GET YOUR GOAT

Facilities Management uses four-legged eating machines to solve a kudzu problem

By RANDALL HOLCOMBE

An environmentally friendly weed-eradication strategy that has been gaining popularity across the nation made its way to WCU in late 2011 in the form of 70 kudzu-chomping goats. The goats were brought in from a Henderson County farm to eat away a massive kudzu patch that had covered the site of WCU’s old landfill.

The 3-acre landfill, located near campus in a wooded area off Monteith Gap Road, closed in 1994 but is still subject to annual inspections by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “After the 2011 inspection, DENR officials expressed concern that the kudzu growing on the landfill site could attract groundhogs, which might then burrow into the cap – the compacted soil and clay cover on the landfill – and compromise it,” said Roger Turk, grounds superintendent for the WCU Facilities Management Department. “We did find evidence that groundhogs had been burrowing at the site, but no indications that the cap was breached. But we still had to remove the kudzu to eliminate the problem.”

Roger Turk of facilities management sought an environmentally friendly and cost-effective means of addressing kudzu – a herd of hungry goats.

Turk had read a newspaper account of goats being used to eradicate kudzu, and he suggested that method as an economical and green alternative rather than trying to remove the invasive plant with repeated applications of chemical herbicides. Two trailer-loads of rented goats arrived from Wells Farm in Horseshoe during the second week of August and were set loose on 4 acres (encompassing the landfill site and a surrounding buffer zone) that had been enclosed with a solar-powered electric fence. The goats, which prefer browsing on any kind of plant life before resorting to grass, immediately went about their business of eating the kudzu, Turk said.

The goats remained at the site until the end of September. They were watched over for the entire seven-week period by a guard dog from Wells Farm that was bred and trained to protect the herd. The grounds staff fed the dog and kept a water trough filled for the goats, and the goats’ owner drove from Horseshoe once each week to give the goats supplemental feed.

“It was amazing to see how quickly and effectively they were able to clear the site,” Turk said. “The goats were able to do in a few weeks what would have taken my undermanned staff a few months to do by hand.”

Lauren Bishop, campus energy manager, praised Turk for implementing a “fiscally smart and sustainable” approach to dealing with the kudzu. “It is great to see a simple and effective solution in a time when problems tend to be layered and complicated,” Bishop said. “Utilizing the goats gets us back to the basics by using a natural process to solve a natural problem of eradicating an invasive species. Plus, it’s supporting a small local business. It really does not get more sustainable than that.”