A case of the munchies
Chew Crew eats through invasive plants, improving the campus landscape.
For the last three years, the University of Georgia has welcomed unusual visitors to campus: goats. The goats, part of the group known as the Chew Crew, graze on invasive non-native plants on campus. While doing their six-weeks worth of munching every semester, the Chew Crew removes exotic species harmful to the environment.
The Chew Crew uses a method called prescribed grazing, a technique where animals consume unwanted plants from nature. The group got its start in 2012 with a proposal from Zach Richardson, then a student in the College of Environment and Design. Richardson’s proposal was funded by UGA’s Office of Sustainability and has remained a university organization since.
Currently, the organization provides anywhere between seven to 12 goats on campus each semester—four who return each time. The goats, named Junior, Wickett, Bruce and Sylvester, are affectionately known as the “Core Four.”
“Seeing the same goats return is one of the reasons students choose to volunteer,” said Suzie Henderson, a Chew Crew volunteer and second-year ecology major from Lawrenceville. “The ‘Core Four’ are sentimental to the Chew Crew.”
The goats come from two sources: Herdscapes, a local grazing business, and Miss Laurie, the local owner of the “Core Four.” Both take care of the goats, when they aren’t busy grazing on the university campus.
This spring, the goats will munch during the month of April. The Chew Crew initially started out Tanyard Creek, the area beside Bolton Dining Commons that runs next to the Hull Street parking deck. With the success of the Tanyard Creek grazing, the crew has expanded to Driftmier Woods, a forest next to the Driftmier Engineering Center.
While munching, the goats help maintain the quality of the creek and woods and remove unwanted plants, including invasive kudzu, privet, wisteria, paper mulberry and Japanese honeysuckle.
“The invasive species tend to block out native vegetation,” Henderson said. “They’ll outcompete native plants. But when the goats graze on the invasive, exotic plants, they open up the landscape considerably.”
Along with blocking out the native vegetation on campus, the invasive and exotic plants can also be an eyesore on the university’s landscape.
“The unwanted plants can often be an aesthetic problem,” said Ansley McKinney, an Office of Sustainability intern and fourth-year cellular biology major from Orlando, Florida. “When the goats graze on the species, they improve the landscape. They also allow native wildlife to come into Tanyard Creek.”
The Chew Crew has expanded considerably in the past year. With the help of a 2014 Ford College Community Challenge Grant, McKinney developed the Junior Herder program, an after-school group located at Barrow Elementary School. McKinney taught first- through fifth-graders about the ecology and care that goes into Chew Crew. During the program, students divided into groups and picked a research topic related to the Chew Crew. Each week, they met and discussed their topics related to the goats.
Out of the Junior Herder program came a new design for a goat shelter, a project in development by the Chew Crew. The goat shelter will serve as a mobile location for the goats as well as a classroom for those who want to learn about grazing.
“The Junior Herder program turned out to be good hands-on experience for the students,” McKinney said. “With the design the students made, we’re now looking for an affordable trailer to convert into a goat shelter and classroom.”
While the goats are the star of the show, the Chew Crew wouldn’t be where it is without volunteers. Over the last few years, they have picked up more than 740 pounds of trash on over three acres. With the new location of Driftmier Woods this year, they’re expected to collect even more.
“Volunteers can do anything from (creating) chalkboard murals, cleaning up grass in the stream and cutting invasives for the goats to eat,” Henderson said. “We also conduct vegetation surveys before and after the goats graze. Joining Chew Crew allows volunteers to learn more about vegetation techniques and the ecology of streams.”
With the popularity of the grazing goats, the Chew Crew numbers continue to grow. Since 2012, the crew has seen over 500 volunteers made up of UGA students, faculty and staff—and accumulated over 1,500 volunteer hours.
“The Chew Crew appeals not just to ecology majors like me, but to everyone,” Henderson said. “There’s something each person can do to restore the environment. The Chew Crew offers something for everyone.”
To get involved with the Chew Crew, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TanyardCreekChewCrew.
A Chew Crew video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le21DzxW50M.
— Molly Berg, UGA News Service