The Roaring Fork Valley’s Rio Grande Trail is getting some natural maintenance these days. Rather than spraying harmful herbicides, a crew of 220 goats helps chomp down pesky weeds the old-fashioned way – with their teeth!
2018 will mark the third year of this successful program, the goats are brought to the Rio Grande Trail corridor for about 30 days each year. Trail staff identifies the high priority areas in advance and the goats are put to work. The goats are able to maintain about a 4-mile section of the Rio Grande Rail-Trail during each visit.
Brett Meredith, Rio Grande Trail Manager, has been the champion of utilizing goats and the driving force that brought the herd to the Roaring Fork Valley. The annual application of herbicides felt like a brand of insanity, every year the same costly treatment to the same areas with little noticable long-term improvement. Some research revealed that goats were the ultimate machine for the job. Goats provide a holistic approach from weed management to soil rejuvenation. To make this project even more appealing, it turns out the pre-eminent company providing goats for weed control was based in Colorado.
The Goat Facts
The Colorado-based Goat Green LLC has been contracted by RFTA (Roaring Fork Transportation Authority) to deploy this alternative approach to weed management. Co-owner Donny Benz says, “A goat will eat about 3% of its body weight in a day.” This means no herbicides to potentially pollute the river, kill desired plants and destroy natural soil health.
Goats are corralled into a plot surrounded by an electric fence for controlled grazing. The Goats will not only eat the plants but the digestion process kills the seeds while the natural manure fertilizes the soil. Also, Since goats are so light, their hooves till and aerate the soil without packing it down. Once an area has been grazed and the plants are reduced in type and mass to the desired level, the goats are moved on to a “greener” pasture down the trail corridor. Each grazed section is essentially given a fresh start and an opportunity for native plants to succeed. To help ensure the desired plant community is established, Rio Grande Trail staff will do supplemental seeding prior to the goat’s arrival. This allows the goats to actually till and work the desired seeds into the ground and then apply “fertilizer” as they graze through the area.
The herd is also good at engaging communities and educating people about the practice, drawing curious runners, cyclists, and families passing by. This project has been a win all the way around and is a great model for innovative rail-trail management.