In an innovative twist for urban conservation management, the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center welcomes 120 goats in October to assist with trimming the gentle slopes with overgrown vegetation around the two Woodway ponds. The maintenance crew is turning over the mowing to Velvet, Charming, Malley, Arthur, Tilly, Scout, Darla, Ella, George, Annie, Adam, and Hi Ho, among others. While grazing on varieties of grasses and plants, these goats are an effective “eco-friendly solution” to vegetation management that negates the need for commercial mowing and/or herbicides.
A first for the Arboretum, this pilot project with goats from Rent-A-Ruminant® Texas will focus on 1.5 acres of land around the North and South Woodway ponds. The goats will be onsite to do what comes naturally – grazing – working on one pond area at a time. The public is welcome to view the goats “at work” on any day from Oct. 4 – 10.
Michelle Jeffrey, Chairman of the Lamb & Goat Junior Market Auction Committee for the HLS&R, is particularly excited to see the recognition of the value of goats in this eco-friendly initiative. “We had 870 goats for our auction last year, which we completed despite the early shutdown and we were able to award premiums to all of the students who made it to auction with their goats,” she says.
The goats will be contained in designated areas via electric fencing and managed by a goat wrangler. As tempting to touch as the goats are, guests are respectfully asked not to touch or engage with the animals or to feed them, for the safety of all. Goats are natural climbers and adept at scaling hills and mountains with ease, making them an ideal choice for clearing the slopes around the Arboretum’s ponds. Goats can go places where it is unsafe or unsuitable for humans and heavy machinery.
“We are thrilled to partner with Rent-A-Ruminant to test this concept in the Arboretum as a natural method to control vegetation, including invasive plant species on the slopes,” says Debbie Markey, Executive Director. “Eco-friendly solutions to managing our nature center are always the optimal choice in preserving and conserving our flora and fauna. If this project is a success, we will invite the goats back next spring to do some work in our meadow and savanna ecosystems.”
The goats mimic the large grazers of the past, like the iconic American Bison. According to Emily Manderson, Conservation Director with the Houston Arboretum, grasslands are traditionally a disturbance-dependent ecosystem. A large portion of the herd comes from animal rescue or private adoptions and includes several breeds of goats, including Nubian, Boer, Kiko, Savanna and Nigerian Dwarf. These breeds are all effective at reducing brush overgrowth, green briars, poison ivy, ragweed and undesirable plant species. Owners Kyle and Carolyn Carr of Mart, TX note that all 220 of their goats have names.
“Fire and grazing were the main disturbances in the past that kept grasslands healthy and in check,” she says. “Goats are replacing the buffalo – their eating and loosening and fertilizing of the soil make for a healthier and more sustainable ecosystem.”
Rent-A-Ruminant Texas provides a workable alternative to traditional land clearing, chemicals or commercial mowing.
The 155-acre Houston Arboretum welcomes visitors from 7 a.m. to dusk every day. People are encouraged to check out the plentiful amenities, including a five-mile trail system, self-guided habitat hikes and five educational field stations, along with nature and wildlife photography options. Educational programming for adults, families and children is still taking place, but some is being done virtually.
To learn more about the Arboretum, please visit https://houstonarboretum.org/. You can also get more information by calling the Houston Arboretum at 713-681-8433.
The mission of the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is to provide education about the natural environment to people of all ages and to protect and enhance the Arboretum as a haven and as a sanctuary for native plants and animals. The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, one of the first nature education facilities for children in the state of Texas, provides services to nearly 400,000 visitors annually. The Arboretum also provides nature education for more than 10,000 children annually. For more information about the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center and levels of membership, visithoustonarboretum.org.