- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

MATTOON, Ill. (AP) - Douglas-Hart Nature Center has turned to a herd of goats for help with removing willows from wetlands at this site.

The 17 goats, provided last week by a Charleston farm, have been nibbling on willow leaves and using their horns to strip the bark off of these small trees within their temporary pen next to the water.

Nature Center Executive Director Gary Boske said willows are a good cover plant and pollinator in wetlands, but can take over and crowd out other vegetation. Boske said he was considering options for removing willows when he recalled growing up on a farm and seeing his goats happily graze on this vegetation along a creek.

Boske said he subsequently contacted the Fuqua family to see if they could bring out some of their goats to eat the willows in the wetlands on the west side of the nature center.

“It’s natural way to do it without spraying the willows with chemicals or cutting them,” Boske said, adding that using chainsaws on the willows is labor intensive. He said removing the willows will allow desirable vegetation to grow in the wetlands.

Goats can eat approximately 4 pounds of forage a day, Boske said. The goats from the Fuqua family farm have already cleared more than a third of the willows inside their pen.

Boske said their temporary pen and their water trough will be relocated to another section of the wetlands once the goats have depleted the supply of willows in the first section. He said the goats will be at the nature center for a total of approximately six weeks.

Alex Fuqua said the goats that are grazing at the nature center are kiko goats, a hardy breed of goat from New Zealand. Fuqua said his family has raised them for five years now as meat goats, but had never been asked to use them for removing unwanted vegetation until Boske contacted them.

Fuqua said his family and their goats are happy to help the nature center get rid of the willows in the wetlands.

“That is one of their favorite foods. It’s a nice little treat for them,” Fuqua said of the goats. “They are helping us feed them and we are helping them clean up. It’s a win-win.”

Fuqua said he has already received a couple of inquiries from nature center visitors who have seen the goats in action there and would be interested in putting them to work on their property. He said using the goats to remove unwanted vegetation has worked out well, so he and his family plan to keep on trying this elsewhere.

Boske said the friendly goats have been a big hit with children in the summer day camps at the nature center and with other visitors to this site.

“Everyone wants to go see the goats,” Baske said. “They all want to see how the goats are doing.”

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Source: Mattoon Journal-Gazette and (Charleston) Times-Courier, http://bit.ly/28XvjrM

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Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette, http://www.jg-tc.com

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