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The holidays are over, which means it's time to figure out how to dispose of your Christmas tree in an ecologically friendly manner. If you happen to live in the Amherst, Mass., area, you have a particularly cool option: Have it eaten by goats.
Hope Crolius of The Goat Girls, an Amherst-based lawn care service that uses — you guessed it — goats instead of machines, says that when she first got goats, she was surprised to discover their taste for evergreens. "I was so shocked to see these animals enjoying these spiky things," she says. "Then I read up on it and found that conifers are loaded with vitamin C and minerals that the goats crave, especially in winter."
Last year she put out a small advertisement offering to dispose of local Christmas trees, and the next thing she knew she was deluged with trees — and media attention. "I could not believe the response," she says. "For two weeks the phone didn't stop ringing. We had to turn away a couple hundred people."
After making sure the trees were free of forgotten ornaments and stray tinsel, they would be presented to the goats in their pens, where they demolished them. "They denuded it — they eat the needles, the tender tips. And they'll gnaw on the wood — there are tons of nutrients in the layer under the bark," Crolius says. Then the leftover trunks were burned.
Christmas is a special occasion, but these goats are experts in getting rid of unwanted vegetation year-round. The Goat Girls is one of a growing number of companies that hire out goats to get rid of unwanted vegetation, including invasive species. While there are lots of critters that eat plants, goats couldn't be more perfectly designed for this particular job.
"Goats are very good at and designed for eating the plants that our business specializes in dealing with," says Brian Knox of Eco-Goats in Maryland. "We specialize in forest edge. Most of it is overrun in invasive species."
Goats are light and agile, so they don't pack down the soil, and they don't like to get wet, so they will graze right up to the edge of a stream. And their droppings are actually good fertilizer. "We call them slow-release pellets," he says.
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