August 19, 2019

Goats to be free landscape labor

SUNDERLAND, MD. — Have you herd? Goats will soon be making their way through Maryland and Northern Virginia, as property owners trade machinery and labor crews for hungry, four-legged landscapers ready to decimate any vegetation in their way.

Mary Bowen, owner of Sunderland-based Green Goats and Prosperity Acres farm, will be putting her herd of more than 70 goats to work from May to October, using them to clear overgrown vegetation in various private and public areas across the state.

Unlike traditional land-clearing methods such as herbicide treatments and excavation services, which can have adverse effects on the environment, goats offer an environmentally-friendly alternative.

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are some of the goats favorite vegetation choices, making the animals perfect for jobs with highly concentrated areas of poisonous plants humans wouldnt dare tackle themselves.

Green Goats

Bowen founded Green Goats three years ago, with the intention of providing a service that would benefit both the environment and the state.

For years, the Bowen family had been showing goats, along with cattle and horses, at local 4-H shows around the state, including the Anne Arundel County Fair in Crownsville and the Maryland State Fair in Timonium.

I wanted to be able to do something with the goats other than showing them. … I actually wanted to utilize them to do what they naturally do, which is forage, Bowen said.

After linking up with Enrique Escobar, a small ruminant specialist and assistant professor at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, Bowen was able to make her plan a reality.

During a workshop in which Escobar recounted past experiences with using goats for land clearing projects in Oklahoma, Bowen saw the potential in bringing the practices to Maryland.

I decided I wanted to be able to develop this business, because I had heard in other states, particularly California, where they use the goats to clear out for firebreaks in the park services … and that was what I really wanted to be able to start doing, Bowen said. Something that is good for our community … good for our state.

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Bowen noted that when using goats, there is no need to dispose of debris, no pollution from machinery, and no need to acquire land clearing permits that might be required for a traditional excavation crew. In addition, the goats provide free fertilizer throughout the course of their stay.

Sometimes you have to use herbicides … theres just no other way to get around it, I understand that, she said, but if we can reduce the amount of herbicides that are used to almost nothing, thats what I prefer and the goats can obliterate any job weve put them on so far.

Brian Knox, owner of Eco-Goats, based in Davidsonville, uses his herd to run a vegetation control and land clearing business much like that of Bowens.

As a natural resource consultant and president of Sustainable Resource Management Inc., Knox first got started with his business after one of his clients mentioned they were looking for a way to put their livestock to use.

Knox said what followed was an experiment that was wildly successful one that would eventually take over his summers as a full-time business, and according to Knox, the popularity of these businesses is on the rise.

Knox said he has consulted goat owners from all over the country, including Indiana, Oregon and Pennsylvania, to aid farmers in their efforts to establish similar businesses.

“Goats are pretty cool”

Goats eat up to 20 percent of their body weight each day, and the length of each project depends on the size of the property and the amount of vegetation both of which also help dictate how many goats Bowen will allot to the job.

Bowen currently runs the business with her two children, Jacqueline, 14, and Jacob, 12, who assist with caring for the goats and setting up each job which is fairly simple, as Bowen only needs to fence in the goats, provide water and leave the animals to take care of the rest.

In the past, the goats have worked on a variety of projects ranging anywhere from historic sites to golf courses, including Mellomar Golf Park in Owings.

In October, nearing the end of last years work season, the Green Goats made news after uncovering what were thought to be eight lost gravesites at St. Ignatius Cemetery in Port Tobacco.

With publicity surrounding goats on the rise, both Bowen and Knox are anticipating a busy summer.

I certainly am seeing a lot of inquires this year from all over the place, Knox said. I usually get some, but right now it seems that there is way more interest than past years.

To most people, goats are pretty cool!

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Goats to be free landscape labor

Is Poison Ivy Getting Nastier?

By: Jenny Marder

The shiny three leaves of poison ivy. Photo by Susan Biddle/The Washington Post/Getty Images.

Ahh, summertime. A long wilderness hike followed by a refreshing swim in the river followed by — music screeches to halt — a nasty case of poison ivy. Few things can ruin a good romp in the woods like the three-leaved plant, which, when touched, is known to cause oozing and itchy blisters. And with warmer weather, it’s out, it’s rampant, and some scientists say that climate change could be making it worse.

A much-cited study published in 2006 found that a rise in carbon dioxide both fueled the growth of the weed and increased the potency of urushiol, the oil at the root of the rash. Poison oak and poison sumac also contain urushiol, and all three can cause the blistering rash. Airborne sap-coated soot can also get into the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory system, according to the National Park Service.

That study involved planting PVC pipes into six plots of North Carolina’s 7,000-acre Duke Forest. Carbon dioxide was blown through holes in the pipes, which stretched to the tops of the tree canopies, while another control group of pipes vented normal air. Of all the plants, poison ivy was the hands-down winner, said Jacqueline Mohan, assistant professor at the University of Georgia and the study’s lead author.

“It was the most responsive species to the higher carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Mohan said. “The average little tree that I measured grew 8 percent faster. And poison ivy grew 149 percent faster than it would have under ambient, normal carbon dioxide conditions.”

The logic lies in photosynthesis, she says. Whereas trees waste carbohydrates on building support structures — trunks, bark and branches — vines bypass this by using fences and other existing structures as their support. They also contain more leafy surface area, allowing them to draw in more CO2 and make more plant food, which they use to make more leaves, further driving photosynthesis and continuing the cycle. (Anything that’s brown is not photosynthesizing, Mohan says.)

Map by Elizabeth Shell.

And the carbon dioxide appeared to make the plant as much as 30 percent more potent.

Here’s how Mohan explains it. If you compare butter and olive oil, butter is more saturated than olive oil. Butter is made up of single carbon-carbon bonds, which translates to a denser substance. Oil is less saturated, and thus more fluid. The team found that when urushiol became more unsaturated — more like olive oil — it was able to interact more readily with human skin cells.

“We found that under high CO2 conditions, the urushiol becomes 30 percent more unsaturated, or should we just say 30 percent more nasty,” Mohan said.

A separate study in Wisconsin on the change in vine abundance over a 45-year period found the opposite. Using a data set published in 1959 on Wisconsin forests, researchers resurveyed the same area, using the same methods, and found that the amount of woody vines had not changed over the 45 years. This is despite the fact that atmospheric CO2 had risen globally by more than 20 percent over the 45-year study period. Not only that, but poison ivy in that forest was the only woody vine to decrease significantly over this period.

So what might explain the discrepancy? One explanation is that woody vines like poison ivy might be limited more by freezing winter temperatures than they are fueled by carbon dioxide.

“It may be too cold for the vines to take advantage of the higher CO2,” said Stefan Schnitzer, author of the Wisconsin study and related commentary and a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Vessels that carry water inside the plant stems can freeze under cold conditions, ultimately killing the plant.

Mohan added that a surge in white-tailed deer, driven by a drop in hunting, may explain the decrease. Deer are known to consume large amounts of the weed. To know for sure what role the CO2 played, you’d have to build fencing and study the poison ivy over time in areas untouched by the deer, she said.

“But I’d be willing to bet the barn on this one,” Mohan said.

Schnitzer stresses that he’s not disputing Mohan’s paper, which he calls “impeccable work.” But he and Mohan both say it shows the need for more research.

“Poison ivy in my opinion is a remarkably understudied species,” Mohan said. “Most scientists avoid it.”

Not so surprising, since people who study it can end up with terrible cases of poison ivy, pointed out William Schlesinger, president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, who researches the impact of rising carbon dioxide on desert and forest systems and was a co-author the Duke Forest study. And the allergy is known to worsen with exposure.

Mohan is no exception. As a result of her work, Mohan, who was only mildly allergic to poison ivy initially, is now highly allergic to it, and also to mangoes, which contain a similar oil. “I get this awful looking rash all over the bottom of my face,” she said. “It’s called mango mouth.”

The fact that these two papers got set up as point-counterpoint could distract from understanding the bigger picture, Schlesinger said.

“We know that a lot of plants grow faster at high CO2, and vines are among the best at that, and poison ivy’s a vine, and we know that CO2 is rising,” he said. “If someone were to look at this and criticize it, I’d say, ‘what more do you want?'”

What is well known, Schlesinger added, is that vines, such as kudzu and honeysuckle, grow exceptionally well under high CO2 conditions.

Development also fuels poison ivy’s growth, he said, by creating more roadside edges, which the weed loves. The plant doesn’t do well in deep shade, he said.

“Poison ivy is probably an extreme example of a plant responding to high CO2,” he said.

There are medical consequences linked to the CO2 phenomenon, too. More plants produce more pollen, which means more particles to get lodged in the lungs of people who suffer from emphysema, hay fever and asthma.

The increase in woody vines is particularly threatening to the role that trees play in tempering climate change. Vines like kudzu, for example, can smother the trees that are pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“I’ve driven miles and miles of highway, looking out at a green carpet of kudzu,” Mohan said. “We could be changing the whole structure of biomes with these crazy, crazy vines. It’s almost like a sci-fi movie. This ‘Little Biome of Horrors.'”

Correction: The map in an earlier version of this post had poison oak missing from several states where it is present, including Oregon, Washington, Nevada.

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Is Poison Ivy Getting Nastier?

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