Roam, chew, charm, re­peat

Cash­mere goats at McMaster For­est might be the most hard­work­ing and friendly weed killers you’ll ever meet

The Hamilton Spectator - - Front Page - KATHY RENWALD

THE DOORS OPEN and Mona, May, Ella, Aurora, and Hildy hop out of a van and into their field of dreams.

In the tall grass, the cash­mere goats find their food. They will gnaw on shrubby buck­thorn, tre­foil, phrag­mites and knotweed.

These in­va­sive species are thugs of con­ser­va­tion lands, parks and gar­dens, turn­ing rich habi­tats into ones dom­i­nated by sin­gle species.

Here at the 115-acre McMaster For­est on Lower Lions Cub Road near Main Street West, the goats are us­ing their ap­petite to help re­store plant di­ver­sity.

“Goats are browsers, not graz­ers,” Wayne Ter­ry­berry is telling a group of McMaster Univer­sity stu­dents stand­ing in what used to be a potato field. “They pre­fer to eat shrubs and new shoots of trees. The graz­ers (cows and deer) like grass and low­grow­ing plants.”

Ter­ry­berry is co-or­di­na­tor of out­door re­cre­ation and nat­u­ral lands at McMaster. He and as­sis­tant Martha Kil­lian are demon­strat­ing how goats

can re­place weed killers to con­trol in­va­sive species that push out ben­e­fi­cial plants.

In fact, the goats need very lit­tle help do­ing their job. The con­ge­nial lit­tle cash­mere goats are gen­tle, friendly and love the com­pany of hu­mans.

The five work­ing in the McMaster For­est are part of Ter­ry­berry’s own herd of 30 that he keeps on his farm in Car­luke. When they’re not weed­ing, they just look adorable and bulk up their cash­mere coats for shear­ing.

“They’re a win­ter-hardy breed and re­ally adapt to just about any­thing. They love to climb, and they’re al­ways game to go on a trail walk here.”

The McMaster For­est is a hid­den gem. Next to the open field, a trail runs around the perime­ter, pass­ing through about 25,000 trees be­ing in­ven­to­ried by stu­dents.

“The ash trees dom­i­nate, but there are some in­ter­est­ing trees like but­ter­nut and eastern dog­wood and old-growth-sized maples, oaks and hem­locks,” says Noah Stegman, en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence stu­dent at McMaster and co-or­di­na­tor of the con­ser­va­tion cor­ri­dor.

Af­ter McMaster bought the farm and it was no longer worked, the in­va­sive trees and shrubs moved in. That’s when the goats started punch­ing the time clock.

It took about a year to cut down 10 acres of the nui­sance buck­thorn trees that formed a dense thicket. When the trees were cleared, the goats were on duty in the field, eat­ing new buck­thorn seedlings that threat­ened to re­peat their ag­gres­sive takeover of the land. A herd of goats can clear an acre in a week.

Now in ad­di­tion to their brows­ing du­ties, the goats are teach­ing stu­dents about sus­tain­able ways to re­store habi­tat di­ver­sity.

“This is just awe­some,” Priya Mo­raes, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and an­thro­pol­ogy stu­dent, says as she holds one of the four-month-old baby goats. “It’s so great to get out of the class­room and see new ideas in the field.”

Most of the stu­dents be­ing charmed by the goats are fo­cused on con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­ogy and learn­ing more through the Ci­tyLAB pro­gram, a sus­tain­abil­ity think-tank cre­ated by McMaster, Redeemer Univer­sity Col­lege, Mo­hawk Col­lege and the City of Hamil­ton.

But it’s one thing to look at spread­sheets and stud­ies, and quite an­other to be roam­ing with the goats.

“I wish more peo­ple could see this,” McMaster stu­dent Grace Bryson says. “This seems like a great al­ter­na­tive to us­ing her­bi­cides.”

Ev­ery­one here agrees the goats could go on tour to show the con­cept of nat­u­ral weed con­trol. In the con­fines of the McMaster For­est, what the goats eat and what they ig­nore is be­ing stud­ied. That could help with the in­trigu­ing idea of us­ing goats to weed home gar­dens.

“You’d need to have a por­ta­ble fence,” Ter­ry­berry points out. And you’d need to make sure the goats don’t gob­ble prized plants like rhodo­den­drons or lilacs. But the idea of goats con­trol­ling Ja­panese knotweed, for in­stance, is de­li­cious. The bam­boo-like knotweed is a brute to erad­i­cate, but goat graz­ing sup­presses its growth.

While most of their work is done at the McMaster For­est, the cash­mere goats still visit their out­door class­room three or four times a year where they roam, chew and charm any­one they meet.

The goats were on duty in the field, eat­ing new buck­thorn seedlings that threat­ened to re­peat their ag­gres­sive takeover of the land. “They’re a win­ter-hardy breed and re­ally adapt to just about any­thing. They love to climb and they’re al­ways game to go on a trail walk here.” WAYNE TER­RY­BERRY Co-or­di­na­tor, out­door re­cre­ation and nat­u­ral lands, McMaster

PHO­TO­GRAPH BY SCOTT GARD­NER, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Aurora, a friendly cash­mere goat owned by Wayne Ter­ry­berry, at work in McMaster For­est, a 115-acre site used for the univer­sity’s con­ser­va­tion re­search.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY SCOTT GARD­NER, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Cash­mere goats like Aurora can re­place weed killers to con­trol in­va­sive species that push out ben­e­fi­cial plants Watch video thes­pec.com

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