Goats Fight Invasive Species in Wisconsin
March 9, 2021
Anyone who’s fought an onslaught of garlic mustard or purple loosestrife or Japanese honeysuckle knows how annoyingly difficult getting rid of invasive plant species can be, especially if they’re also trying to avoid using pesticides. What’s a homeowner—or business or city for that matter—to do?
Consider trying goats like those rented out by Brooke Hushagen and Greg Haak of HaakHagen Goats, located in southern Wisconsin. Both business partners are in natural resources fields.
“We recognized a need for a more natural and lower impact, enjoyable way to help in the fight against invasive species,” Haak explained.
The company started in 2015 with Hushagen’s two pet pygmy goats, which had grazed her property since 2012. Why couldn’t goats graze other areas with a view to demolishing invasive species? The partners acquired additional goats and started the business. Today they have 29 adult does (female goats are does, males are bucks, and little ones are kids), 15 yearling does, and two bucks. They expect to have between 55 and 60 kids in the near future.
“Goats are ruminants, which means they have chambered stomachs,” Hushagen said. “They grind up the plants and seeds so they are not viable anymore.” Unlike some other grazers, goats don’t spread the seeds they’ve consumed. “They do a good job of eating the things nothing else will—buckthorn, honeysuckle, poison ivy, multiflora rose, etc.—by repetitive grazing.” Their persistent grazing puts the plants in stress, and after repeated grazings the plants die.
The City of Madison thought goat grazing might work in some of its park areas. Madison Parks staff wanted to tackle invasive plants. Last summer, a trio of goats from HaakHagen Goats named Wheezy, Willow, and Wilbur were set to graze in a south side field. Forty goats total grazed in Greenside Park, Olin Park, and Acewood Conservatory Park in the summer of 2020. The company has an ongoing contract with the city for this summer too.
Madison Parks’ Sarah Close oversees the goat-grazing program. She told reporter Kayla Huynh of Madison.com last July that goats have a lot of advantages over more obvious techniques such as pesticides, prescribed prairie burnings, and mowing. Goats don’t require intensive amounts of human time. They leave behind fertilizer, and work that fertilizer into the ground with their hooves. And goats get the tough job done.
Haak explains that the business sets up a portable fence for the client, provides water and a mineral tub along with the goats.
“Usually the clients will check the fence, water, and the amount of browse left in the pen each day,” Hushagen said. “We check in with them daily to see how things are going.”
Other Wisconsin goat-grazing businesses find unlikely clients. Kim Hunter, owner of The Green Goats in Browntown, told Wisconsin Public Radio’s Wisconsin Life she has 130 goats. She has rented them out to beekeepers for inter-hive grazing, and to owners of land along streams and water retention ponds.
Goats contribute the added benefit of being fun to watch. In fact, they’ve been a draw to the parks in which they’ve grazed. Folks bring folding chairs and blankets and enjoy watching the herd of goats do their thing.
“The goats are a huge hit at the parks we have grazed,” said Hushagen. “There were tons of people watching them work.”
For more information on HaakHagen Goats, visit www.HaakHagenGoats.com.