Goats help with upkeep at U-M golf course (Jul 23)

July 23, 2015 – The University of Michigan’s Radrick Farms Golf Course has goats.

And that’s a good thing.

About a month ago, on June 20, the golf course hired the help of 10 Boer goats from Twin Willow Ranch in Milan, which they rented.

Wednesday, July 22, was the goats last day on the course.

Unlike the 1980 hit movie, Caddyshack, this golf course gets along with their animals.

The course has areas of concern in the wooded areas that have been overrun with invasive plant species including poison ivy, buckthorn and honeysuckle, among others.

While the plants aren’t good for the course, the goats enjoy them.

Goats feed on invasive plant species

“They eat the leaves and choke the life out of the plant,” said Paul Scott, general manager of the course.
Dan Mausolf, the course’s superintendent, and a member of the Michigan Golf Course Superintendent Association, said Radrick Farms is the only course in Michigan to use goats for vegetative management.

Some courses in California and Pennsylvania also incorporate goats at their courses, but to the best of their knowledge, Radrick is the only one in the state.

The decision to have goats also boils down to a labor issue.

“We’re already busy maintaining the playing surface,” Scott said. “We don’t have time to attack the woods. We’re stewards of the property.”

Scott said they also considered mowing down the plants, sending a caretaker to pull them by hand and spraying them with chemicals. However, with those options there’s an added cost and with spraying, there’s an environmental issue.

Besides, Scott said the goats are better than a mower.

“We’re letting nature control nature,” he said.

In a way, allowing the goats to eat the invasive plants continues the legacy of Frederick Matthaei Sr. a Michigan alumnus and former regent who donated the property to the University of Michigan in the 1960s.

Matthaei was a pioneer in environmental stewardship and in the 1930s, he purchased the property and converted it from a gravel mine into a farm.

Today, Radrick Farms is now a 18-hole championship course layout set on 275 acres and is celebrating its 50th year in 2015. It’s not uncommon to see wild turkeys, deer, coyotes, hawks and other kinds of birds on the property.

The course is a member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for golf courses and was the first golf course in Michigan to be certified as a clean corporate citizen by the State’s Department of Environmental Quality, according to Scott.

The fruits of the goats’ labor were noticeable. Golfers also took notice of the furry lawnmowers.

“Golfers love them,” said Scott. “We see all kinds of posts on social media about the goats. They love having them around.”

A handful of golfers on Wednesday mentioned that they were going to miss seeing the goats, many of whom they named, as they walked by their area near the 15th hole.

The goats may return periodically from season to season.

“We don’t know about long term,” Scott said. “Does the stuff (invasive species) bounce back? If that’s the case, do we bring the goats back? We just need to see how the area responds.”

During their trial run, the goats stayed on the course property. They were enclosed in an electrical fenced area that protects them from predators, including coyotes.

But Mausolf noted that the goats can get ‘mean quick’ and wasn’t sure if a coyote would even want to bother one.

Additionally, the goats received fresh water daily and the farmer who owns them stopped by for checkups every other day.

For the course and Scott, being environmentally conscious is key for the game.

“If golf is going to survive, we have to be environmentally friendly,” Scott said.

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