HARBERT — Members of the Prairie Club have a long and proud history of being environmentally friendly and conservation minded, so when it came time to look at some ways to try to rid their Camp Hazelhurst property in Harbert of invasive non-native plant species they sought to do it in the most natural way available — by renting a hungry herd of goats to get the job done.
The goats were delivered by Garrett and Gina Fickle, who run their “Munchers On Hooves” business out of Coldwater, Mich.
They bring portable fencing along with their goats so they can be relocated on properties to places where the invasive plant species are especially entrenched.
During a recent Saturday evening program at Camp Hazelhurst’s Red Barn, the Fickles talked about their goats and their business that keeps growing as their goats continue to reproduce.
Garrett Fickle spoke about the many benefits of getting their goats to feast on plants that were crowding out the more desirable native species that belong in our landscape.
“We’ve been at this for four years now, and we bring the goats in so they can take out what you don’t want,” he explained. “They’ll eat most invasive species including Garlic Mustard, Oriental Bittersweet, Buckthorn, Japanese Knotweed and Purple Loosestrife.
“They’re at work on site 24 hours a day, and they can get to places where people and machinery can’t go,” he continued. “They’re also quiet, and they’re interesting animals to watch. They’re environmentally friendly, and they also eliminate the need to use chemicals to eliminate unwanted plants and bushes.
Fickle explained that the unique anatomy of the goats helped to make them mighty munching machines.
“Goats have stomachs with four separate compartments or chambers,” he said. “The largest chamber is the rumen, and adult goats are known as ‘ruminant’ animals. The rumen can hold three to six gallons of material, and it’s full of microorganisms such as bacteria and protozoa that are responsible for breaking down the roughage (plant material) that has been ingested.
“It is estimated that goats have between 43,000 and 60,000 jaw movements per day, and each one can eat between 3 – 5 lbs. of vegetation per day, so basically the unwanted plant material goes in one end of the animal, and then it comes out the other end as fertilizer,” he added with a smile.
He said that goats dislike wet or muddy landscape conditions, so the sandy soil and sand dunes of Camp Hazelhurst was very much to their liking.
Some of the goats made it to college when they were summoned to the Western Michigan University campus where personnel there had the smart idea of putting them to work on sections of the property that invasives had taken over, most notably Oriental Bittersweet.
Goats have been hired to do similar work all across the country, including keeping vegetation under control at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Fickle noted that the breeds of goats in his herd included Alpines, Boers, Nubians and Tottenburgs.
There’s a nice historical tie-in to having goats in Harbert, and it began with the Sandburg family who had a lakefront home just down Prairie Road from Camp Hazelhurst in the Birchwood subdivision from 1928-1945.
Lilian, the wife of the famous Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and poet Carl Sandburg, purchased a small goat herd in 1935, and they named their property the “Chikaming Goat Farm.”
Lilian’s goat breeding program became almost as famous as her husband’s writings, and she garnered national recognition for the high milk production her prized goats achieved.
Unfortunately, the severe winter weather conditions often experienced in Harbor Country prompted the Sandburg family and their beloved goats to relocate to the milder climate of Flat Rock, North Carolina.
Further information pertaining to the Sandburgs and their time in Harbert may be found on the historical signage located at Harbert Community Park, and on the plaque produced to honor them located by the entrance of Chikaming Township Center.
Fortunately, the Fickles have no plans to leave Michigan, and during their spare time they produce and market their homemade goat milk soap.
During the wintertime their goats are kept warm and well-fed with hay, taking a “vacation” from their regular munching maintenance work until another spring rolls around, and when the herd is hungry invasive species should be scared.
As the Prairie Clubbers at Camp Hazelhurst discovered, hiring this movable herd of goats was a very good move.
To contact the Fickles and their “Munchers On Hooves” business you may phone (517) 403-2138 or access their website at: munchersonhooves.weebly.com.