For the humans, some of the foliage growing among the trees in Loomis Park are invasive species that shouldn’t be there.
For the herd of goats grazing there, that foliage is lunch, dinner, breakfast and snacks.
The Hungry Herd, owned by Doug Bartels, of Lytton, made its first appearance at the park along the Des Moines River last year.
This year, there are 33 goats including nine kids. Last year’s herd was 68 goats including 16 kids.
Lori Branderhorst, director of parks, recreation and forestry, said the goats are a great way to get an area cleared out economically and environmentally.
“It’s $2.75 per head per day,” she said. “It’s a pretty economical way to get work done. It’s pretty much a non-budget project.”
The first year’s goat mowing was paid for by the Fort Dodge Parks Foundation. This year’s is a partnership with the foundation and the city of Fort Dodge.
Clearing areas of forest simply isn’t a city budget item, Branderhorst said.
“The city has a lot of urban forest,” she said. “It’s not in the city budget to open up areas and clear invasive species. It’s never been. This was a good thing the Parks Foundation started.”
It would be expensive to pay city crews to go in and clear the area. In addition to the labor cost, they would also have to use machinery and spray to keep the plants from coming back.
This is the third time for the goats on the same area. They munched and dined twice last year.
“It takes three times on the same area to get a good clean removal of invasive species,” Branderhorst said.
Kevin Lunn, parks and forestry superintendent, has been earning the nickname the “Goat Whisperer.”
“We make sure they have water and check the fence,” he said. “As long as the fence stays charged it’s pretty easy.”
So far, there’s only been one “escape.”
“Some of the babies got out,” he said.
Of course, one aspect of the goats on the hillside is that what they eat, gets converted into little pellets that fall to the forest floor and keep the nutrients in the forest.
“They recycle it,” Lunn said.
Branderhorst hopes they can keep coming back.
“I hope we can continue doing it,” she said. “It’s nice and green, more sustainable and we try to do things without chemicals.”
There’s another bonus: people really like the goats.
“The community was pretty excited to have them,” she said.
That includes the members of the Fort Dodge Police Department who stop to make sure the goats are OK as they go through the park on their patrols.
Some of their self portraits, with the goats, can be seen on the department’s Facebook page.