Forest Management - Working Lands

Goats and Golden-wings

Caprine Companions Help Manage Warbler Habitat

Forest Management - Working Lands

Goats and Golden-wings

Caprine Companions Help Manage Warbler Habitat

A nanny is a female goat, which must be why goat farmers Shannonrae and Rickie decided to name their business ‘Sh-Nanny-Gans.’ That, in addition to the fact that they lead fun and busy lives keeping up with a herd of incredibly charming Boer goats.

Sh-Nanny-Gans is “going green with goats”. What does this mean? Land management such as grazing, logging with horses, and utilizing alternative forest products is making a comeback. These environmentally-friendly tools reduce air emissions and soil erosion while encouraging sustainable animal farming. Following the principles of sustainable land use, these progressive farmers are ironically bringing back the ways of old. These techniques, used by farmers and foresters years ago, can replace tractors and skid steers and often prove more useful on some of the slopes in the Appalachian Mountains. What’s more, they help maintain critical habitat for birds!

The Boer Sh-Nanny-Gans Goat gang Photo: Aimee Tomcho

Sh-Nanny-Gans is often hired for weed control. Areas that are too difficult to mow, have pervasive invasive plants or require chemical avoidance provide the perfect scenario for Shannonrae. While she must take special precautions when bringing her herd to a new location, ultimately her goats are getting fed. The really cool thing about goats is that they are actually browsers (versus grazers), which means they will munch the leaves, woody stems, and high vegetative growth that many grazing animals will not. They don’t like to eat grass. This makes them the perfect partner in Golden-winged Warbler habitat management.

Goats and golden-wings – who would have thought? In fall 2016, Audubon NC and Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy partnered with Sh-Nanny-Gans to restore Golden-winged Warbler habitat in Avery County, NC. As is often the case, the early successional habitat of hawthorn and goldenrod became overgrown with blackberry stems. While we could have gone in with a bush hog mower, we tried something new this year – goats, adorable and effective goats.

Habitat evaluation and planning with Sh-Nanny-Gans and SAHC Photo: Aimee Tomcho

Using mobile electric fencing set in mosaics across the field, Shannonrae set up 3 paddocks for intensive directed browsing to set back the growth, or succession, of the invading woody stems of the blackberries. In less than one month, two acres of habitat was restored. I hope the Golden-winged Warblers like what they see when they return in the spring.

Click here for a video of the progression on Sh-Nanny-Gan’s Facebook page.

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