Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Attempt To Clear Parks With Goats Fails

It's cheaper to use humans because they can operate chainsaws.

By - Jan 6th, 2023 10:22 am
Goat. Pixabay License Free for commercial use No attribution required

Goat. (Pixabay license).

It turns out goats make for rather expensive landscapers.

In late summer and early fall of this last year, Milwaukee County Parks employed a herd of goats, at the request of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, to clear unwanted vegetation. The project came out of a resolution, sponsored by then-supervisor Jason Haas, that allocated $11,000 for a goat landscaping program.

The department found that it is cheaper to use humans for this work, primarily due to their ability to operate chainsaws and lawnmowers, according to a parks department report. Goats are unfortunately limited in that regard by their hooves.

Parks spent $4,730 for goats from Kettle Moraine Grazing to clear a 1.5-acre patch of Dretzka Park golf course. For that amount of money, parks estimates that seasonal workers could clear two acres of mature buckthorn, four acres of second-growth buckthorn or six acres spraying defoliant for long-term buckthorn removal.

But before the goats could be sent in to do their thing, parks staff had to chop the vegetation down to grazing height for the goats and mow lanes for fencing.

The goats arrived in August and took two weeks to clear the area. After a resting period, they returned in October and cleared it again in a week. They made quicker work the second time because “the plants were stressed and weakened from the initial browsing event,” according to parks.

“No major issues were encountered during the project. The goats did strip bark from a birch tree during the initial browsing event,” the parks report stated. “The contractor protected additional desirable trees within the browsing area during the second event.”

The department’s natural areas team has a massive amount of land to maintain: 7,000 acres. Typically, the department tries to focus personnel and resources for defoliation on high-value areas where resources can be used most effectively, parks staff previously told supervisors, explaining that the utility of the goats will be limited to isolated areas that are heavily degraded by invasive species.

Any location that would be suitable for the goats will not be a high priority for defoliation to begin with because, as it turns out, they will strip the bark from a birch tree.

The goat program was supposed to be a way to clear invasive species without using department personnel and to conserve the department’s resources. On both counts the goat program did not make the grade, and parks is recommending that seasonal staff be used for the job in the future.

Haas initially proposed using the goats to clear vegetation from bluffs in county parks. But this was nixed after parks staff explained that no sound goat vendor would let their goats trot around a bluff top.

It appears bluffs and invasive vegetation are becoming an issue for the parks department. Less than a year after the goat program was approved, another supervisor made a controversial proposal relating to an overgrown bluff in Lake Park after hearing the complaints of nearby residents.

3 thoughts on “MKE County: Attempt To Clear Parks With Goats Fails”

  1. Polaris says:

    Yeah, but it appears little was done to accommodate the hoof matter, given the otherly-abledness of said goats.

  2. deborahconta says:

    Looks like we are on the horns of a dilemma.

  3. DAGDAG says:

    Back in the 1960s’ and 1970’s, the County and City used to hire workers for the summer to work the parks, cut the grass, and staff the pools and golf courses. They were lots of applicants, often filled by students off for the summer. Do these programs still exist, or have they been cut back to next to nothing. Or have the unions complained and said that they took away their jobs like they did at SUMMERFEST years back?

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