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Boston expands goat-powered landscaping program

Two goats were at work in Hyde Park last year.
Two goats were at work in Hyde Park last year.(David L Ryan/Globe Staff)

The workers contracted by the city last year to clear out two acres of overgrown brush and invasive plants at an urban wild in Hyde Park didn’t do such a baaa-d job. So the landscaping goats are coming back, this time with a larger role in Boston weed-whacking.

In July, officials will bring in three new herds of goats to chomp through brush. Two groups will get to work at the George Wright Golf Course, while another continues eating the poison ivy, buckthorn, and knotweed remaining after last summer’s efforts at the greenspace on West Street.

Ryan Woods, a spokesman from the Parks and Recreation Department, said officials were impressed by the effect that the one herd of four goats had at the parkland a year ago.

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“Because of the success last year, we decided to continue the Goatscaping program,” he said. “It was a dreary-looking space filled with poison ivy. Six weeks later it was an opened-up field.”

The first group of goats will start work July 6 at the West Street site. Two weeks later, eight of their colleagues will come to the golf course, where they’ll be sectioned off in areas overrun by weeds and poison ivy.

Woods said there are places that have gone untouched for years, and are difficult for workers to access.

“Bringing in the goats will let us open those areas up, and we won’t have the noise from the heavy machinery,” he said. “They eat these plants and remove all of the harmful oils and seeds and produce a clean and natural fertilizer to the landscape.”

It also eliminates the need for herbicides.

People golfing on the city-owned course will be able to see the goats munching on bramble, but they will be separated from the animals by solar-powered electric fences.

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On July 31, when the first group of goats finishes up at the urban wild, they will join the goats at the golf course, bringing the total to 12 ivy-eliminating animals working in unison.

A single herd of goats can eat one-third of an acre of shrubbery per week. Consuming plants that are poisonous to people is par for the course in goats’ diet, and doesn’t harm them.

Woods said when the three groups of goats are all together, it will increase productivity.

“When you up the ante and add another herd to the mix, it becomes a competition for them,” he said.

Employing the goats will help the city’s golf course become a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary through Audubon International. To reach that status, the city also installed a beehive on the land, which improves pollination and wildlife management efforts.

The city used a grant to pay for the goats last summer. This year, officials will shell out $11,000 from the Fund for Parks and Recreation in Boston, the department’s nonprofit reserve.

Elaine Philbrick, co-owner of the Goatscaping Co., which is renting out the animals to the parks department, said she’s thrilled to bring the goats back to the area.

“The biggest surprise for us was how much the neighborhood embraced it,” she said. “People just really enjoyed it.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.