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Goats Help Restore Iowa Prairie

By Staff | Jun 28, 2016

REST TIME – Conservationist Luke Straw with the IDNR, checks out the work done by the goats since Wednesday, June 15. Goats will eat for two hours and then rest for two hours. The herd came in a variety of sizes and the juveniles enjoyed playing on the steep bank of Trumbull Lake.

Our view of the Iowa landscape is much different than what the early pioneers saw, the landscape was 85% prairie. Today, there is less than .1% of native Iowa prairie left.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is working to restore Iowa’s native prairie on 21 acres in Dewey’s Pasture Wetland-Grassland Complex near Lost Island Lake, just north of Ruthven.

Not wanting to use chemicals and some of the area has a steep shoreline that makes plant removal almost impossible, the IDNR began looking for alternatives. Conservationist Luke Straw too the lead on the project, looking for different environmentally friendly ways to rid the area of unwanted plants.

“I used to work for a company in Wisconsin that used goats on the prairie, especially the steep areas that were basically inaccessible,” Straw began. “A goat will eat anything. No matter how thorny or disgusting it is, a goat will eat it. So after discussing it with the team, we decided that goats were the best option.”

The goats come from Goat on the Go, which is located near Ames. Roughly 140 goats of various sizes were delivered on Wednesday, June 15 to go to work. The goats will be grazing two different sites over the next week or so, approximately 100 feet of shoreline on Trumbull Lake, which is steep, and once done there, they will be moved across the road to take care of some Japanese Raspberries.

Goats on the Go basically do everything. They fence off the area with electric mesh fencing and partition the area if it is large. The supply the water troughs and water for the goats and come every few days to move them to a different area. The only request that was made was for the IDNR to have a flat surface for them to sleep.

A timeline is difficult to pin down. The IDNR told Goats on the Go what their final goal was and the company did the rest. It is estimated that 40 50 goats can clear one acre per day, eating for two hours and then resting for two hours. Although a goat will eat absolutely anything, they are very particular about their drinking water. In fact, a goat will not cross water so the electric fence is only on three sides with the lake making up the fourth.

“Ideally, we would like to get the goats one more time this year to make sure the invasive plants are stressed and possibly get them again next year for any remaining growth after the spring burn,” Straw said. “It really all comes down to the funding and if we can find the money for the additional times.”