When officials from the Belmont Country Club homeowners association realized that weeds were threatening trees in the neighborhood’s protected areas, they decided to bring in a herd of goats.
Last week, a truckload of about 30 goats arrived in the gated community to begin a five-day feast that association officials hoped would rid the areas of invasive nonnative vegetation.
Belmont Country Club is a 15-year-old golf course community of about 2,150 homes in Ashburn. Parts of the neighborhood have been designated as “tree-save areas,” meaning trees are to be protected from development.
Association General Manager Richard Kuziomko said in an e-mail to residents that an arborist conducted a study on the condition of the trees and found that they were threatened by the unchecked growth of invasive plants such as Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, Japanese barberry and mile-a-minute weed.
“These plants aggressively grow and choke out saplings,” Kuziomko said in the e-mail. “As the older trees die, they are not replaced and eventually, the entire forest is gone.”
“The goal is to give it a fresh start,” said Rushi Shah, president of the homeowners association. “Once new trees are there, once the canopies are there, a lot of these weeds won’t be able to grow anymore. But we’re worried about these trees actually dying because of these invasive species.”
Shah said the association’s board of directors considered hiring a team of workers to remove the invasive plants by hand. Instead, they decided to go “outside the box,” he said.
Enter the goats.
In researching the topic, board members discovered that a herd of goats would serve two purposes.
“The goats have an amazing digestive system,” Shah said. “They not only eat all the plants that are under these trees, native and nonnative, but . . . when they’re done digesting it, their remnants are also used as fertilizer.”
The board voted to contract with a Maryland company, Eco-Goats, to remove the invasive plants on a seven-acre plot. Shah said the $9,200 fee was comparable to the cost of hiring a crew of people to do the job.
On Friday, the goats arrived from Davidsonville, Md. They were herded down a ramp into a wooded area set off by a temporary electric fence. Within a few minutes, they were roaming around the enclosure, munching contentedly on the troublesome vegetation.
Brian Knox, supervising forester for Eco-Goats, said that Maryland and Virginia have done “a really good job” in setting aside green space in new developments but that the regulations do not specify how to keep the green spaces thriving.
“Because you’ve got the long, narrow pieces of the forest land with lots of light getting in there, it stimulates a lot of growth,” Knox said. “Unfortunately, mostly what it stimulates is nonnative invasive plants, which take over and kill the canopy trees, don’t provide much in the way of habitat and just overall don’t really serve the forest environment.”
Shah said the goats have drawn a lot of interest in the community, particularly from children.
“We definitely had a lot of people come out and look over the weekend,” he said in an e-mail.
Knox said that when Eco-Goats started seven years ago, the goats would sometimes be distracted by the human onlookers.
“The goats stopped eating and watched the people,” he said. “Now it’s business as usual.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.