Airport Turns to Goats to Clear Invasives

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By: 
Michelle Phillips
Kara Randall, a volunteer at the airport, clears brush once goats have grazed the land.

MIDDLETON–Some unlikely workers showed up at the Middleton Municipal Airport-Morey Field in October to clear invasive species on the property–a group of goats from Vegetation Solutions in Muscoda.

The idea for goats to clear the brush at the airport came from volunteer Kara Randall who was tasked with removing overgrowth. “When I got out there, I realized we were doing something much bigger than one person or a couple could handle,” said Randall.

After living in the Caribbean and seeing goats clear areas that were difficult to reach or environmentally sensitive, Randall began to do some research. She found that Chicago O’Hare International Airport was using goats as groundskeepers and began calling companies that provided the service. She ended up connecting with Vegetation Solutions, who by coincidence was the company proving the service to O’Hare. 

The goats proved to be a cost-effective way to remove brush from along the north fork of Pheasant Branch Creek. When Randall took the proposal to Rich Morey, manager of the airport, she said he immediately said yes. The airport commission also immediately approved the work.

The goats are brought in for a determined period of time–in this case a week–and are moved from one location to another, cleaning up weeds and brush along the way. Randall said once the animals are done grazing, the land is easier for humans to access to further clear away the area. She said she hopes to continue working with the goats to further improve the health of the land. 

“Eventually the invasive dies and native plants will return, preventing erosion. They (goats) really do best with ongoing maintenance,” Randall explained, saying the area would also be burned.

She said another concern near the airport is aircraft and wildlife interaction. Clearing the brush will help to keep wild animal populations down, improving safety. 

Ben Robles, owner of Vegetation Solutions said he has been providing goats to businesses since 2009 when he purchased two goats to clear vegetation on his parents’ land. From there the business was born.

“My neighbor asked if I could graze their land. And that’s how it started.  Today we have sheep and goats in our flock which numbers around 300,” he said.

Robles said the goats are a natural way to clear land, requiring no chemicals, gas or human labor. “They can eat on steep slopes where machines can't get to. They fertilize the area with their manure. It's another tool in the toolbox for landscape maintenance,” he stated. 

He said the company has provided the service on both public and private land, anyplace that can support the herd. He said projects can vary in size with herds of 10-200 animals. At the Middleton airport, there were 21, all female goats working the land.

“My intention is to see if the city can contract with Ben,” Randall said and added that there could be applications for the animals around the city. A pilot study will be conducted and presented to the airport commission now that the work is complete. 

“I’m committed and the airport is committed to doing proper stormwater management,” she concluded. 

For more information on the goats and Vegetation Solutions, visit: vegetation-solutions.com.

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