Weed eaters: Illinois course rents goats

By Elizabeth Owens-Schiele
Published on

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- Goats may not be welcome at Wrigley Field this week, but they're appreciated in Hoffman Estates, where they're chomping on a bit of buckthorn at Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club.

Forty goats from The Green Goats rental company in Monroe, Wis., arrived on Thursday to graze on weeds that have invaded some areas of the course.

Dustin Hugen, the club's golf course superintendent, took a cue from a counterpart in St. Charles when he sought a green, sustainable and cost-effective way to deal with unwanted plants at Hoffman Estates Park District course.

"We were looking for environmentally friendly ways to clear brush without burning, using chemicals or using equipment that has gas and requires labor," he said.

Luckily for him, he said, the goats' favorite food is buckthorn, which he said has begun to crowd out more desirable plants in the course's 30 acres of natural areas. Other invaders include Canadian thistle and Queen Anne's Lace, and though the goats aren't as drawn to those plants, they'll eat them as long as the natural areas are kept green, he said.

Hugen and his crew have set aside about five acres that he hopes the goats will clear in the next two weeks. A goat can munch about 300 square feet of grass in a day, meaning it could be a two- to three-year process to clear out all of the invasive plants on the course.

The animals were set up Thursday inside of a 12-volt electric fence, with jugs of water and salt stick treats, on 1.2 acres along the first hole and the driving range. Once the goats chomp up the grasses there, they'll be moved to the sixth hole behind the parking lot to indulge in another 3.5 acres.

For the last few years, the park district has been mowing to control the invasive plant species, averaging six dumpsters of waste every fall at a cost of $500 a dumpster. Using the goats is about half the price, at $3 per goat per day. The new course maintenance "staff," however, will be supervised around the clock by Hugen and his crew.

He's still not sure yet how they'll handle the waste, hoping it can be spread as fertilizer.

The course will remain open throughout the process, said Brian Bechtold, director of golf operations, adding he's planning some special "goat golf" rates for players. "Customers will see them from the first hole ... but (the goats are) out of harm's way. It's a really bad golf shot if you hit one of them."

Bechtold and Hugen are expecting visitors but hope they'll stop in the pro shop before they head over to check out the goats. As for Hugen, a die-hard Cubs fan and Wrigleyville resident, he's not worried about his new maintenance staff.

"I am not superstitious," Hugen said.

This article was written by Elizabeth Owens-Schiele from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.