While all eyes are on the war between Russia and Ukraine, a silent war between goats and alien vegetation has been brewing in Mzansi. An army of goats were deployed in the Eastern Cape to fight invasive alien plants hindering agricultural productivity.
Goat Army Africa, the organisation behind this well-praised deployment, uses Boer goats with the sole mission of killing and destroying these invasive plants. There are no weapons involved. The goats simply have to eat the plants threatening biodiversity in, among other towns, Cape St. Francis.
According to the organisation’s website, the destruction of alien plants is controlled, organic, substantial and sustainable. It says, “By means of eating, the goat army opens up pathways through the dense undergrowth, giving the handler access to the larger tree trunks.
“The handler fells the tree giving the goats access to the canopy. The felled and leaf stripped trees now expose the build-up alien seedbed to sunlight causing mass germination of alien saplings, that swiftly get annihilated by the army.”
Once the alien seedbed is significantly depleted, new indigenous plants can be reintroduced by simply adding seeds to the goats’ feed. In turn, they happily deposit these seeds in tiny compost manure pellets during their final clean-up graze.
A helluva expensive war
It is estimated that removing alien plants costs South Africa about R2 billion a year. Researchers Brian Wilgen, John Wilson and others found that since 1995, the country spent at least R15 billion fighting invasive plants through various projects such as Working For Water.
The department of environmental affairs identified alien plants such as Port Jackson, wattle and pine as problematic for South Africa’s biodiversity. It therefore has to be removed at all cost.
Pieter Bosman, an Eastern Cape farmer and co-owner of Goat Army Africa, said goats love munching on Port Jackson, which is native to Australia instead of Mzansi’s fynbos. This is a win-win situation. Society gets the benefit of reduced invasive plant species, and goats simply enjoying their meals.
“We realised that goats do eat the Port Jackson, then I got in contact with some of the neighbours and we started clearing their land for them. Then we had a fire, and the regrowth of the Port Jacksons was even better managed by the goats. From there, the brand grew,” explains Bosman.
He describes Goat Army Africa as a unit of militant Boer goats trained to kill and destroy alien plant forms wherever they roam.
“They are dedicated to serve and protect Mother Nature by the eradication of anything unknown. It’s the endurance of the fittest and only the strong will survive, so we breed out weakness so only the best soldiers may keep the future alive.”
The renting out of goats to fight alien plants or for weed control has long been a global practice.
The Guardian earlier reported that across Australia and around the world, mobs of voracious goats are being unleashed in a carefully controlled fashion on unwanted flora, and their appeal lies not just in their sustainability. Those goats eat a huge range of weeds, including blackberry, thistles, scotch broom, honeysuckle and wisteria.
“They’re aided by their prehensile lips, which enable them to negotiate their way around thorns and prickles to reach the tasty greenery. A mob of around a dozen goats can get through a blackberry patch the size of a single-car garage in around a day. It’s a lot nicer watching a goat eat something than watching a lawnmower or a brush cutter.”
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