Goats flock to Loomis for clearing underbrush
By JOE SUTTER
The weed-covered hillsides in Loomis Park are getting a cleanup this month from 68 goats.
The Hungry Herd from Lytton was dropped off around 11:45 a.m. by Doug and Jamie Bartels.
They’ve been renting out the goats to cities and other areas for about four years now. The family also farms. Jamie Bartels is a teacher, and Doug does turkey chores for an outfit in Nemaha.
“We stay pretty busy,” Doug Bartels said. “This is the funnest thing we do.”
The goats stepped off their trailer into a roughly five-acre area in the park that’s been surrounded by a temporary electrified fence. There are also security cameras set up to keep an eye on the animals.
The fence will be moved to other areas within the 40-acre park as time passes, Doug Bartels said. He plans to leave the goats here until the end of the month.
“Basically, on a deal like this where it’s overgrown, we bring them in, section it off, and they basically just eat and clean it up,” Doug Bartels said. “It’s a win-win situation for both parties. It’s not very labor intensive. As soon as we get the fence up, the goats do most of the work.”
“Trying to get rid of all those invasive plants that don’t let the grass grow,” Jamie Bartels said. “Hopefully it brings more people to the park and makes the park a little prettier.”
Monday morning was perfect weather for moving animals too, with no rain but cooler temperatures. The goats, including 16 kids, got right to work munching the underbrush, although they were a little shy about posing for pictures.
“They are definitely working animals. Not pets,” Jamie Bartels said.
“The more people come to view them is awesome. We enjoy that and encourage that,” said Doug Bartels. “We do ask that you stay back, and keep dogs on a leash. Obviously the fence is energized, so don’t try to get inside the enclosure or anything like that.”
“They’re fun to watch, for sure,” Jamie Bartels said.
The goats prefer to eat the broadleaf plants that park managers consider weeds, Doug Bartels said. They’ll only munch on the grass if there aren’t enough weeds left. They eat poison ivy without any problems too, and usually aren’t bothered by thorns and thistles.
“They don’t mess with the good grasses, and the good trees,” said Dennis Schulte, who is with the Fort Dodge Parks Foundation.
Schulte recently retired from the USDA’s National Resource Conservation Service.
“I used to be the district conservationist for this county. Then I was transferred to Sac and Calhoun county. These people are from Calhoun County,” Schulte said. “I ran into them different places, and they would talk about the goat projects, doing brush control with cities and so forth.
“I always thought about Loomis because when I was the conservationist over here I was active with the group doing the restoration of the park. I was one of the members along with Jeff (Becker) here that cleared this the hard way – chainsaws, and dragging it. We’ve gotten too old to be doing that now.”
If things go well, Schulte hopes goats could be brought to other parks in Fort Dodge for a cleanup.
“We’ve got all these parks in Fort Dodge that could really use it,” he said. “This is a trial.”
The parks foundation is a nonprofit organization. It funded the Hungry Herd through donations. The city didn’t pay to bring them in, Schulte said.
Doug and Jamie Bartels started renting out their goats when they saw how well the goats could clean their own property.
“We had some, they cleaned up an area on our place first, then we moved them to some neighbors,” Doug Bartels said.
“We just kind of had a thought one night – let’s try to make this a business,” Jamie Bartels said. “It’s been working out pretty good ever since.”
“We’re getting a little bigger every year,” Doug Bartels said.
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