Volunteering alongside … Goats?

Our family has been volunteering alongside goats. Yes, you read that correctly. Not with goats. Alongside goats. We’ve been helping remove invasive buckthorn.

And so have they.

It all started when I saw an Instagram post from our local naturalist club describing their eco-goat program and asking for volunteers. Having recently finished the Ontario Master Naturalist Program, I thought this would be a neat experience. And I decided the whole family should share the experience. So I filled out the form, got directions and off we went.

The Sheelah Dunn Dooley Nature Sanctuary is not accessible to the general public. In fact, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d drive right past the old farm gate and narrow laneway leading to the area in which the goats are busily working.

We parked on the road per our instructions and began the 10-minute trek into the property. The laneway was lined with tall grasses, wildflowers, and trees. At one point, this had been a farm. Now, it is a beautiful tangled mess of plant and forest.

And of course, a not-so-beautiful tangled mess of buckthorn.

When we arrived at the worksite, we were greeted by the summer interns and the Land Trust Manager. They introduced us to the goats and explained just how these animals were being used to remove buckthorn.

The premise is simple. Goats eat everything. Buckthorn has taken over everything. Therefore, the goats eat the buckthorn.

They do more than just eat it, however. See those long horns in the photos? The goats like to rub their horns on the trees, thereby removing the bark. This is called girdling, and it kills the larger buckthorn.

We were about to have the opportunity to try girdling the trees ourselves. Jen, the Land Trust Manager, handed out tools and directed us to an area in which we could work. One of my daughters used a knife-like tool to girdle trees by stripping bark off the circumference of the base. My husband used an extractigator to pull out the medium-sized plants. And my youngest two daughters and I worked together to pull out smaller plants.

By the end of the evening, despite wearing gloves, my hands were bleeding. But it was incredibly satisfying to look around at the area we’d cleared.

Most importantly, my children learned firsthand why buckthorn is so invasive. And they had the opportunity to help make the world a slightly less weedy place.

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