Al Dilley’s goats appear to have a life of leisure, spending their days chowing down on their favorite forages. But those goats are actually hard at work, keeping overgrowth and invasive plant species in check.
“I teach school part-time, and in the summertime I’m a shepherd,” says Dilley, owner of Glasgow, Kentucky-based Goat Browsers. “We lease goats to properties where heavy equipment and herbicides can’t be used. It’s another tool available to land manage and for land owners to do it a little bit more environmentally friendly on their property.”
Goats are uniquely qualified for certain types of landscaping. They can easily traverse difficult terrain like steep hillsides. They eat undesirable plants like poison ivy, broadleaf weeds, and kudzu. And unlike other grazing animals that tend to stay in one spot until they’ve eaten everything in reach, goats are browsers. They eat a little in one spot and then move to another and eat a little more, rather than overgrazing a small area.
“Usually 15 goats will take about two weeks to browse one acre,” says Dilley. “They’ll eat about 3% of their body weight every day.”
The goats have a standing appointment with the Covington Cemetery in Bowling Green, where they’ve become important contractors for the city.
“It’s economical. It’s cost-savings for us,” says Cathy Maroney, Cemetery Division Manager for Bowling Green. “We have limited resources when it comes to manpower, so [the goats] aid us in not having to come on a daily or weekly basis to do mowing and weed-eating. And it does provide us with a nice little topic of conversation.”
In Lexington, the goats have helped control kudzu, the notoriously fast-growing and tenacious vine, in a city park.
“We’ve had an infestation at Idle Hour Park of kudzu, which is a pretty bad invasive plant for our region of the country,” says Heather Wilson, City Arborist for Lexington. “Goats are pretty well known for being able to work in kudzu areas. Kudzu typically grows in areas that are really hard to access … on steep slopes or just really far out of the way for people to get to with machinery.”
Wilson says that the city had 17 of Dilley’s goats work at the park for six weeks to help control the kudzu problem.
“I think the goats are a really great option for managing our natural areas,” she says.
Dilley has 30 goats in his working herd. Among them is Bubba, the largest, who also works as a pack goat, carrying supplies on hikes through Mammoth Cave. Brutus was abandoned by his mother as a baby and was brought in and bottle-fed by Dilley’s granddaughter. Josie is the matriarch nanny goat, now retired from having kids and enjoying life as a browser and a pet.
“They do a good job,” says Dilley. “They’re easy to handle. We work in all types of vegetation. They get the choicest food first; it’s like going to a buffet.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life season 25, episode 11. Watch the full episode.