LEXINGTON, Ky. — Avon Golf Course superintendent Don Davis is used to answering golfers questions about the course. Lately though, many of those questions are about a new addition along the fairways and greens — goats.
“Golfers come in just to ask me where the goats are,” Davis said. “They want to see them. They’ve brought a lot of attention, and the golfers like them out there for the most part.”
No, the goats are not roaming free-range around the golf course; instead they are clearing out the rough areas of vegetation from behind the safety of their temporary fences.
Avon Golf Course is owned by Bluegrass Station, which has been cooperating with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Kentucky State University and a few goat producers to try out a ‘greener’ way of vegetation management.
Gary Logsdon, Bluegrass Station environmental manager, said the project on the landfill site has been such a success, they wanted to try them on the golf course as well.
“We set it up as a lease agreement. The producers basically get free pasture, and we get free brush clearing,” Logsdon said. “It’s a win-win for us and for them.”
Several goats are contained in a large, portable, electric-fenced area where they spend the day munching on brush including many troublesome plants. “Goats like woody plants, and they will choose them over grass,” said Terry Hutchens, UK extension goat specialist. “In this location, they’ll clear out most of the brush, so the turf manager can see where he’s going to mow.”
Goats can cut down on mechanical clearing costs, and they are quite efficient. “They eat the woody plants and fertilize the soil at the same time,” Hutchens said. “So in a lot of ways, it’s better than mechanical control.”
One of the cooperators in the project is goat producer Kevin Kidwell of Stamping Ground. He said it’s worked out so well for him, he hasn’t had to give his goats anything but water and minerals while they grazed on the landfill and on the golf course.
“I’m excited about this for a lot of reasons,” he said. “It gives our land a break and helps us eliminate parasite issues, and it’s helping us be a good neighbor. In a year like this where grain prices are high, we try to use pasture as long as possible.”
Kidwell also sees the project as great publicity for the goat industry in Kentucky and hopes it could even lead to higher meat prices for producers.
During a recent vegetation management field day at Avon Golf Course, the keynote speaker was Al Dilley, a tool and die maker turned goat breeder from Glasgow. He started a business called Goat Browsers and markets his goats as the “greener weed eater.”
Dilley said he first learned of “goats for hire” about 25 years ago, and it stuck in his mind. “I lost my job, and I was reading a magazine with a story about the concept again, this time somewhere in Washington state,” he said. “I called someone up there about it, and they said you have to be a little crazy to do it.”
Dilley attended the Tennessee State University Browsing Academy in 2009 and then came home and started his own business. His first client was the land owner of an abandoned cemetery.
“You have to like animals and be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “It’s a niche business, and you’ve really got to get out and shake the bushes, but it can work.”