Goats graze with a purpose in Luther College's Roslien Woods

Luther College's Roslien Woods is home to a local goat herd for the next 4-6 weeks as part of a novel restoration project to reduce the abundance of invasive woody shrubs.

"We are working with a local affiliate of Goats on the Go. This 'mob grazing' or 'flash grazing' is intense grazing for a short period of time that targets woody species, including European buckthorn and Amur honeysuckle," said Molly McNicoll, associate professor and Luther's natural areas land manager. "In our native oak-hickory woodlands, the goal is to reduce the negative effects of invasive shrubs on the native understory."

McNicoll further explains that buckthorn and honeysuckle compete with native plants for sunlight and space. In addition, buckthorn produces a secondary compound that can chemically inhibit the growth of nearby plants and animals. Long-term research plots studied by McNicoll and students occur within the grazing area and will allow assessment of the effects of goats on the woodland ecology.

The first grazing/browsing events began on June 22. This will be followed by a rest period when goats are moved to a new plot or site. During the rest period, shrubs use stored resources from stems and roots to produce new shoots by late summer. Goats will be reintroduced for a second grazing, likely in August or September.

"The 'grazing-regrowth-grazing' schedule will deplete new growth and will decrease invasive shrub vigor. When grazed/browsed for two to three consecutive years, most shrubs will have died or substantially set back" said McNicoll.

Roslien Woods is located adjacent to the Luther gardens on Pole Line Road. Trails surrounding the restoration/grazing areas are open to visitors, but please observe the following restrictions for your and the goats' safety: high voltage electric fencing is used to keep the goats enclosed. Do not touch the fence, lean over fencing or enter the goat enclosure. Please keep groups small and noise levels low while the goats get used to their surroundings. All pets must be on leashes and are not allowed to disturb the goats. 

If you want to visit other Luther natural areas with trail access (but no goats), why not hike Hickory Ridge Woods next to central campus or Jewell prairie, south of Roslien Woods. Parking for Jewell prairie is available at the Luther gardens, with the trails accessible by crossing Pole Line Rd.

Contact Molly McNicoll at [email protected] with any questions. To learn more about Luther's natural areas and land stewardship visit www.luther.edu/biology/facilities-natural-areas/natural/ and www.luther.edu/biology/facilities-natural-areas/land-stewardship/.

Stewardship of Luther's natural areas serves to support the educational mission of the college, nurture a human connection with our natural surroundings and fulfill our responsibility to sustain and restore the ecological communities in our care. 

Luther College is home to more than 1,900 undergraduates who explore big questions and take action to benefit people, communities and society. Our 60+ academic programs, experiential approach to learning and welcoming community inspire students to learn actively, live purposefully and lead courageously for a lifetime of impact. Learn more at luther.edu.

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Goats grazing in Roslien Woods