Facilities and Campus Services recently turned to an unlikely source for its landscaping needs: goats. Though unusual in the Winston-Salem cityscape, these narrow-faced, cloven-footed animals were one of the earliest creatures domesticated and have been devouring leafy vegetation indiscriminately alongside their human counterparts for some 10,000 years.

Today the use of goats – animals that are natural browsers, preferring leafy vegetation to grass – for landscaping has seen a resurgence, especially in light of recent global sustainability concerns.

The university seized the opportunity to partner with Piedmont Goatscapers, Inc. of Lewisville, N.C. in response to a demand identified in the Campus Master Plan. When surveying the campus for the plan, Landscaping Services documented the proliferation of invasive species – particularly kudzu – in and around campus forested areas and launched a plan of attack to eliminate these plants. During the growing season, a single kudzu plant can develop up to 100 vines that each grow about a foot per day. These vines quickly overcome even the tallest and most healthy native trees, causing serious harm to local forests.

Goatscaping is both time and cost effective according to Jim Coffey, Director of Landscaping Services. “What the goats can do with three or four herdsmen would take a whole army, just for the section of land along Reynolda Road,” Coffey said. “There are just spots we cannot get to that the goats can by meandering through the woods.”

The goats simply eat away at the kudzu vines until they are full, while the herdsmen direct them toward invasive plants and away from native species. In addition, the herdsmen destroy the root balls of the plants to prevent them from growing back.

These animals are the perfect energy efficient substitute for heavy machinery and dangerous chemical herbicides when dealing with invasive species like kudzu. Goats require no fuel beyond the plant matter they consume. They provide natural, chemical-free fertilizer -in the form of droppings – while browsing.  And, they can provide other services beyond their feeding habits.

The goats that make up the Piedmont Goatscapers, Inc.  herd return home to the farm after long days of feeding to be milked for goats’ milk soap. The university is currently exploring options to purchase this soap. This would close the loop on campus by turning unwanted kudzu vines into desirable, useful soap for use by students and staff.

This initial pilot project was hugely successful. Financing is currently in the works to continue goatscaping on other wooded areas of campus.

By Caitlin Brooks, Communications and Outreach Intern