Goat appetites vs lakeshore overgrowth

Thursday, July 7, 2016
The Hungry Herd showed its ability to clear brush in a project at the creek in Bargloff Addition last September. / Photo by Dana Larsen

When weeds have got your goat, you call in The Hungry Herd.

The Storm Lake City government's landscaping secret weapon, its hired herd, is about to go back to work.

This time, the troupe of prodigious eaters known as "The Hungry Herd" will chew its way through the overgrown lakeshore, from Circle Park to Chautauqua Park.

The buffet is open fellas, and it's all you can eat. It's being termed "the green clean-up."

Forty goats will be retained for 55 days, although it is estimated that they may be able to do the job in as little as 30 days. The City will pay up to $4,470.

Safety is a key reason for the project, according to City Manager Jim Patrick. The lakeshore, which grows increasingly steep as it nears Chautauqua Point, is dangerous for the City employees to work with the equipment necessary to clear brush and small trees.

The City first experimented with goat grazing in fall 2015, when The Hungry Herd was called in to clear a creek bed in the Bargloff Addition. The work was so successful that the goats were moved on to clear the overgrown condo site near the gold course.

One of the goats was lost in the process - its body was later found in a shaft inside the foundation of the failed condo building.

On the lakefront, electrified fences will be used to contain the animals in small segments of the project area at a time, moved on as the segments are cleared. Warnings will be posted. The goats are not tame, and the public is asked to stay clear of them.

Seasonal Parks Department workers will follow the animals to remove any tree debris or trash the goats can't stomach. The longterm plan is to use grants to plant native grasses and flowers in the cleared area, via compost grouting.

The cost of retaining the goats will be covered from street and stormwater operating funds. Meanwhile, City officials say, their human workforce can be freed up for higher-priority projects.

City Council members asked several questions. Would the goat excrement cause water quality problems? Patrick said the DNR has cleared such work to be done by goats. Would the City be responsible for replacing any escaped goats? Yes, but according to the Mayor, the goats respect the fences and stay clear of them, even when the electricity is turned off.

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