Using Goats to Get Rid of Poison Ivy

By Erin Delmore

“So we all grew up thinking goats ate anything, tin cans, whatever. I never specifically heard they ate poison ivy, but apparently they have a real hankering for the stuff,” said Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association Executive Director Jim Waltman.

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Here in Mercer County, two poison ivy-infested acres are a downright feast for a visiting group of goats.

The Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association was hoping to use this land to build an educational center for kids, but the prickly multiflora rose and itch-inducing poison ivy claimed it first. The solution? Getting another man’s goat. Thirteen of them, to be precise.

“It’s not just that they will eat poison ivy and multiflora rose if there’s nothing else to eat. That’s what they eat first,” said Jon McConaughy, co-owner of Double Brook Farm and Brick Farm Market and Tavern.

McConaughy would know. His goats are on loan to the Watershed Association. He says this is the most environmentally-friendly way to clear invasive species.

“In the case of an animal that needs to eat anyway and is being raised for other purposes, then if we can achieve two things at the same time, and save on diesel fuel and save on the impact on the environment, then it works quite well,” McConaughy said.

“It’s always best to look for the most beneficial solution for both the environment and for human health. Because this area’s going to be used for children, it’s especially important to look for the most benign way of treating the unwanted vegetation,” said Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey President Stephanie Harris.

The practice has been used at Liberty State Park, Fort Hancock at Sandy Hook, Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

“As people are increasingly concerned about our water and potential pollution of our waters, there’s been more and more sensitivity to using herbicides to combat invasive species, things like poison ivy. So a number of people are starting to apply goats,” Waltman said.

The goats don’t eat an invasive plant down to its roots. They literally nip it in the bud.

“They eat the leaves off the plants, so the stocky part of the multiflora rose, they do not like. But obviously a plant can’t live without photosynthesis and without its leaves so as they eat the leaves and the leaves come back and they eat the leaves again, eventually it’ll kill the stalk back,” McConaughy said.

Goats have never been used to clear this land before, so no one knows how long it will take. But the plan is to keep them here through the fall, send them home in winter and bring them back out in the spring. Hoping to break ground on the new “Nature’s Playzone” in the fall.