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Posted on December 3rd, 2013

Outside the Box – Our Good Friends the Goats

Doesn’t that really get your goat?

I never really understood that phrase, so I decided to inquire about its origins. As many of these dated sayings go, there are numerous stories attributed to their debut, but the one I found most appealing was that of the goat’s friendliness with its fellow stable buddy, the horse. As the legend goes, goats were kept in stables with racehorses to help keep them calm. Being that owners, trainers and jockeys wanted their steed relaxed and ready to run for the derby, goats were found to provide a soothing environment for the ever-social being, the horse. When someone wanted to try and fix a race or put some bad voodoo on another rider, they would steal the goat. As in, I “got your goat.” And no story would be complete about goats unless we were to mention the curse of the Billy Goat. In 1945, Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave the World Series game between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers because his pet goat’s odor was bothering the fans. Sianis was outraged and allegedly said the Cubs would never win another World Series pennant again, and true to form, they have not.

The peaceful shores of Lake Monona in Wisconsin use a more common form of landscaping than the Island of Monona. Image captured by the 50-cm satellite WorldView-2 (WV2) on August 16, 2013, and appears courtesy of DigitalGlobe. Photo enhanced by Apollo Mapping.
The urban and rural components of Dane County, Wisconsin appear from above as any normal municipality would. But what takes place in that auditorium? That’s where the goats are trained for combating weeds! Image captured by WV2 on August 16, 2013, and appears courtesy of DigitalGlobe. Photo enhanced by Apollo Mapping.

But goats aren’t all bad, are they? Naaaaa.  An acre-wide island in Lake Monona, Wisconsin has found good use for goats. Over the years the island has become covered with weeds and non-native tree species, but the HOA affiliated with its management was hesitant to use chemicals and found that people power was no match for the buckthorn and honeysuckle. So after hearing about a woman named Kim Hunter of Green Goats, the residents decided to employ her herd of 102 Spanish goats to curb their gardening woes. The goats are very effective because of their voracious appetites, and they are cheaper than human labor. It has also been found that they are quite the attraction for locals. Green Goats operates out of southern Wisconsin, and they have been employed all over the region, including at a disc golf course in Naperville, Illinois.

But this isn’t just a heartland solution. Over the summer the US Forest Service employed goats in the Cleveland National Forest near San Diego. Over 1,400 goats were used to remove the build-up of fuel (fallen trees and timber) to help create fire breaks with the hopes of preventing wildfires. The ultimate goal is to save two local communities from the inevitable future fire. But just as the USFS is employing this tactic in one region, it is not entirely happy about its use elsewhere. In Utah, federal agents have fought the introduction of a non-native Rocky Mountain goat species to the Manti-La Sal National Forest. State officials see the introduction as a boon because it will boost sales of tags for trophy hunters; but the fragile ecosystem boasts 10 rare plant species that grow nowhere else in Utah, and the worry is that these goats will do just as their nature intends. In one place the goats are in demand, and in another they are not.

But goats are catching on at the personal level too. Not only do they mind the garden and save your back from the pains of weeding, they provide dairy products like milk and cheese. They also produce wool, and if you have the right kind of goats, the very luxurious and highly sought after cashmere. Goats have become ever more popular with the boom in community gardening. Much as their chicken counterparts who produce protein-rich eggs, sustainable communities are finding benefit in having livestock on their property to ease financial burdens and provide some ‘life’ to their yards. Who knew goats could be so diverse and so divisive? While it is best to not introduce non-native species of any kind to an area, their use for culling wild plants gone awry in a green fashion is certainly something that should be considered to save energy, and maintain local species diversity.

Justin Harmon
Staff Writer

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