Photos courtesy of Red Mountain Park
As one of Birmingham’s largest outdoor spaces, Red Mountain Park is also home to one our region’s most diverse and sustainable natural environments. With more than 1,500 acres of land along the Red Mountain Ridge in central Alabama, the park has dedicated years of time to clearing new trails and unearthing valuable tokens of historic significance. While the park has been able to depend on a great level of support over the years from many volunteers, it’s also been able to rely on the “hands on” approach of another type of help — the help of goats, to be exact.
In the fall of 2014, Red Mountain Park brought in 50 goats from Goat Busters (Goodling Enterprises, LLC) to launch a pilot program to determine the long term feasibility of using goats to eat their way through invasive plants all throughout the park. It wasn’t long before the goats had made significant progress with clearing, and since October of 2015, when the park relaunched the program with additional goats, the herd has successfully cleared 85 acres of invasive vegetation.
Currently, there are approximately 200 goats residing at Red Mountain Park, which includes many new baby goats, also known as “kids,” born just this spring. Employees of Goat Busters manage all of the daily tasks associated with herding, veterinary care, and nutrition of the goats at Red Mountain Park. Goats love to eat invasive plants like kudzu, at a very fast rate. In addition, they’re very good at climbing steep hills and making their way through dense environments.
“Our plan is to have the herd based at Red Mountain for the long term, browsing not just the Park but in other green-spaces and private properties,” said Ian Hazelhoff, Natural Resource Specialist at Red Mountain Park.
Not only have the goats been able to meet expectations of helping to eradicate invasive plants, they also provide many other benefits such as free fertilizer within the areas they clear each day, which Hazelhoff says helps to accelerate the restoration timeline for native plants to grow on site.
One of the most important benefits of having goats roam throughout the historic site however, is that their presence is low impact. “We can find all of the mountain’s artifacts and history undisturbed (instead of crushed if we only used machines),” said Hazelhoff.
In fact, Hazelhoff says the park’s staff archaeologist has benefited greatly from the increased access to sensitive areas, even locating a fully intact 1940’s tractor (with an 8 disc plow still attached).
Interest in the young program continues to grow. Not only do the goats help draw more visitors to the park, the program itself has gained significant accolades with other organizations representing Birmingham parks, green-spaces, and even the City government expressing interest to become involved.
“Goat Browsing is common in the Midwest, West Coast, and the Northeast. With the Heart of Dixie also being the heart of invasive plant infestations, we knew that this would work,” said Hazelhoff.
“What’s more, the philanthropic community is a strong partner in this effort. Without them, none of this would be possible.”
For additional updates on the goats at Red Mountain Park, follow the park on Facebook, or visit www.redmountainpark.org.