RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — If you were near the University of Richmond on Wednesday, you probably noticed goats enjoying lunch on the campus. It wasn’t because a farmer lost their herd — they were there as part of an environmentally friendly landscape management initiative.
Rob Andrejewski, director of sustainability, said goats have been clearing out vegetation on the campus since 2018. While the method was novel at first, Andrejewski said the four-legged lawnmowers do a great job of removing invasive species like porcelain berry, English ivy and Japanese stilt grass.
“The goats have a voracious appetite and they just eat about everything,” he said.
This year, UR rented between 40 to 60 goats from RVA Goats and Honey. Andrejewski said the company provides goats and fencing while the university just keeps an eye on them while they work. The herd can stay for up to two weeks depending on how big the job is.
The goats grazed in the Gambles Mill Eco-Corridor, which serves as a source of stormwater management, stream restoration, native planting and an outdoor recreation trail. Andrejewski said they need to remove invasive species to make room for native plants to grow.
“Bringing goats in is a really wonderful ecological method to do so,” Andrejewski said.
The goats are part of a three-prong method for removing invasive plants from this part of campus. First, the goats remove a lot of the ground cover, because the animals don’t like to eat too low to the ground. Then, they follow up with mechanical removal to dig out the pants by the roots. Finally, workers follow up with herbicide to kill invasive species that will grow back even if you pull them.
Andrejewski said sometimes there is no way to pull out invasive plants without also taking out natural ones, so they’ll follow up the process with planting. The goats also help prepare the land for this step. He said when the goats go to the bathroom, they fertilize the area. Their hooves also push down on the ground and break up the soil.
“So there’s fertilizer, there’s breaking up of the soil and there’s eating the invasive plants so when we can come back in a few weeks and plant the new seeds the ground will be ready,” Andrejewski said
Andrejewski said another benefit of the goats is they attract a crowd, which provides a chance to educate people about the value of natural settings and the need for providing habitats for native species.
“Biodiversity loss is one of the greatest problems of climate change that doesn’t get as much press,” he said.
He said the Eco-Corridor never had a grand opening because it was completed in the spring of 2020. He said the quarter-mile path is a great example of environmental stewardship and providing a safe space that animals can live in. It serves as a home to many local animals, including a family of deer and fish in the stream.
“On any given day you can see a dozen different species,” he said.
In turn, Andrejewski said they want to provide the plants to give these animals proper food and shelter to thrive.
You can learn more about the Gambles Mill Eco-Corridor online here.