By Eugenia Jones
The goats in the Park Circle area next to the Stearns Golf Course Clubhouse aren’t typical goats destined to be live life strictly as pampered pets or to produce meat or milk. Instead, the Stearns goats are on a mission to clear the invasive, crawling plant known as kudzu from the area. Only half-jokingly referred to as “the vine that ate the South,” the invasive kudzu is native to Japan and southeast China and according to “The Nature Conservancy,” was introduced to the United States in 1876 as a forage and ornamental plant. Between the 1930s and 1950s, the Soil Conservation Service touted the vine’s usefulness in soil erosion control and planted it across the South. According to “The Nature Conservancy,” no one anticipated kudzu, which spreads through runners, rhizomes, and vines that root at the nodes to form new plants, would grow and overtake so rapidly-sometimes growing at a rate of one foot per day.
Stearns resident and businessman, JC Egnew, became increasingly concerned kudzu was taking over the area adjacent to the clubhouse and was advised by a friend that goats are a reliable means of getting kudzu under control. Upon further investigation, Egnew discovered kudzu is a very good source of protein and excellent source of food for goat consumption.
Deciding it was time to take action, Egnew purchased four adult nannies (presumed to be Nubian breed) from Ben Jones in Jones Hollow. Two of the adults had young female kids in the spring of 2018. Unfortunately, the following summer, Egnew lost one adult and one young goat to illness. Since then, there have been no health issues, and the goats have done well.
The goats adapted well to their new home and grazing area which includes about a two acre fenced area with an old tennis court-all of which is overrun with kudzu. From mid spring to late fall, the goats have plenty of kudzu to eat. During the winter, Egnew supplements their diet with hay with a taste of molasses and mixed grains. The goats prefer to graze on overhanging leaves and other hanging forage as opposed to eating off the ground. They happily eat baby carrots and other types of green leaves from Egnew’s hands.
During the late summer and fall of 2018, the nannies cleaned up the area fairly well-at least that’s what Egnew thought at the time.
“Unfortunately, with the unusually wet spring and summer this year, the kudzu has come roaring back stronger than ever,” Egnew noted. “In fact, the goats are now completely surrounded with kudzu with the exception of the tennis court which does not support growth of the plant.”
According to Egnew, while the goats have become accustomed to their kudzu diet, he will need to bring in “reinforcements” in the form of larger numbers of goats to control the area’s kudzu.
Egnew’s nanny goats are very friendly and curious about people. They like to see and be seen and can often be seen standing near the fence watching the traffic pass by. They are very passive and communal creatures who enjoy perching on logs or high places so they can see what is happening. Although the nanny goats have not been christened with individual names, the bond between the hoofed creatures and their owner is strong.
“Currently, I’m not on a first name basis with my nannies,” Egnew said with a grin. “Despite that, we do get along very well.”