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Goats Lead the Charge Against Invasive Buckthorn in Brainerd

Goats Grazing
The Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District has enlisted goats to help in the fight against invasive buckthorn.

Buckthorn is a challenging invasive species to eradicate, so land managers have taken to novel methods for eradicating the plant. Adam Maleski is a technician with the Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District, and he joined John Bauer on the KAXE/KBXE Morning Show to discuss the way goats are helping in the fight against buckthorn. Click the "Listen" player at the top of the page to hear the full conversation.

When it comes to Buckthorn, there was a big problem with the invasive species in different areas that Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District oversees. At Rotary Park in Brainerd, there was a massive buckthorn infestation. "This spot had a lot of big mature seed trees that were dropping lots and lots of berries," Maleski said. "We knew there was going to be a seed bank there waiting for the right conditions to come up. We started by having the Conservation Corps of MN come out and cut the 16 foot high buckthorn."

But anyone who has tried to control buckthorn in their woodlot knows, it takes a lot of backbreaking effort to contain it. That's why, three years ago, the SWCD called in an unlikely group to help with eradication.

"We brought in close to 200 goats this year," Maleski said.

Bauer added his support for the plan. "I'd love to wake up in the morning and see 200 goats in my yard. That'd be great!"

"Well, we keep the stocking rate high," Maleski said. "The Goats will get picky towards the end of the plant. They start at the top of the buckthorn and they work their way down to the bottom because the bottom stuff is less desirable. So we keep the stocking rates high because it encourages them to target more. We want them to clean out everything and not just leave bottom leaves."

Even though the goats are on the job, they're creating quite a stir among the local Brainerd population. "This is our third year having the goats at Rotary, and they bring a lot of excitement to the area," Maleski said. "People love going down there. Every time I'm down there checking on them, there are people standing there around the enclosure looking at them. There's even one landowner in Crow Wing, he knows all the goats' names. 'This one is such-and-such, this one is such-and-such.'"

But like all goats, this tribe has caused a bit of trouble in their time in Brainerd. "They got in trouble with law one day; they were conspiring with the neighborhood deer. I think they're paying the deer to run through the electrified fence so they can escape," Maleski said. "They're close to peoples' yards, so as soon as they got out I heard about it."

Despite the brush with Johnny Law, the goats are doing great work on this important conservation task. "The normal way to get rid of buckthorn is a lot of back breaking work," Maleski said. "We're getting free work from the goats so I don't have to go out there and do it!"

John has been listening to KAXE since the early days in 1976, and has worked as our Development Director from 1995-2022. Now semi-retired and writing, sculpting and enjoying the good life, you can hear him on the Morning Show Fridays.
Max Philbrook (he/him) is a Producer at KAXE focused on telling the stories of the people, events, and organizations that make up the fabric of northern Minnesota. Based out of Grand Rapids, Max spends his time reading fiction at the library, seeing sports and live music, and supporting the arts and cultural events in the area. Get in touch with Max if you have a story to tell, an event to publicize, or just want to chat about life in the northland.