When people visit the Cape Cod Canal they expect to see some pretty amazing things – the occasional whale or seal passing through the water, birds, squirrels and so on. Goats are typically not on that list; however, a small herd of goats were seen at the Canal in September snacking on the vegetation on the south side of the Railroad Bridge at the tidal flats recreation area.
The goats had not escaped from a local farm – they were invited guests hired by the Canal personnel to eat all the invasive plants that they could for about a week. The goats’ handler set up a fence based on the Canal personnel’s grazing requirements and delivered the goats. "The site was specifically chosen for several reasons," said Canal Park Ranger Michele Breen. Breen came up with the eco-friendly idea of having the goats over for a meal. "The control of overgrowth by the Railroad Bridge increases physical security."
According to Breen, much of the vegetation that the goats would eat was invasive and located very close to the water, so the use of herbicides was not an ideal option. The steep terrain where much of the vegetation was located could be hazardous for human workers and machinery. Goats are used to steep, hilly places and so it is an excellent environment for them.
In addition, a large portion of the vegetation that had to be removed was Poison Ivy," said Breen. "Goats have a natural immunity to it and enjoy eating it."
Hosting a herd of goats for nearly a week had its challenges. Unlike lifeless equipment that can be turned on and off, goats have their own distinct personalities and like to do as they please. Like humans, they eat the food that they enjoy first and then, if they have room, they’ll eat the rest. Goats are also not big fans of large bodies of water, so eating so close to the canal waters took a little time for them to get used to it. "It was a learning curve to manage the goats," said Breen. "I learned a lot!"
Because goats aren’t normally seen at the Canal, they became very popular very quickly. Crowds of people came to see them munch. "Although the goats loved it, all the attention did cut into their work time," said Breen.
The arrangement was win-win; the goats got to munch on tasty invasives and no herbicides pollute the water and human workers stayed safe. The advantages of having the goats at the Canal far outweighed any minor adjustment period. "Goats can eat about one fourth of an acre in a week," said Breen. "The amount the goats cleared would have taken at last two government workers a day or two to do it by hand."
Controlling the fast growing, invasive plants that the goats ate – bittersweet, greenbrier, honeysuckle, and Poison Ivy – must be done several times a season, according to Breen. The way that the goats strip the plants actually slows down the regrowth and does not have to be attended to as often.
This was the first time the goats came to work for the Canal and by all accounts it was a success. There is a very good chance they will be invited back to dinner again next year.