AVON — Goats on a golf course might sound silly, but it's no joke when it comes to weed control.
Avon Golf Course in eastern Fayette County has used goats to trim ragweed and other tall, woody brush since mid-August.
The goats don't eat on the greens or roam at will on the 70-acre course; they are penned in small paddocks with battery-powered electric fencing. They are moved from spot to spot to eat grown-up areas. When they've stripped the weeds in one spot, they're moved to another.
"They don't eat tin cans and they don't eat golf balls," said Terry Hutchens, goat specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
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Hutchens was among the speakers last week at a goat "field day" at the course at Bluegrass Station, the former Army base now operated by the Kentucky Department for Military Affairs. The state leases the golf course to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government to operate.
Last year, Bluegrass Station started using goats to eat weeds on three closed, capped and fenced landfills covering 51 acres. Keeping weeds off the landfills was expensive but necessary because a good grass turf is needed to keep the caps intact.
The benefit of goats is that they are free. Scott County goat producers Kevin Kidwell and Gary Riddle allow their animals to be used for the landfill and golf course projects. The producers benefit because they save on feeding costs.
And "it's a little free advertising about the goat industry," said Kidwell, who raises goats for their meat. "As people talk about it, hopefully our meat prices go up a little bit."
Goats won't leave an area looking like a mowed, groomed lawn. Many of the tall stalks will remain but the leaves will be stripped. That helps golf course superintendent Don Davis in the removal of rocks or other debris that might damage mowers.
"At least I can get it down to a point where I can see what my mowers are going over," Davis said. "If there are tree limbs down, I can see them much better."
And the animals are a curiosity for those visiting the course.
"I have yet to see a golfer that didn't stop and take a look at them," Davis said.
Goats are being used as a green alternative to chemicals and machinery across the country. In Detroit, they've trimmed weeds on a lot that will be used for an urban garden. Maryland enlisted them to control invasive weeds in a wetland area. In Arizona, they've nibbled the scrub brush that might otherwise stoke small fires into roaring infernos.
Goats have been used to control kudzu, that rapidly growing vine commonly found throughout the South. Goat control of kudzu generally costs $3 an acre while chemicals will cost $60 to $70 an acre, Hutchens said.
Gary Logsdon, environmental manager for Bluegrass Station, acknowledged that he and others "kinda laughed" when goats were first proposed for weed control.
"We didn't have any experience with goats, and we really didn't have any desire to become goat experts," Logsdon said.
So Logsdon turned to UK and Hutchens to provide the expertise to justify the use of goats and to design and monitor the project. UK also had relationships with area goat producers and matched Bluegrass Station with reliable partners, Logsdon said.
Last week's field day was held to introduce producers to local managers who might want to consider goats for vegetation management.
David M. Peel, specialist for facilities control at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, wanted to see whether goats might be used to eat vegetation at five detention ponds around the automaker's Scott County plant.
"This might be something we could take a look at," Peel said. "It could be a good-neighbor policy for us," given that there are Scott County goat producers who might be interested in partnering with Toyota.
Meanwhile, a Glasgow man has started a goats-for-hire company in south-central Kentucky.
Al Dilley is the founder of Goat Browsers, which he calls an "environmentally friendly land enhancement service." The company was on its first job last week, as seven animals ate the weeds in an overgrown family cemetery in Barren County. Dilley, 64, a retired tool-and-die maker, touts goats as the "greener weed eaters."
Dilley hopes to get more business from shopping centers and other properties that have problems with weeds.
"It's a niche business," he said. "You're not going to get rich, but it's worth the effort. You never know. After Colonel (Harlan) Sanders (founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken) sold that first chicken, he did all right."