybe have to move goats, load goats, unload goats, set up the fence.”

Goats thrive on dense vegetation and enjoy many types of invasive plants. They also are able to venture into areas less accessible to humans, such as places with slope and water hazards or poison ivy and nettles.

When the goats aren’t in the field, Cheryl said they are at home grazing on grass and alfalfa, being “fat and happy.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8514; molly.hunter@thegazette.com

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