Goats to help Aquinas College with sustainable practices

A herd of about 20 goats will be feeding on unwanted plants in two areas on Aquinas College's campus. Courtesy Matt Yeoman/Aquinas College

Goats will be making Aquinas College home for seven days to remove unwanted plants by grazing on invasive species and brush in two areas of the campus.

A herd of about 20 goats will be feeding on unwanted plants in the wooded area in front of the academic building and the wooded area between Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel and the Theatre Arts Annex (along Coldbrook Creek) from Saturday to July 23.

The goats will be contained in those wooded areas by a marked, solar-powered electric fence. Garrett Fickle, co-owner of Munchers on Hooves and caretaker of the herd, will be on-site to monitor and move the goats from patch to patch as they munch on the weeds and brush. They can clear approximately one-quarter of an acre in three days.

While the college will benefit from the goats eating the invasive species and brush, the goats also will benefit because their digestive systems process the plants, destroying the seeds, so that they are not replanted with the animals’ manure.

“Sustainability is part of Aquinas College’s identity, and we wanted to find an eco-friendly way to handle undesired growth on campus while being good stewards of our campus and our creek,” said Jessica Eimer Bowen, director of sustainability. “This project uses sustainable landscape management as an alternative to the use of herbicides and equipment that uses fossil fuels and pollutes the air.”

The city ordinance currently prohibits goats and other livestock, however, Bowen worked with the Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee to temporarily use the goats as a pilot project that could impact future regulations.

“This project would not be possible without the help of the Urban Agriculture Committee,” Bowen said. “Although this method of invasive species control has been used in other areas of Michigan, it is new for our local area. Over the past three years, we have worked through all of the details with the committee to obtain approval from the city of Grand Rapids for this exciting, forward-thinking project.”

The Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee is made up of residents and leaders from local organizations. They provide public education and guidance to the city’s leadership on policy and programs related to urban agriculture.

“We’re grateful that Aquinas brought this need to us and that the city agreed to the pilot project,” said Joan Huyser-Honig, chair of the Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee. “Our committee looks at what helps or prevents people from growing, raising, selling and harvesting food within Grand Rapids city limits. Based on extensive research and review of national best practices, we’ve submitted recommendations for the city to incorporate into its rules and ordinances. These recommendations apply to accessory structures (such as greenhouses and hoop houses), backyard chickens, backyard livestock, bees, composting, edible landscaping and farm stands.”

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