Updated: Aug 31, 2022
By Katie Wooten
A herd of goats from Allegheny GoatScape will take up residence in the Hazelwood greenway in early August. This herd, Team Sunshine, will be eating invasive knotweed to help restore areas of the greenway for recreation that are currently unusable because of overgrowth. Clearing the knotweed will also prepare the area for native tree plantings in the fall, promoting a healthier and more biodiverse forest ecosystem.
Sunshine the mini-donkey leads and protects the goat herd that will visit the Hazelwood greenway in August and September. Photo courtesy of Allegheny GoatScape
Knotweed is a perennial plant that is commonly seen in sunny and moist areas, such as riverbanks and vacant lots. It has a hollow stem similar to bamboo and grows up to 12 feet tall. It is also characterized by its large, bright green, heart-shaped leaves growing directly from the stem. Knotweed grows fast and is one of the most difficult invasive plants to manage because of its extensive root system. Here’s where Allegheny GoatScape comes in.
Allegheny GoatScape uses goats to eat plants designated as invasive by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Using goats for land management and restoration has many benefits. Goats remove vegetation in an environmentally friendly and efficient way because heavy machinery and poisonous herbicides are not required. In addition, goats can traverse difficult terrain, which is especially useful in the hilly and steep landscapes in and around Pittsburgh.
Goats have a four-stomach digestion system that makes seeds less likely to sprout once they have been digested. This makes it harder for invasive plants to dominate an area as fewer plants return year after year. Goats’ impressive digestive systems also add ready fertilizer to the soils at project sites which are often eroding or undernourished.
The goats are here to do important and serious work, but they are also cute and fun animals to visit while they are in the neighborhood.
Goats from Team Sunshine happily chowing on invasive plants. Photo courtesy of Allegheny GoatScape
Get ready to Meet Team Sunshine! Sunshine is the mini-donkey and leader of the herd who protects the goats from predators. Eleven adorable goats comprise the herd and are a mix of Alpine, Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian, and Boer-mix breeds.
One myth about goats is that they will eat anything. On the contrary, goats are picky eaters and have preferences for vines and shrubs! Some plants are also toxic for goats and can cause serious harm if eaten, though the Allegheny GoatScape staff is well aware of toxic plants and makes sure that their goats avoid areas where these plants may be present.
Allegheny GoatScape asks the public not to feed the goats so they can focus on their work eating invasive plants within their fenced enclosure. Make sure to visit the goats while they do their part in the Hazelwood Greenway, from August 3rd to September 22nd.
Katie Wooten is a Community Engagement Intern with Allegheny Goatscape and graduate student in social work.