Munch, munch, munch: 240 goats clearing weeds at Marion landfill

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MARION — A herd of goats was released into a weedy section of a Marion landfill with one job on Wednesday: munch, munch, munch.

“Munched is what it will look like when they are done,” said Aaron Steele, co-owner of Goats on the Go, an Ames-based company supplying the goats.

The 240 goats with wide horns and coats of black, white, brown and gray quickly meandered to high ground and started feasting. Kids and yearlings clung close to their parents.

Officials at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency want to clear 30 acres at the Marion landfill — the sections that have been capped — of grasses, weeds and brush so they can create a prairie for pollinators.

One goat named Jesse was particularly friendly with humans and stayed close to the fenced area when handlers were on site. Jesse, a white colored goat with brown patches, was an orphan and bottle fed, which explains her tame demeanor, but she’s even more interested in humans than most orphan goats, Steele said.

The goats are a kiko breed out of New Zealand. They are bred for meat, but grazing for hire is another service farmers can use as a revenue stream.

The goats eat about 3 percent to 4 percent of their body weight per day, and the herd can devour roughly an acre per day, Steele said.

The goats aren’t too picky. They prefer broad-leaf plants and brush and avoid fibrous vegetation such as trunks and root, Steele said. They start at the top of the plant and work their way down to the base, Steele said.

“They eat a lot of stuff other animals won’t,” he said.

Mike and Cheryl Hopkins, who own Frog Hollow Goat Farm in Walker, were hired as local caretakers to watch over the herd. They will come to the site daily to make sure the goats are OK and give them water. They also will move the fencing, so when the goats finish one section they start on another.

“Most people just enjoy watching them,” Cheryl Hopkins said.

The couple watches over two other herds in the area. The goats are clearing invasive species such as garlic mustard and wild parsnip at private residences, she said.

The landfill project costs about $20,000, with about half the cost for the goats and the rest for seeds for milkweed and other friendly native plantings for monarch butterflies.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is providing $14,000 of the amount through a grant.

A prescribed burn is often used to accomplish the same task, but that’s not an option with the presence of methane from the landfill.

“It’s pretty encouraging,” said Karmin McShane, the solid waste agency’s executive director. “After they eat this down, I think it’ll be really colorful when the prairie grows back.”

If this food fest proves successful, goats likely will be deployed to clean up Mount Trashmore, the old landfill by the Cedar River, next year and also provide maintenance at the Marion location in future years, she said.

The solid waste agency will present information about using goats for landfill maintenance at the 2017 Iowa Recycling and Solid Waste Management Conference next month in Coralville.

Patrons of the landfill must check in at the office before trying to observe the goats up close, said agency spokesman Joe Horaney. The fence is electrified, so people should not touch it, and people should not feed the goats, he said.

Also, patrons should avoid stopping their vehicles short to observe the goats upon entering the landfill to prevent rear-end collisions with trailing vehicles, particularly large dump trucks, he said. He said regular haulers have been warned of the goats on site and to be wary of “rubbernecks.”

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