Goats to the rescue in battle against buckthorn, even within Alexandria city limits
Kensington family uses goats to help eradicate invasive plants.
Earlier this year, after selling his business, Mike Fernholz decided his family should get some goats. Growing up on a cattle farm, having goats was going to be a new adventure.
“They are fun to watch,” said Fernholz, who lives in Kensington with his wife, Kate, and two daughters, Drea, 10 and Mya, 7. “Most people have cats or dogs. We now have goats.”
One of the reasons he decided on goats is because he knew they were good for cleaning up yards because he said, “They eat everything – all kinds of foliage, from buckthorn to poison ivy.”
And, he added, that goats are much more environmentally friendly compared to harsh chemicals.
That ability to eradicate unwanted plants without harming the environment means the goats are part of budding business, with a homeowner along Lake L'Homme Dieu being the first to take advantage of an Alexandria city ordinance allowing the use of goats within city limits.
Here is how the business got off the ground.
This spring, Fernholz put his 14 goats, which are half Boer goats and half dairy goats, in a fenced area on his property, about 3-4 acres. Within about three weeks, he said the brush was cleaned up.
His sister decided she wanted to try it on her property and borrowed the goats. It worked so well, she decided to post something on Facebook about it, with his permission, of course.
“After she posted it, she called me and said that at least five people had already reached out to her wanting more information,” he said.
One of those people who ended up reaching out to him was Joani Nielson of Alexandria.
Nielson said her family had been researching options to manage buckthorn ever since they purchased some lakeshore acreage.
“About 10 years ago, we had the DNR and an environmental company assist us in evaluating our options because we did not want to use the harsh chemical recommended by many,” said Nielson. The property is on the lake and we knew too many chemicals could negatively impact the lakeshore.”
Instead of goats at that time, Nielson said she hired a bunch of her son’s friends to help cut and treat the buckthorn that may have been 30-plus years old. She knew there would be ongoing maintenance and saw an article about a trend in southern Minnesota using goats as a natural way to manage the obnoxious and invasive species of plant.
However, between the time they bought the property and now, Nielson said life happened and they got busy.
However, being quarantined during COVID-19, Nielson said it was a great time for them to restart their buckthorn management program. After many man hours of trying to do it themselves, she saw a friend post a photo of goats eating weeds and the goats happened to be Fernholz’ goats.
“I reached out to him and here we are,” she said.
What makes it different for Nielson’s property is that it is in the city limits of Alexandria.
But back in 2018, the Alexandria City Council approved an amendment to its animal ordinance that allows animals to be kept under a valid permit for “invasive species eradication or control.”
Alexandria City Planner Mike Weber said that the permit obtained by Nielson was the first one the city has given out since the inception of the amended animal ordinance.
Property owners or tenants of the property need to apply for the permit, not the goat owners, he said, adding that obtaining a permit is simple. A form needs to be filled out with some basic information such as how long the goats would be on the property, how they would be temporarily fenced in, type of vegetation and how many acres. Information about the goat owner also needs to be provided, Weber said.
Nielson said that when she first contacted Weber about getting a goat permit, she said he wasn’t sure if her request was serious. After realizing that it was, she said he bought into the concept.
“I hope other people follow the trend of eradicating buckthorn because buckthorn can be detrimental to native plants, native shrubs and small trees,” said Nielson.
Fernholz said next spring he will be renting out his goats, although he added that they are really his daughter's goats as they are the ones who take care of them.
“This is really the girls’ project,” he said. “They are the ones who are feeding them and watering them.”
And he said they are the ones working on coming up with a name for the business, as well as marketing. His youngest daughter, Mya, said one of the logos she thought about was a goat in a lawn chair because the goats would be used for cleaning up lakeshore, but quickly decided against it.
“Then people would think the goats are lazy and they aren’t,” she said.
His daughter Drea said that she enjoys watching the goats and that they are very friendly and very social animals.
Mya added that their goats are playful and funny to watch.
Some of the goats have names, such as one of their favorites, Valiente, which the girls explained they got from the movie, “Ferdinand.”
Their dad said the goats will be available to rent out again next year between spring and fall and that those interested can send the family an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .