Chattanooga’s goats have become unofficial city mascots since the Public Works Department decided last year to let them roam a city-owned section of the ridge to nibble the kudzu, the fast-growing vine that throttles the Southern landscape.
The Missionary Ridge goats and the project’s tragicomic turns have created headlines, inspired a folk ballad and invoked more than their share of goat-themed chuckles.
On Missionary Ridge, which bisects Chattanooga and where homes command stunning views of the valley below, the battle with kudzu is constant. Of particular worry for the city were vines that draped over the mouth of the McCallie Tunnel, which cuts through the ridge.
Enter the goats. Mr. Jeansonne, after reading an article on the subject, persuaded city officials to hire a local farmer to graze his herd over the tunnel. When the farmer released the herd last fall, the experiment took some unexpected turns. Pranksters put up “goats working” signs. City officials took them down, with some stern words.
Guard donkeys accompanying the herd earned more guffaws and proved ineffective when dogs attacked, killing two goats and mauling a third. This year, llamas replaced the donkeys.
There have been the logistical problems of goat-proof fences, gawkers and the live electric wire. Mr. Jeansonne himself roped an escapee and hauled it back to the pen.
But the headaches have been worth it, he said. Walking a fence line, he held one hand high to show the height of the kudzu before the herd was released. The vines are gone now from the tunnel and the hillside above, some areas newly planted with grass.
“It was kudzu up to an elephant’s eye,” Mr. Jeansonne said.
The city plans to use goats to clear the tunnel’s east entrance, and recently, officials sponsored a four-day academy for farmers, hoping to stimulate a micro-industry of kudzu-fighting herds-for-hire.
Attention enterprising yeoman farmers! This could be a great business opportunity.
As for us, we’ve had mixed results with getting goats to clear big swaths of brush. They certainly do eat it — but they also eat all the things you don’t want them to eat. That means goats can’t simply be turned loose on a cultivated property. The portable electric fencing would probably help; that’s not something we’ve investigated. (We don’t have any kind of electric fencing on the property, for fear that our small children would get tangled in it.)