MONTPELIER — Ruminants will once again be called in to tackle a persistent problem in the Capital City.

Goats were used last year to trim poison ivy and other invasive species along the recreation path near Montpelier High School. City officials prefer to use the goats instead of relying on poisonous pesticides near the river and the school that can also cause problems for people with health issues.

The city will again rely on the services of goat herder Mary Beth Herbert, of Moretown, whose choice of goat is the Kiko, from New Zealand, because it is hardy and resistant to disease.

Goats are able to digest poison ivy and other invasive species because they are ruminants with four stomachs which digest the toxic plants without harm to them.

“As you probably recall from last year, the goats are expected to be part of a several-year effort to use this non-chemical way of controlling the poison ivy along the recreation path, especially in areas where the weed is particularly aggressive,” said Assistant City Manager Sue Allen. “The goats eat away at the poison ivy, while we also plant other acceptable species to gradually take over the area.”

“The poison ivy has become a real problem along the recreation path near the high school, and the city was committed to avoiding the use of toxic chemicals and pesticides to treat the problem,” she added.

Allen said there would be some adjustments to the program this year, with better fencing and signage to keep people and dogs away from the goats.

“We learned a lot from the first year’s experience,” Allen said. “Not surprisingly, everyone wanted to pet the goats, not understanding they are covered in poison ivy resin.

“And some dog walkers allowed their pets to get close or aggressive with the goats. So, this year we have a bigger, more secure fence to protect the goats from too much love, and too many dogs. And we’re urging people with dogs to please quickly pass by and really take responsibility for your pets,” she added.

Allen said the use of the goats would begin a little earlier this year to see if they have an appetite for younger plants. She also said that news of the use of the goats attracted widespread coverage and interest.

“I will say that last year we heard from people around the world who loved our decision to use goats rather than chemicals to handle the poison ivy problem,” Allen said. “A Facebook post about the goats went viral, and people were rooting for the experiment to be successful.”

Tom McArdle, public works director, said efforts would be made to strike a balance between allowing the public to view the goats in action without distracting them from their task.

“Goats tend to be easily distracted and will stare at people or animals out of curiosity and/or concern,” McArdle said. “When distracted, they aren’t eating. Therefore, a taller fence will be used to help conceal them from distractions and not the other way around. However, the fencing does provide a measure of protection from curious or aggressive dogs which helps to keep the goats calm.”

McArdle said there would be a public event to allow people to see the goats and learn more about the eco-friendly effort to deal with invasive species on the city’s recreation path.

Kimberly Hagan, a grazing specialist at the University of Vermont Extension, would be present at the public event to provide an education talk about ruminants.

“The herder will also be doing some hand work to clear the ivy and other invasive species and we’ll provide grass seed with the intent of crowding out the ivy, in particular,” McArdle added. “The reason for an ongoing program is because the ivy will eventually die off after being repeatedly grazed and deprived of light.”

McArdle said Herbert visited the site last weekend to look at early growth of invasive plants and is expected to return soon with her herd.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

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