The Park Board is using goats to eat invasive species like buckthorn at several sites. Photos courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Minneapolis gets its goats

Updated: June 29, 2018 – 9:42 am

Park Board shepherds a newfound connection between locals and livestock

It’s official: goats are taking over the Twin Cities. They’ve been visiting breweries, hosting yoga classes, and coming up this July, will be returning to Theodore Wirth Regional Park to do what goats do best: eat.

Last year, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board spearheaded a new goat program at two sites in Wirth, as well as one site at Cedar Lake East Beach, where the goats were charged with grazing on buckthorn. It turns out, goats are highly efficient at getting rid of the invasive species, much more efficient than humans, in fact. Using them means getting rid of the buckthorn without the use of chemicals, which is a win-win for the environment.

The Park Board plans to conduct the program for another year, this time just at the two Wirth sites, and will be doing an assessment of the efficacy and cost of running the program.

Jeremy Barrick, the board’s assistant superintendent of environmental stewardship, said the Cedar Lake location was nixed this year because the endeavor uncovered snails at that site last year.

“Snails can carry a parasite that affect goats, so the contractor was a little nervous last year,” he said.

With Cedar as a one-time site, the assessment will look into how long the goats’ work will last, and how quickly the native plants come back in comparison to the invasive species.

“Then when we go out to Wirth, these two sites will have been hit two years in a row, and we can kind of see how that stacks up,” Barrick said.

For the project, the Park Board is working with Diversity Landworks, a company that started out doing land management, chain saw work, burns and herbicide application before the goat thing took off. They still do their other land management activities, but goats have become the main part of their business because of how labor intensive they are, according to owner Kyle Johnson.

Diversity Landworks has hired out their goats in other parkland, such as in Winona, Minnesota, and will be doing Redwing this year as well, Johnson said.

Johnson sees reinvigorating the presence of animals on land as absolutely essential to achieving ecological homeostasis.

“The reason natural areas are in such bad shape is the loss of the presence of animals,” he said. “We have put the food production system in confinement and gotten animals off the land.”

The Minneapolis Parks Foundation recently hosted a goat yoga event at Powderhorn Park. Photo by Sheila Regan

A Diversity Landworks staff member shepherds the goats on a 24-hour basis. Last year, the hired shepherd stayed in a tent, but that person will get an accommodations upgrade this year.

“They are bringing in a camper so he’ll be a little more comfortable,” Barrick said. Plus, Johnson will be tag-teaming with the shepherd to provide some relief.

Besides assessing how fast and thorough the goats are at eating up invasive species, the Park Board is using the goats as an educational tool through educational programing like panel discussions, workshops and social media.

Social media is one way folks can enjoy seeing the goats without necessarily interfering with them.

“One of the things we’re cautious of is that they are working goats,” Barrick said. “It’s not a petting zoo. We do discourage people from interfering with the goats working.”

He noted that watching from afar — the goats are fenced in — is not a problem.

According to Barrick, the goat program is indicative of a changing sentiment about livestock around the country.

“There certainly is a national trend here at looking at ways to manage invasive species and land without chemicals that is less chemically dependent,” he said. “(The program) is an opportunity for us to promote wildlife conservation and make people aware that even with a city setting, you have these animals and they have a very important role in the ecology and the environment.”

Sure, and they’re awesome to have around during a yoga class. In early June, for instance, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation hosted a goat yoga class at Powderhorn Park. Class participants got to have a goat stand on their back while they were doing the cat-cow pose. Meanwhile, Insight Brewery on Hennepin Avenue recently brought in 20 goats for a three-hour goat and drinking party.

Whoever saw this goat zeitgeist coming? Goat figure.

Kelly Anderson, a livestock specialist with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, isn’t surprised at all that goats are gaining popularity.

“Goats are really lovable animals,” she said. “People just really gravitate toward them. They have great personalities, they are just fun to be around, they are funny to watch.”

About two or three years ago, Anderson was part of a group of producers, park managers and land managers who saw an opportunity to lease goats for brush control. They formed the Ecological Service Livestock Network through the Sustainable Farming Association. They’ve put on workshops where people who work with goats as producers could meet up with folks looking to hire them. Kelly said she’s looking forward to the annual meeting for the Society of Range Management, taking place at the Hilton in Minneapolis next February, which will be talking about grazing as a land management tool.

Anderson thinks people in urban areas miss having a connection to live animals.

“A lot of families with little kids will watch these goats in the parks and get into it, maybe just for them to connect a little bit about livestock farming. I see that as a good thing,” she said.