LONDONDERRY, N.H. — A group of goats were hard at work recently in a neighborhood in southern New Hampshire, gnawing through pesky vines of poison ivy and bittersweet — a midday meal they thoroughly enjoyed.
Known as the Poison Ivy Patrol, the goats belong to Carriage Shack Farm in Londonderry, New Hampshire, and are available for hire to get rid of unwanted plants, said Quinton Schacht, who watched over the goats as they grazed.
Carriage Shack Farm has a big collection of fuzzy farm animals used regularly for educational activities, petting zoos, traveling shows and events, all used to teach others about farming and raising common barnyard animals. But when it comes to the farm's "poison ivy patrol," it's the goats that take to the road, traveling around where needed to chew up the encroaching weed in a eco-friendly way.
The seven Nubian goats, along with four woolly sheep, are not harmed by eating poison ivy, bittersweet and other invasive plants. According to information on Carriage Shack's website, they have a fondness for this type of plant and will eat them on their own.
"A goat’s diet consists of about 70 percent non-grassy species. ... Goats seek out their favorite foods such that their grazing activity will not harm the desired grassy areas of the landscape," the site said.
And the animals have enough stomach muscle and space to enjoy quite an extensive meal. That includes having four stomachs to successfully digest the food.
"We started bringing them out, they have a job," Schacht said. "They love poison ivy, brush, bittersweet and will eat it off the vine."
After only a few short hours that day, the goats and sheep had meandered down a side path along the main lawn area of the complex, shearing off the weeds and vines almost to a smooth ground cover. Working often side by side, or eventually wandering off a bit to chew on a nearby branch, the animals seemed to have a smooth system in their munching moves.
"Shrek, he's the best eater," Schacht said as he pointed to one of his grazing animals. "And the sheep eat the grass and all the lower stuff."
Schacht said before goats are taken on the road for their poison ivy patrol, they receive some specialized training to learn to control their appetites and manage their intake.
Schacht said the goat patrol is still a bit new, with only a few visits out to help manage poison ivy for those who want to steer away from harmful chemicals on the lawn while enjoying some cute goats in action doing the job in a natural way. The Sugarplum Hill job was the biggest so far, he said.
Merry Dance has lived at Sugarplum Hill for several years and stopped to observe the poison control patrol in action.
She said the ivy and bittersweet were beginning to encroach on the lawn areas near the 55 and older residential community homes and it was time to do something about it. The goats seemed a perfect solution, she said.
"I love it," Dance said. "We are trying to get our lawns back and are doing it the green way without chemicals. If the goats do a good job we might bring them back."
Schacht said goats are wonderful animals, make great pets, but do their duty when called upon to help a community in need.
"They are happy doing this," he said. "No one makes them eat. They have a job and they also help contribute to the farm."
Huss writes for the North Andover, Massachusetts Eagle-Tribune.