We continually update our new Toolkit with case studies and best practices.
Today, we feature work at the MWRD's Lemont Water Reclamation Plant that replaced man power with goat power to control for invasives.
As the second largest landowner in Cook County, IL, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) manages many different landscapes. The MWRD invests a fair amount of time and money to control vegetation on its properties, especially for areas that can't be mowed such as native prairies, water reservoirs with steep slopes and invasive species in tree and fence lines.
"The man hours, whether we are using a contractor or our own resources to control weeds, becomes difficult with the sheer volume of property we own and how scattered the vegetation is throughout our property," said Aruch Poonsapaya, MWRD Managing Engineer.
Poonsapaya attempted to replace these man hours with goat hours in September and October of 2019 at the Lemont Water Reclamation Plant. The MWRD and Poonsapaya learned about goats from grazing programs implemented at both the Chicago O'Hare International Airport and the Downers Grove Park District.
"We reached out to them, saw what they did and decided to do a trail program on our own to see how it fit into our landscape program and philosophy," Poonsapaya explained.
The pilot goat grazing program met expectations. Vegetation Solutions, a company based in Richland Center, WI, rented 50 goats and sheep to the MWRD to eat and knock-down vegetation on five acres over five to six weeks for a little less than $10,000. The MWRD directed the goats to graze difficult to cut and mow spaces such as tree lines and native prairies.
"They'll eat anything that they can reach, anything four or five feet off the ground," said Poonsapaya. "They'll eat through the buckthorn and other vegetation. They're eating machines."
The goats proved to be low maintenance. The MWRD provided the goats with water, while the Vegetation Solutions owner visited the site one or two days a week to check on the health of the goats and feed them minerals. The goats completed their diet by eating vegetation on the site.
Poonsapaya looks forward to witnessing the long-term results of this program. "Talking to past goat users, the more you treat with goats, the vegetation doesn't come back as dense or as overgrown the next season."