A Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank program that uses goats to clear invasive plants continues to thrive on the Island. However, the animals need a safe place to give birth to continue the program in the future.
At a recent meeting, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank unanimously approved a proposal made by goatherd Zachary Jesse to get new panels, aluminum rectangular pieces that will be used for goat enclosures, during a Zoom meeting. These panels will be used for better organization of the animals, and for the kidding, or goat birthing, process. The Land Bank expects the purchase to cost less than $5,000.
Jesse said the 8-foot-tall aluminum panels would make a more efficient way to keep the goats. These panels can be used to make corrals, which makes it easier to sort the goats, rather than having to chase the animals around a big, square fence. This is particularly so during the summer pasturing months. The panels can also be used to make alleyways to more easily herd the goats. Currently, 16-foot stock panels with wood around the outside are used. However, Jesse said, they are very flimsy, hard to work with, and the wood is deteriorating, so it must be replaced anyway. Out in the field, Jesse uses electric netting and a trailer to lead the goats from one place to another. The panels would also replace the electric netting.
The panels also have the purpose of supporting the kidding process. Jesse said the plan is to separate kidding goats to smaller pens. This would prevent the mother from wandering after giving birth, and allow her to “mother up.” This also helps familiarize the kid with its mother. He said that in his experience, the best conduct for kidding is to “separate everything out.” Jesse said he personally walks through the kidding areas to monitor the goats’ conditions.
Pamela Goff, vice chairman of the Land Bank commissioners, agreed with Jesse about the need to separate the animals. “I always separated my ewes out with my lambs,” she said. “It is really the proper way of handling birthing.”
Jesse said many of the goats are quite old, and nearing the end of their lives, so breeding the existing goats would be needed to replenish the herd’s numbers. “The reason I wanted to get this in for kidding for next year is not so much a herd increase type of thing,” he said. “It’s more of a replacement of what’s here.”
Edgartown commissioner Steven Ewing asked what can be done about disposing of the old goats, such as selling them as meat. Land Bank executive director James Lengyel said the Land Bank would have to review ways to properly dispose of the goats, and it will be discussed at a later date.
Jesse said he hopes to use the goats throughout the summer. He has already made a list of old goats with problems, and prefers to sell them at a sale barn, or livestock auction, off-Island, if available. “I don’t want to do something like killing 50 goats. That’s ridiculous, and that’s not how we would have to do that,” he said during the meeting.
The Land Bank’s goat program began in 2015 as a method of maintaining open grassland throughout the Island. Jesse is the primary caretaker of the animals. He was originally from South Dakota, and has farmed his whole life. After graduating from South Dakota State University with a degree in wildlife and fisheries sciences, Jesse worked as a fish biologist in California for five years before joining the Land Bank as the goatherd.
Jesse said the herd consists of 140 goats, and they eat invasive plants or plants that threaten to overrun grassy areas. The goats are faster at clearing the area of unwanted plants, compared with chemical sprays or mechanical removal. He said that throughout the winter, the goats are kept at Wapatequa Woods Reservation, located near Vineyard Haven, and fed hay, so they are very excited to eat some greenery in the scenery.
“It seems like invasive plants are their favorite things of all time,” said Jesse to the Times.
On a recent visit to the Aquinnah Headlands Preserve, the goats were eating the young blackberry plants in the area. They will leave to another grazing, based on Jesse’s decision after monitoring the area’s plant life.
The goats are taken to various other parts of the Island as well, many owned by the Land Bank. An example is Waskosim’s Rock Reservation, located in West Tisbury and Chilmark, where the goats eat small oaks so they don’t spread too much into the grasslands. Where they go depends on what plants are being targeted, and what condition the grazing area is in. The main area the herd doesn’t go to is Chappaquiddick Island, due to the difficulty of transporting them by boat.
According to the Land Bank’s Facebook post, the goat program also offers free manure for pickup, when available. If interested, inquiries should be sent to Jesse at email@example.com.