MAWC Renting Goats to Eliminate Invasive Species at 5,000-Acre Reservoir
By Alyssa Choiniere
Yes, you read that right. The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is renting goats.
M. Sweeney Enterprises, the growing goat rental service owned by Mike Sweeney, is loaning his goats to MAWC to mow down an invasive species at the Beaver Run Reservoir, which feeds the George R. Sweeney Water Treatment Plant.
Laura Blood, the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s Source Water Supervisor, is working on a project to regenerate the forest surrounding the Beaver Run Reservoir. They’ve run into some obstacles, partially due to deer munching on tree saplings, and partially due to an invasive species – lespedeza -- killing them off. That’s where the goats come in.
“They will eat just about anything, plant-wise,” Sweeney said. “But they don’t eat tin cans. I’m sorry. It’s an old wives tale. They don’t do that.”
Sweeney, a relative of the plant’s namesake, first rented goats to the Norwin School District through his business, Nuisance Wildlife Solutions of North Huntingdon. Since then, the service has taken off, and he has started another company to handle the surge in business.
“I’ve been getting calls from all over the state about using the goats,” he said.
The specifics of the project and process are to be determined.
“That all depends on the goats,” he said.
The first step was bringing some samples home for the goats to taste, and the appetizers were a success.
“I did a test run with it on the goats, and they just seemed to love it,” he said.
Goats, he explains, are browsers. Cattle, in contrast, are grazers. They mow pastureland down and clip it. On the other hand, goats eat the entire stem of a plant, picking the leaves off. Removing the leaves of a plant kills it because plants need leaves for photosynthesis. That makes goats helpful for killing off species like poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. The chemicals that cause a rash for humans have no effect on a goat.
Now that the goats have expressed their taste for lespedeza, the next step is fencing out a small area and letting the goats get to work. Meanwhile, Sweeney tends to his herd, giving them electrolytes and water and anything else to make sure their nutritional needs are being met. For MAWC, it’s an innovative solution to a pervasive problem.
“It’s very, very green. It’s about as green as you can get,” he said.
Ms. Blood said MAWC could treat the invasive species with herbicide, but that could create a new problem – runoff into the water source.
“There’s more advantage to using the goats on it than an herbicide,” Sweeney said.
While renting goats to clear out an invasive species isn’t a common-knowledge solution to a common problem, Sweeney said he wasn’t the first person to come up with it. In the South, where the invasive species tends to thrive naturally, goats are often used to clear out the plant. Ms. Blood used goat rental data from another facility in Iowa to inform her plans.
Sweeney said the project is in its infancy, and will take baby steps to bring it to completion. He is optimistic about the solution, however.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said.