Goats being used, instead of pesticides in Eastham
What does an Alpine goat eat in Eastham? Right now, there are four of them in an enclosure outside the Department of Public Works building and they are feasting on old Christmas trees.
This town, which took the lead opposing wind turbines and banning NStar from spraying, is making waves with another first: the use of goats to control vegetation, perhaps on NStar’s right of ways so that the utility won’t have to use toxic sprays.
Neil Andres, director of public works, told the selectmen Tuesday that Eastham has been talking for years about using goats for vegetation control, so he took the initiative to see if something could be done. He talked to staff members and the animal control officer, contacted people at AmeriCorps, and put together a goat enclosure outside the DPW on Old Orchard Road.
Then last week he called Leo Cakounes of Harwich, who is president and director of the Cape & Islands Farm Bureau, and learned that four Alpine goats were headed to a farm auction.
“I intercepted them and I guess we are now in the goat business. I’m not sure if this a good or bad idea at this point, but we will have a demonstration program,” he explained.
“Who will clean up after them?” Selectman Linda Burt, board chair, asked.
“Various volunteers,” Andres said. One of the AmeriCorps workers has taken this project. “A lot of people have offered to help us out. Volunteers are taking turns feeding them.”
“Is there any chance of goat multiplication?” Tom Johnson, citizen, asked.
“Supposedly they are all females, but one of them has horns,” Andres noted.
Selectman Aimee Eckman, who was smiling throughout Andres’s presentation, said, “I’ve met the ladies, and I think they are all females, but I’m wondering why one of them is named Allen.”
Andres didn’t know why. He said “one of them has a goatee,”and all of them are “pretty big goats.”
If they put the goats out to graze, will they have to keep in a certain area, Burt wondered.
“When grazing you have to keep them in a very limited area,” Andres said. “If you keep them in a small area, they eat every thing.” If allowed to roam, then they will eat only what they like to eat. Obviously, we are not going to clear all of the utility right of ways in Eastham with four goats.”
“I think this is a great idea,” said Selectman Wally Adams.
Andres said they are experimenting with a portable electric fence so that they can move the goats to certain areas and contain them within that area. The fence will have to be at least four feet high, since they can jump over anything less than that.
Andres said they have a recycling manure program and the goats’ waste is going there. The goats cannot be left alone.
“There’s a lot to the keeping of animals,” including tending to their hoofs and arranging the pen for them,” Andres said.
“It is not a petting zoo,” he said. “These goats are working animals, not pets. We were calling them by color, but names started to stick. The one with the tag on its ear is called ‘Tag,’ and the one with a goatee is called ‘Allie’ by most. But the names of the other two keep changing.”
Andres said if he hadn’t “intercepted” these goats, they were headed to a farm auction and their fate would be up to the highest bidder.
For now, they are at home in Eastham (in a shed at the DPW) and much has to be done before they can be put to work. “Even to put them under the utility lines we have to talk to NStar and the conservation commission,” Andres told the board. “We’ll give this a try as a demonstration project.”