Southington explores using goats to clear invasive plants

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SOUTHINGTON — Goats may soon be used to graze on public lands. 

The town's Open Space and Land Acquisition Committee last month discussed using goats to clear brush, weeds and invasive plants. 

Goats have strong stomachs, capable of digesting nuisance plants like poison ivy, said Anneliese Dadras, owner of Bradley Mountain Farm on Shuttle Meadow Road.

“They love poison ivy,” Dadras said. 

Dadras should know. She maintains a herd of 35 goats at her farm.

Two years ago, Dadras brought a group of them to the nearly 80 acres of land off of Flanders Road that was formerly Novick's Orchard. The town purchased the land more than a decade prior as open space. But some parts had been overrun by invasive plants. 

“The goats were like this was like an ice cream shop,” Dadras said. 

On the short walking tour, Dadras's goats demonstrated how they can clear brush that is otherwise difficult to control.

“Goats can get to places where power equipment can't,” Dadras said.

Now it appears the committee is seriously considering the possibility of contracting with a local goat farmer. Town officials reached out to Dadras for more information, seeking how to maintain open space without using harsh chemicals.

“We asked is there a way we can do land maintenance that is more environmentally friendly?” said Paul Chaplinksy Jr., a member of the Town Council who also chairs the Open Space and Land Acquisition Committee. “Goats can in fact clear large amounts of foliage, including vines... So we started looking at who has capabilities.” 

The committee is looking to get rid of invasive plants that have overtaken some parts of the former orchard, including its pollinator garden and some of its walking trails. 

Dadras' goats made an impression on town officials two years ago. 

In an email, Assistant Town Planner David Lavallee said officials were impressed by how much brush and invasive plants goats could clear during “just a short walk.”

If Southington were to enlist a fleet of the hoofed animals as a way to maintain its public lands it would not be the only Connecticut municipality to do so. 

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, in a recent report, noted goats recently had been deployed to a park in New Haven to chow down on poison ivy and invasive species. In Pomfret, goats cleared brush around centuries old gravestones, which could be damaged if other tools — like weedwhackers and herbicide sprays — are used. 

Goats have been deployed along highways and waterways to munch down overgrown  weeds in other states, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center report. 

In Southington, the concept is still in the discussion phase. 

Chaplinksy hopes to get proposals in the next month to ascertain how much it would cost to clear some acreage. The town has a roughly $50,000 budget for open space management, he said.

“Our number one goal is to get rid of the invasive species,” Chaplinsky said.



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