Goats on DOT Payroll?

Here’s an interesting news item from Maryland. They are experimenting with goats to mow highway verge in a wetland inhabited by bog turtles. Mowers would be tough on the little fellas, you see (the turtles, not the goats, well they’d be tough on goats too but they’re fast enough to get out of the way). Link to news article at TerraDaily

I’ve always thought there’s something not quite right about using mowers to restore grasslands created by colonial era animal husbandry. If we’re managing grasslands for rare plants and animals that found homes there in the colonial past, we should use authentic management techniques or risk failure…not all lands of grass are grasslands. The only problem (not the ONLY problem, of course but one main problem) with using “authentic” grassland restoration methods is the recent advent of coyotes throughout our area. In the old days, sheep were choice mowers and once southern New England was predator free they could be loosely managed on land with poor soils, lots of rocks, or that were too steep for other agricultural pursuits. Coyotes have forced a profound change sheep husbandry making them not the idea land clearance agent they once were. They have to be tightly fenced, brought in at night, actively guarded, etc, all of which increases the cost and decreases the likelihood that a land owner will be able to sustain the effort long enough to have the desired result. Hopefully we will learn more about making and maintaining grasslands that work like the grasslands of yore with livestock that is coyote resistant—cows, goats, llamas, and donkeys. A friend of mine once suggested buffalo and elk as a good mix of grazers and browsers for maintaining coyote infested grasslands. He might have been right but I think he also was biased as he was an old big game hunter. Each non-sheep alternative has ups and downs and characteristics of its activity or care that may effect the resultant grassland ecosystem in subtle ways. We have quite a lot to learn before we can be successful Colonial era farmers.

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