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Government

Goats, sheep return to graze at Downers Grove parks

A heard of goats and sheep eats a variety of plants including buckthorn, honeysuckle, roses, spotted knapweed, Queen Anne’s lace and poison ivy at a prairie managed by the Downers Grove Park District. Clearing the invasive species will allow favorable plants to grow.
A heard of goats and sheep eats a variety of plants including buckthorn, honeysuckle, roses, spotted knapweed, Queen Anne’s lace and poison ivy at a prairie managed by the Downers Grove Park District. Clearing the invasive species will allow favorable plants to grow.

DOWNERS GROVE – Geese can routinely be spotted at Patriots Park as they feed along the shores of Barth Pond.

They are not typically joined by goats and sheep, but the animals will be on hand beginning Aug. 14 as they graze in sections of the park at 55th Street and Grand Avenue.

The 68 sheep and goats will be hard at work, as they assist with natural brush management at the park.

The animals arrived in Downers Grove on Aug. 1 and began grazing at the Belmont Prairie Buffer on Walnut Avenue, adjacent to the soccer field. They’ll be at the prairie through Aug. 13.

This is the fourth year the Downers Grove Park District has relied on the goats and sheep to devour many of the invasive species of weeds at the two locations.

Ben Robel, owner of Vegetation Solutions, a Wisconsin-based green business focused on vegetation management through controlled grazing, has offered the service to both rural and urban locations for more than eight years.

“Communities are intrigued by this unique method of natural area management,” Robel said. “Everyone wants to see the goats at work. People just eat this stuff up. They love it.”

He added the work the goats and sheep perform offers many advantages.

First, they can easily navigate areas that are dense with foliage. Once they’re done, crews can access the property to perform follow-up work. Clearing the invasive species will allow favorable plants to grow.

The animals also provide a more environmentally friendly approach to vegetation management.

“It’s an alternative to running chain saws and spraying chemicals,” Robel said.

The herd eats a wide variety of plants including common buckthorn, honeysuckle, roses, spotted knapweed, Queen Anne’s lace and poison ivy. The sheep and goats typically eat 10 percent of their body weight each day, Robel said.

The animals are considered top-down grazers, he said, as they prefer to work from the tallest plants to vegetation on the ground.

"They love pulling branches down from trees," Robel said.

Visitors are welcome, but the Park District asks people not to bother the animals and to keep leashed dogs away from the low-voltage electrical fence that surrounds their paddock.

"It's not a petting zoo where the animals are looking for human contact," Robel said.

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