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UVM turns to nature's lawnmowers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

UVM turns to nature's lawnmowers

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. -

The UVM Horticulture Farm is a research facility that spans 97 acres in South Burlington. There are 2 miles of fence line around it, backing up to neighborhoods, and they must be maintained. But they are not easy to keep clear of weeds and vines; it is time consuming and expensive work.

"It would have been several thousand dollars to clear the brush off this fence line," said Terry Bradshaw of the UVM Horticulture Farm.

So the farm bought a small herd of goats to do the job. And the once overgrown fence is now free of weeds.

"Right now they are eating bittersweet which is a real problem on this facility," Bradshaw said. "Bittersweet, buckthorn, Japanese knotweed; they do a fabulous job clearing that, so we don't have to resort to herbicides or even a lot of manual labor. We just put the goats out there and they take care of it for us."

Using goats, sheep, even cows to clear land is growing in popularity. But there can be a catch; not all goats and sheep will automatically eat all weeds, but the good news is you can teach them.

"So what we do when we try to teach them to eat weeds is act almost like their mothers," explained Jennifer Colby of the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

The UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture runs workshops to teach farmers and others who are interested how to encourage their livestock to eat more weeds. The theory is to gradually introduce the weed you want them to eat, make it a treat by incorporating something they like to eat already, like a bit of grain. Eventually, Colby says, they catch on.

"So if we can find ways to teach animals for a couple hundred dollars and have that last for years and years, you don't need to reteach them; they teach the next generation of animals coming behind them. So it's this wonderful  low-cost, high-effectiveness approach to weed management essentially," Colby said.

The goats at the Hort Farm did not need that kind of training. Bradshaw says they have taken care of a number of invasive species already.

"There is a little time moving them around, but once you put them where you want them to be, just check on them, make sure they have water, check on them daily and make sure they are doing OK and really that's it," Bradshaw said. "They don't know they have a job to do, they just know that they are hungry and boy, they are happy goats."

Grazing season is almost over, so these goats will spend the winter at the UVM Dairy Farm. But they will be back clearing more weeds in the spring.

Bradshaw says the neighbors love seeing the goats at work. One even asked if he could borrow the herd to clear brush in his yard.

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