Help Welty with our ongoing project to restore the grounds around Big Hill Center to the way it was 200 years ago…sponsor a goat! We brought 40-goats to the Big Hill Prairie to graze back invasives and allow native prairie plants to grow back, so it can become an Oak Savanna again. Your donations funded their 2-week visit, and could help pay for a return in the fall!
[pullquote class=”left”]Your donations funded their 2-week visit this summer[/pullquote]An Oak Savanna is an ecosystem that lies between woodlands and open prairie. Isolated Oak trees grow with enough space between their leaf canopies to let direct sunlight reach the ground. These open-grown trees allow prairie grasses to flourish, but also plants that need a bit of shade and more moisture than a full-sun prairie provides.
The present ecology of these 90 acres is described as “Old Field”. This means a mix of flowers and grasses, many non-native, have colonized the tilled fields that have been allowed to lie fallow (the Big Hill Prairie was retired from agriculture in 1993). Over time, most fallow land in southern Wisconsin gradually becomes a mix of natives, non-natives, and trees and shrubs.
The thorny, brushy species that grow quickly to fill former farm fields are the perfect forage for goats to graze. Welty’s herd of 40 animals (rented from Kim Hunter’s The Green Goat), will be fenced in paddocks in the densest brambles of the park, to begin stripping and eating these bushes to the ground.
[pullquote class=”right”]uses no chemicals and leaves a low carbon hoofprint[/pullquote]”Many of our invasive plants come from Europe and Asia and are the natural food for goats,” says Hunter. Goat herds in the U.S. are cousins to those in Europe and Asia, whose narrow mouths evolved to nibble branches between thorns and whose bellies can digest bark, wood, and the tough fibers and leaves of these bushes. “What’s more,” she adds, this work “uses no chemicals and leaves a low carbon hoofprint.”
The goats’ first visit will decimate the tall, thorny brush (they have little interest in grass and low-growing forbs) in their paddock, forcing root systems to work hard to generate energy to repair the damage. A second pass through the area before a late-fall freeze will further sap the strength of the roots, which will then die or be significantly weakened before next spring’s growing season. Annual visits will continue to keep these invasives at bay, and improve the quality of the soil as goats aerate it with their hooves, and fertilize it as they graze.
“This is an exciting way to move the restoration project along, and have some fun watching the goats do what they do best—eat!” says Welty Executive Director, Brenda Plakans. “We’re inviting the public to come out to Big Hill to learn more about the project, and we’re even getting volunteers to camp overnight to keep an eye on the goats when they’re ‘off-duty’.”