Goats will be used for the first time this summer to manage unwanted vegetation on state recreational land.
About 60 goats were turned loose this week to graze on both invasive species and unwanted native species at Ensign Hollow Wildlife Management Area and trout stream in Clayton County, said Jim Jansen, northeast Iowa wildlife supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources.
“We are looking at a more natural way to control vegetation and increase user accessibility,” he said.
Ensign Hollow is a catch-and-release trout stream popular with fly anglers, whose casting is often hampered by thick vegetation, Jansen said.
“Ensign Hollow is a great trout stream, but dense vegetation in the riparian corridor (river banks) limits public use during the summer and fall,” said Dan Kirby, district fisheries biologist for the DNR.
Jansen said the DNR has used cattle grazing to control vegetation in other situations but has never had a service contract to use goats to remove vegetation.
“This is a trial to see what they eat, how long it takes them to eat it and how well they open up the landscape,” he said
Goats, which weigh much less than cattle and have smaller hoofs, will be less likely to damage stream banks and cause erosion, he said.
They also are better adapted than cattle to eat invasive species and especially plants with stickers and sharp stems, Jansen said.
The DNR hopes the goats will suppress growth of unwanted native species such as box elder, willow and nettles and slow the spread of invasive species such as reed canary grass, garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed.
The DNR has signed a contract with Twin Pine Farms of Delhi to provide and manage the goats, which will be contained by electric fence and rotated between two paddocks, each about 3.5 acres.
Twin Pine Farms co-proprietor Dustin Wall said goats are browsers rather than grazers.
“They tend to go after the leaves. They love poison ivy and multiflora rose,” he said.
At least half the seven-acre area will always be open for angling, Jansen said.
“We don’t know the duration of the trial. It depends upon how fast the goats eat the vegetation,” Jansen said.
“They will come out when the vegetation has been sufficiently reduced or no later than Sept. 30.”
While the DNR typically does not pay to have cattle graze public land, it will do so with the goats because the contractor will be required to build fences and because goats are more vulnerable than cattle to predators.
Wall said he will deploy a miniature guard donkey to help protect the goats.
“They won’t back down, and they make an awful noise when they start braying,” he said.
Jansen said goats have been used successfully in both Wisconsin and Minnesota to control unwanted vegetation on bluffs.
Wall said his goats have been used to control vegetation around sewer lagoons.
“We’ll see if the goats will do what the DNR wants done,” he said.