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Goats Are Eating Up the Invasive Ivy at Pony Pasture 

click to enlarge Goats are helping to rid the James River Park system of invasive plants such as ivy.

Scott Elmquist

Goats are helping to rid the James River Park system of invasive plants such as ivy.

Not the worst gig a goat can get.

Three goats at Pony Pasture are taking a break in the shade Saturday while they wait for their first course of winter creeper to settle.

Eating such invasive plants helps demonstrate their prowess at getting rid of pesky growth. At the river park, they chomp away at the aggressive ivy that has crept up the trees and would suffocate everything in sight if given the chance.

“I think of the goats as a SEAL team,” says Kristi Orcutt, owner of RVA Goats. “I send them in to get the poison ivy, the briars -- they’re not fazed by it.”

Human volunteers can sweep in afterward to get the rest, Orcutt says.

The goats are three of 27 available to rent from Orcutt to tackle invasive species or to help with old-fashioned mowing.

“Just the sheer effort to remove all of these invasive plants is almost overwhelming,” says Kitty Hardt, a master naturalist and Richmond tree steward. Her group has been working for several months now and cleared only two areas.

Hardt hopes the goats will help ease the burden and bring attention to the struggles between native plants and invasive ones.

“This area here is like an ivy desert,” she says. “Over time it kills everything. Even the smaller trees won’t survive, and it doesn’t allow any new trees to grow.”

Hardt surmises someone planted winter creeper in a yard up the hill. It climbed a tree and grew berries, which birds ate and spread downhill. Ivy also hastens the death of host trees, she says.

“Do not plant ivy,” she warns. “If you do plant ivy, never let it grow up a tree.”

Not that the goats mind the winter creeper buffet.

Orcutt says this is the goats’ first time eating this particular ivy. “I took it home to get their palates used to it a few days in advance.”

After that, goat peer pressure takes over and it’s a race to eat all the ivy they can, Orcutt says. Digestion breaks excluded.

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