September 3, 2009

Goats grazing landfill sites at Bluegrass Station
Goats grazing landfill sites at Bluegrass Station
Stories of large corporations and cities using goats to graze green spaces are cropping up all over the country. Now Bluegrass Station in Fayette County is partnering with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and area goat producers to green up some landfill sites.

Bluegrass Station maintains more than 50 acres of decades-old, capped landfills at the rural location. Mowing the turf and keeping fences clear of vegetation is a laborious task that can cost between $45 and $55 per acre.

When a coworker suggested using goats to do the job instead, Bluegrass Station Environmental Manager Gary Logsdon thought he was joking. He quickly realized it was no joke and started to buy into the idea. Logsdon turned to Terry Hutchens, extension goat specialist at UK, to figure out how to make it happen.

"The cost of mowing these sites three or four times a year was getting cost prohibitive," Logsdon said. "Add that to the cost of maintaining the mowing equipment and we really needed to find a more green approach to doing things."

Hutchens began working with a few area goat producers who were willing to give it a try and move part of their herd to Bluegrass Station for the summer.

Goats grazing landfill sites at Bluegrass StationGary Riddle, a goat producer from Stamping Ground, has about 30 goats at the Bluegrass Station site this summer. He said the animals are doing just as well there as the rest of the goats on his farm.

"I'm only 45 minutes away, and I come up here once or twice a week," Riddle said. "It's worth the travel to have the goats on good pasture and out of the way. It is good for both parties. The goats are out here (Bluegrass Station) cleaning up the fence line - places you can't even get to with a tractor."

"There's really no cost to the farmer except moving the animals to and from the grazing site," Hutchens said. "There's no fencing cost because the sites are already surrounded by a great chain link fence. So it's really a revenue neutral situation but very beneficial to everyone involved. Bluegrass Station is saving on mowing and equipment costs, and the farmers are able to spread their goats out on good pasture and even reduce their parasite load."

Logsdon said the turf on top of a landfill cap is very important.

"It must be healthy and really, the process of goats eating and fertilizing should give us a thicker, healthier turf cover."

Hutchens agreed and said after the goats work their magic, the turf should end up much denser.

"The goats will take out the woody material and maintain the cap a lot better than mowing alone," he said.

Kentucky Sheep and Goat Association Executive Director Ray Bowman has been keeping a close eye on the Bluegrass Station project this summer. He said similar partnerships around the state could really do a lot of good.

"I hope a lot of people will look at this project and think there's no reason they can't do it as well," he said. "It will work anywhere there is a fenced, green-space area. You can even set up temporary fence in any green space to make it work. This is getting very popular around the country - even large corporations are doing it."

Bowman said corporations like Yahoo! and Google on the West Coast are using goats in green spaces more as a method of fire control, but said that it could work well in the East as a means of sound environmental control.

Hutchens is planning a future field day at Bluegrass Station, perhaps in the fall, to show producers and potential site partners how the system works.

Located in Central Kentucky, Bluegrass Station was assigned many missions during the last half of the 20th century. Built during World War II, expanded during the next three decades, and then selected for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Program, Bluegrass Station was reborn as a light industrial park. The Commonwealth of Kentucky assumed management of the depot with the goal of creating jobs to replace those lost due to the closure.

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