Goats begin work to clean brush in park

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Feb. 10, 2014 at 4:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 9, 2014 at 8:10 p.m.

Victoria officials are testing a herd of goats' unending and indiscriminate appetites to see whether they are up to the task of clearing brush along the river banks at Riverside Park.

With floppy ears, cloven hooves and hungry bellies, 26 Boer-Spanish cross goats embarked on their first day at work Monday in Grover's Bend, a section of the park that has remained closed off to visitors since 1998.

The city is renting the goats for the next two months from Susan and Terry Hatfield who run a petting zoo in Port Lavaca, for $1,200 a week, or $9,600 for the trial.

Using goats to clear brush is hardly a new concept, but in Victoria, it's one that's expected to garner a few snickers and stares.

"It's not a petting zoo, they're working," said Susan Hatfield, 62.

Where wildfires are a threat, municipal governments, including some in Southern California and the Chicago O'Hare International Airport, are opting to hire goats rather than rely on manual labor and weed whackers to clear dry land.

Victoria officials simply want a clear view of the river.

Councilman Tom Halepaska has spearheaded the effort to bring the goats into the park.

"They're not allergic to poison ivy, they're not bothered by the steep banks of the river," Halepaska said during a recent city council meeting. "It looks like a perfect match."

Hatfield, breaking an old belief, said goats do not eat cans. She and Terry Hatfield, 63, are picking up what the goats leave behind, mainly plastic bottles and other litter.

Terry said after they move the goats through the area, they will bring in about 10 more to go back over the land.

Hatfield said their business makes economic sense. The banks of the Guadalupe River are in places marshy or steep. Hauling men and equipment to clear brush is a hassle, and can be hazardous..

The Hatfields bring in no less than 20 goats, tethered to a line, to clear the brush. They can eat up to about four foot high, and about 10 to 15 pounds of ruffage a day.

"Once they get their bearings, they really go," Terry Hatfield said.

Parks and Recreation Director Colby Van Gundy said equipment can quickly "rut out" those hard-to-reach areas like those found at Grover's Bend.

"We're trying to figure out whether this is effective for us," he said. "If I have to go back behind them, then it would be quicker for my men to do it."

He expects it will take three or four days before the animals are acclimated to the area and the brush.

"There's no doubt that it's outside the box," Van Gundy said. "When you first hear it, you think of it as being crazy, but when you really consider it, it could work."



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