Northampton eyes goats to curb invasive plants

  • Bud and Moo graze alongside the bike path near Veterans Field in Northampton.   SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2019 12:02:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The city may be hiring some unconventional workers: hungry goats.

The office of planning and sustainability submitted an application to the Community Preservation Committee asking for $10,000 to fund a pilot program to hire goats and a goat keeper to curb invasive plants in places where other methods are difficult. 

Goats and other browsing and grazing livestock have been used around the country from Nevada to Washington, D.C., to deal with invasive species.

“We have a huge amount of invasives,” said Wayne Feiden, who applied for the grant and is the director of planning and sustainability in Northampton. “There’s no shortage of sites.”

Where exactly in Northampton the goats would munch has not been determined. If the pilot project is funded, the city would have to identify and prioritize testing sites where officials do not want to use herbicide, Feiden said. 

Feiden said Japanese knotweed is one example of an invasive species the city would like to eliminate. The plant is a “botanical monster,” according to Gaby Immerman, who’s a landscape and education specialist at the Botanic Garden of Smith College and has been involved in battling invasive species along the Mill River. The Northampton Community Garden is one location where the plant has been a problem and is a potential site for goat grazing, Feiden said. 

Northampton already has some experience with the method. Elissa Alford, a city resident, approached the planning and sustainability office and volunteered to take her two goats, Bud and Moo, to eat invasive plants, Feiden said. 

Bud and Moo first ate Japanese knotweed alongside the bike path near Veterans’ Field. In a current assignment, the goats are at Broad Brook Greenway eating from a menu of plants that includes multiflora rose, buckthorn and Virginia creeper, Alford wrote in an email to the Gazette. She has installed a solar-powered electric fence around the goats to keep dogs and predators away while the goats graze. The first project she did for free, but the city is compensating her for the work at Broad Brook Greenway, she said.

Alford only recently started using her goats to graze on invasive species.

“The environmental crisis has become so distressing to me that I had to do something physical, real, concrete,” she wrote. “If this helps show, even in such a small way, that animals are a time-honored and workable alternative to pesticides and gas mowers, we’ll have done something.”

The animals are nimble, they won’t eat sown seeds from the ground, and their manure serves as fertilizer, Alford wrote.

“Best of all, they’re living beings powered by the very plants they’re eating, not machines that use fossil fuel,” she said. “I’d add one more thing. They delight people who just light up with smiles.”

Grazing goats will not completely replace herbicide or physical removal of pesky invasive plants, Feiden said. 

“I think we are not purists. I don't think it’s possible to stop using all herbicides use," he said. 

He said the office of planning and sustainability already uses an estimated liter per year of herbicides.

“It’s not a big amount,” Feiden said. “We want to figure out what are the right places for herbicide and what are the wrong places.”

The pilot program funding request is one of a variety of Community Preservation Act project applications, including money for a recreation area at Hampshire Heights and improvements and restoration work at Historic Northampton.

In late November, the Community Preservation Committee plans to make recommendations on which projects to fund and anticipates the City Council will vote on them in December or January. The public can comment at any committee meeting, but comments are “particularly encouraged” at the committee’s Nov. 6 meeting, said Sarah LaValley, committee staff and Northampton conservation, preservation and land use planner. 

Greta Jochem can be reached at 

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