Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gastonia, N.C., looks to goats for kudzu control

By Michael Barrett

Gaston Gazette

The creeping, crawling, botanical nuisance known as kudzu has got Gastonia’s goat.
And that’s the very animal city leaders are counting on to help get back at the invasive vine, as inexpensively as possible.
Gastonia, N.C., is among a growing number of cities that have grown weary of the expense of clearing away kudzu using more modern means. Cutting the ubiquitous plant back using machinery can prove to be quite expensive, and sometimes totally ineffective.
The latest trend has been to look to a barnyard animal that considers kudzu to be a leafy, delicious delicacy.
“It’s becoming very prevalent,” said city engineer Rusty Bost. “Anywhere you look, there are lots of places looking into using goats. We’ve found three or four people around here who’ve made a business out of this.”
Kudzu becomes a nightmare for cities that are trying to conduct routine maintenance on equipment or public facilities located near wooded areas. It creeps into yards, grows up around ditch culverts and impedes water flow, and wraps around guardrails on highway shoulders.
“It’s a nuisance,” said Bost. “Kudzu makes everything around it that much more expensive to maintain.”
The city attempted to clear a patch of kudzu near a creek along U.S. 321 in the Highland community earlier this year, hiring a private contractor to handle it. It cost $35,000 to eradicate a mere 1 1/4 acres of land, Bost said. Erosion control jacked up the expense.
“With kudzu, you’ve got to get the root out,” Bost said.
Using goats typically involves hiring someone to bring in a herd and let them feast. Some herders might set up a temporary fence or use border collies to keep the goats on task. Others will bring goats in on a trailer and stay on site for the duration of the kudzu removal.
“It’s a fairly new industry, so a lot of people are doing it in their own specific way,” said Bost. “It might take a couple of weeks for goats to eat through an acre.”
What cost the city $35,000 this year might eventually cost $5,000 or less using goats, Bost said. And on steep slopes or detention basins where heavy machinery can be hard or unsafe to use, goats would probably do a better job, he said.
Mount Holly is among the other area cities considering the new tactic. A frost two weeks killed much of the kudzu in Gastonia, but Bost said the city will likely begin putting goats into service in the spring.
“It could be tremendously cheaper,” he said.

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