Liberty resident Judy Boring has always loved goats, and she’s not the only one. She and sister Alene Wesner were among a steady stream of people recently making a trek to Liberty’s Stocksdale Park for a meet and greet with the Parks and Recreation Department’s newest groundskeepers: 13 poison ivy-munching goats.
“I love goats,” Boring said. “They are so much fun. I think it was a little book that I had when I was little that was called ‘Smokey the Goat’ and I’ve just loved them ever since.”
Margaret Chamas from Storm Dancer Farm in Smithville actually owns the goats. She has become an affiliate of a group called Goats on the Go, which allows people to rent herds of goats to cut down on weeds.
“It is a sustainable, innovative brush-management system. The goats can take down poison ivy and invasive weeds and do it without the use of chemicals,” Chamas said.
Goats on the Go takes the goats to a location, sets up temporary fencing, and lets them munch away until the weeds are under control. Chamas, who owns about 45 goats, is only the second affiliate of Goats on the Go in Missouri. The assignment at Stocksdale Park is the first time her herd has actually gone on the go.
“The first night, dropping them off was like sending the kids to summer camp I suppose. I was worried. There are strangers around. There are potentially predators. But they did just fine. I came out the next day, and they acted like nothing was wrong,” Chamas said.
The 13 goats are munching through about 2 1/2 acres of what is normally a natural prairie grass area at the large park. Tom Garland, Liberty Parks and Recreation assistant director of parks, said the department was behind on removing brush in the area. He had just been trying to figure out the cost and what kind of equipment might be needed to tackle the job when Chamas contacted him.
“When she started talking about what the goats like to eat, it was perfect. It was a way we didn’t have to spend labor or fuel resources. We’re not polluting the air, and on top of that, we are getting the area cleared and fertilized,” Garland said.
Goats have been at the park since Memorial Day weekend. They are chomping on an area just east of the park’s play structure. Their work is expected to last until mid-June. The late May heat made them want to eat less than usual, so the process has gone a bit more slowly than originally planned.
The goats are a good way to get rid of poison ivy, because they love to eat it. They will also eat the bark off of the invasive trees, causing them to die.
“This should go from being a woody overgrown mess into being something much more park-like. Hopefully, we can get some sunlight back onto those prairie species and let them grow up through the mess and take over again,” Chamas said.
There’s no shortage of people wanting to see the goats work. Boring says she doesn’t come to the park often, but probably will now.
“I think it’s fantastic — a little surprising,” Boring said.
There are just a few things to keep in mind if you do visit. Although visitors were able to interact with the goats during the meet and greet, it is normally a work zone, not a petting zoo.
“Please watch, look, enjoy, take pictures, but don’t try to go in there with them,” Chamas said.
The fence is electrified to deter touching. Do not try to feed the goats; there is plenty of food in the enclosed area and humans also carry a few things that are toxic to goats. Also, if you drop anything in the enclosure, like a ball or a Frisbee, call the number on the signs and parks department personnel will help you get it back.
Chamas, who is originally from New York, says one thing is nice about taking goats out in Missouri is that people know what they are —– and love them already.
“Most of the time, people are coming up and saying, ‘Oh look, a goat!’ Where I grew up, a couple of hours north of New York City, we’d bring the goats to a park, and there was a lot of ‘What is that?’ People didn’t know what goats were,” Chamas said.
She has even had people ask if they were kangaroos.
When the goats get done at Stocksdale Park, Garland says there are a couple of other prairie areas, one at Northwyck Park and one at Fountain Bluff Park, where they would also be useful.
Goats on the Go started in Iowa and is now available in five states.