The land bank started its goat grazing program in 2013 because, on a number of preserves and reservations, ordinary management techniques had proven inadequate in three areas:
- combating woody vegetation encroachment into grassland ecosystems
- managing invasive species
- keeping historic landmarks cleared.
Topography — many of the Vineyard’s slopes are quite steep — plus the strewing of boulders thickly throughout the moraine made mowing in certain areas impossible. In addition, the presence of rare terrestrial turtles limited the land bank’s ability to use not only mowing but also burning as a restoration management tool.
Goats were selected because they address both matters: they produce a uniform graze irrespective of topography and they treat turtles indifferently. They consume a wide variety of vegetation types including woody shrubs and small trees. Their nimble lips allow them to select specific parts of the plant that are most nutritious to eat and to access the nooks and crannies of stonewalls. Goats’ impressive ability to stand on their hind legs allows them to reach over six feet to browse taller shrubs. Notably, they can tolerate a greater level of tannins in their food than cattle and sheep.
Repetitive grazing during the growing season starves woody plants by draining the nutrients stored in their root system, eventually killing them and their sprouts. This is especially valuable in subduing invasive species. Please respect signage and leave your pets at home when walking around these livestock. Do admire the herd from afar as it works to restore the island’s historical open landscapes.