Aquinas College brings goats to campus for sustainable invasive species management

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There are a few new guests on Aquinas College’s campus this summer, but they aren’t enrolled in class. These visitors are looking for invasive plants.

From July 17-23, approximately 20 goats will be on campus grazing on invasive species and brush to remove unwanted plants in a sustainable manner.

“Sustainability is part of Aquinas College’s identity, and we wanted to find an eco-friendly way to handle undesired growth on campus while being good stewards of our campus and our creek,” said Jessica Eimer Bowen, director of sustainability. “This project uses sustainable landscape management as an alternative to the use of herbicides and equipment that uses fossil fuels and pollutes the air.”

Current city ordinance prohibits goats and other livestock, so Bowen worked with the Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee, who advocated for the temporary use of goats to use this as a pilot project that could inform future regulations.

“This project would not be possible without the help of the Urban Agriculture Committee,” Bowen said. “Although this method of invasive species control has been used in other areas of Michigan, it is new for our local area. Over the past three years, we have worked through all of the details with the committee to obtain approval from the City of Grand Rapids for this exciting, forward-thinking project.”

The Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee is one of several city of Grand Rapids boards/commissions that is made up of residents and leaders from area organizations. They provide public education and guidance to the city’s leadership on policy and programs related to urban agriculture.

“We’re grateful that Aquinas brought this need to us and that the City agreed to the pilot project,” said Joan Huyser-Honig, chair of the Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee. “Our committee looks at what helps or prevents people from growing, raising, selling and harvesting food within Grand Rapids city limits. Based on extensive research and review of national best practices, we’ve submitted recommendations for the City to incorporate into its rules and ordinances. These recommendations apply to accessory structures (such as greenhouses and hoop houses), backyard chickens, backyard livestock, bees, composting, edible landscaping, and farm stands.”

The herd of working goats will graze in two areas on campus: the wooded area in front of the Academic Building and the wooded area between Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel and the Theatre Arts Annex (along Coldbrook Creek). The goats are contained in these areas by a marked, solar-powered electric fence. Garrett Fickle, co-owner of Munchers on Hooves and caretaker of the herd, will be on site to monitor and move the goats from patch to patch as they munch on the weeds and brush.

The animals prefer to eat invasive plants and are incredibly efficient in removing them because they pull from the root. Then the goats’ digestive systems process the plants, destroying the seeds, so that they are not replanted with the animals’ manure. They can clear approximately a quarter of an acre in three days.

This method of invasive species control has been used in other cities and campuses across Michigan and the United States.