The weed-wacking goats commissioned to clear away more space for disc golf in Knoch Knolls Park wrapped up early and are heading home Thursday.
Kim Hunter’s Green Goats, the Naperville Park District’s newest and most unusual workers, cleared five acres of invasive shrubs at Knoch Knolls Park within the first two weeks of their stay, moved across the river for more munching, and are heading home on Thursday, approximately one week ahead of schedule.
The goats arrived Sept. 24 from Wisconsin for a four-week assignment to clear a five-acre site for a disc golf course expansion planned for next spring, in conjunction with the construction of the Knoch Knolls Nature Center.
“The goats have eaten every green leaf within reach, and even the bark of some of the trees,” said Park Specialist Tom Lynch, who tends the goats twice daily with co-worker Jessie Barr. “They have done a fantastic job clearing the area, which will allow us to remove the remaining stumps and branches. We also hope to be able to conduct a prescribed burn later this fall.”
Park staff moved the goats to a new location on the south side of the river, where there are more invasive plants to keep them busy and well fed.
Park visitors enjoyed watching the goats, with some stopping by daily to check on their progress, district officials said. Those wanting to see the goats before their departure are reminded not to touch the electric fence or the goats. The goats may have poison ivy on their fur and although it does not bother them, it can easily be transmitted to humans who touch them.
The eyes — all 90 of them — said it all. These beasts were ready to feast.
Gazing up unblinking over oblong pupils at visitors peering between slats in their trailer, they weren’t kidding around. And this was no nanny state. All 45 working goats were adult males who had come with a job to do: eat unwanted foliage.
“This is a multiflora rose. This is a very nasty plant,” said Kim Hunter, herd master and owner of The Green Goats Weed and Brush Control, pointing out an inocuous-looking clump of leaves in a clearing on the west end of Knoch Knolls Park.
The company, based in Burlington, Wisc., dispatches herds to graze away invasive growth. In this case, the crew was reporting for duty at the Naperville Park District’s largest expanse of land to spend the next month munching away five acres’ worth of nuisance flora so the site’s nine-hole disc golf course can be expanded to 18 holes.
The animals will spend their time chomping on such growth as buckthorn, honeysuckle and that nasty multiflora rose, enclosed by a low-voltage portable fence intended to keep the workers contained while they chew up the non-native species.
“Something needs to prey on those plants, and that’s what these goats do,” said Hunter, explaining that the animals chew up the plants, then chew their cud as part of their digestive process, and repeat the steps as the newly compromised invaders try to re-establish themselves. “The goal is to bankrupt the plant, just like we’re sending it into foreclosure.”
Park District officials chose the goats as a low-impact, cost-effective approach to plant management.
Peggy Pelkonen, project manager, read recently of the method being applied at O’Hare International Airport and thought it made sense.
“Once I started researching it, I found out a lot of other people are doing this,” she said, noting that the use of goats for keeping weeds at bay is nothing new. “When I tell people about , they say, ‘Oh yeah, my grandpa used to bring the goats.’”
The concept behind grazing goats on a mission goes back considerably farther than our grandfathers’ era. Native Americans engaged in landscape management by burning off undesirable growth and letting native species resume dominance in the regrown prairie. And the buffalo that once roamed the wide open spaces were dedicated grazers.
“When two million buffalo come in, they strip everything,” Hunter said.
The technique spares the environment from chemical pesticides and other potentially harmful remedies for nuisance plants, and it saves taxpayer money as well. Eric Shutes, the Park District’s planning director, said staff had estimated the cost of conventional methods at “up over $10,000.” Goats, in contrast, work cheap: $3 per animal per day. The total cost, with transportation and other expenses factored in, is expected to come in under $5,000.
“They love poison ivy, also poison oak, the invasive material. It’s just great for us,” said Shutes, who added that the project is a good complement to the nature center under construction in Knoch Knolls Park. “We kind of look at this as a trial run.”
When the nature center is formally christened next year, Shutes said, the goats might be invited back for the ribbon-chomping — er, cutting — ceremony.
Their arrival drew a keenly interested handful of spectators. Naperville resident Kristi Carlson came out with her son Jonah, 5, a half-day kindergartner at Clow Elementary, and preschooler Sam Parker, 4, whom Carlson watches on weekdays.
“We’re always looking for something unique,” Carlson said. “You don’t get the chance every day to see goats like this.”
Elsewhere, separated by an expanse of forest from where the hooved contractors were doing their work, the imminent doubling of the links drew thumbs-up from a group of disc golfers.
“We’ve been hearing about it for a long time,” said Jon Greenwood, who lives in Aurora and comes out to toss the disc at area courses about twice a week. “They’re finally doing it.”