By MICHAEL TOMSIC
Davidson College put an unusual new maintenance crew to work yesterday. The crew consists of 30 goats imported from the Asheville area, and their job is to eat all the kudzu vine overrunning the most used stretch of the college’s ecological preserve. Reporter Michael Tomsic went to the forest of invasive Asian vine and produced this audio postcard:
The invasive kudzu vine overwhelms almost six acres of forest at Davidson College. It’s everywhere – covering the ground, hanging from trees and even creeping over the thin fence that tries to keep a popular cross country path clear.
“We’ve brought in goats from Well’s Farm to remove the kudzu,” said Charles Jolly, assistant director of grounds maintenance at Davidson College. He said it cost around $3,000 to rent the goats and put up an electric fence to box them in.
The goats hopped out of the trailer, and then immediately got to work.
“They moved into the kudzu, and they stopped,” said Jim King, director of grounds maintenance at Davidson. “They kind of jammed up about 10, 15 feet away from the trailer. The first three started eating, and I think the rest of them got caught behind them.”
Ron Searcy is renting the goats to Davidson. He and his wife run Wells Farm near Asheville.
“We actually take the goats around for invasive weed control,” Searcy said. “The biggest part of our business is renting goats – it’s probably 90 percent.
While the tough economy has made business difficult for many the last few years, Searcy’s goat-renting business has actually expanded each of the last four.
Kudzu is a big reason why. It grows about a foot every day during the summer, said Jolly.
“This is a cross country trail we’re standing on,” Jolly said. “We actually mow both sides of the course. If we mowed on Monday, it could grow clean across the trail by Friday – hanging from the trees, growing up the trees, across the ground.”
But Searcy said that after his goats have a few weeks to work, you almost won’t be able to recognize the place.
“It’ll be bare ground,” Searcy said. “They’ll strip it all the way to the dirt.”
Jolly and King said using the goats is the most natural and sustainable solution they could find.
“We try to find anything that’s not toxic and try to stay from any chemicals we can spray,” King said, “and the man-hours it would take for us to do this would be immense.”
Searcy said the goats provide a cheaper solution.
“You get a goat for $40-something a month,” Searcy said. “You’ve got a weed eater that works probably 18 hours out of the day for a dollar-and-something a day. You can’t hire a person to run one for that.
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(MP3, 2 min 36 sec)