Students from Sky Oaks and Gideon Pond elementary schools arrived at a section of Civic Center Park with audible excitement Sept. 25, ready to meet the hooved friends that awaited them.
The goats were located in a temporary pen near the Burnsville Ice Center, taking a break from the job they had been hired to accomplish — to munch on buckthorn and other invasive species in a two-acre part of the park.
The fourth and fifth graders — who were from Laura MacNaughton's class at Gideon Pond and Pam Schilling's class at Sky Oaks — visited the site to learn about buckthorn, why it is invasive, and what the goats can do to help control its growth.
Students learned about goats’ stomachs and what makes them ideal for such a project. They also met Caleb Ashling, Burnsville natural resource specialist, who explained the project. Earlier this year, the Burnsville City Council approved a pilot program meant to see if goats, along with other buckthorn-reduction techniques, can help control buckthorn in oak savanna restoration projects.
Prior to the arrival of the goats, large buckthorn and weedy trees were removed from the project area, and natural resources staff seeded the area with native grasses. The goats eat the smaller buckthorn saplings, reducing the need for herbicides.
After learning about the goats, students fed the goats buckthorn. They also asked the professional goat wrangler, Jake Langeslag of Goat Dispatch, questions about the goats, including the goats’ names and how to buy their own goats.
Goats are expected to be on site for several days. If successful, the goat grazing technique will be repeated for several years, the city says.