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Augusta goat program to control vegetation deemed a success
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Thirteen goats that were deployed to eat overgrown grass, weeds and bushes in a subdivision detention pond in August have taken to their job with gusto. - photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS/Augusta Chronicle

AUGUSTA (AP) - Thirteen goats that were deployed to eat overgrown grass, weeds and bushes in a subdivision detention pond in August have taken to their job with gusto.

They ate the grass. They ate the weeds. They ate sprouting trees. After a few months, they had "eaten themselves out of their food source," said Randy Wishard, the Department of Public Health's environmental county manager.

"It was definitely successful," he said. "In fact, it was almost too successful."

Now the goats have been split up and moved to munch on two new overgrown spots.

Using the goats was suggested during a January Richmond County Board of Health meeting. Officials hoped that controlling vegetation would reduce mosquito-breeding sites cheaply. The plan is modeled on other city governments and businesses that have used goats for maintenance and landscaping, including San Francisco and Chapel Hill, N.C.

Augusta primarily uses inmate work crews to clean out 700 detention ponds, straining the city Engineering Services' small pool of resources.

Augusta Commission member Marion Williams took the idea to the city government in May, and it approved purchasing a few goats. Most were provided by Augusta Animal Services. Males were neutered, and all of them microchipped in case one escaped or was stolen from their enclosures.

Wishard said the goats were moved this month from their original location off Sanderling Drive, with the population being split into two groups and placed into detention pond enclosures off Bristol Place and Ramswood Drives.

Wishard is working to determine the most effective number of goats to use at any location.

"Considering how quickly they cleaned up (at Sanderling Drive), we need to figure out how many goats are necessary to clear a set amount of land," Wishard said. "Will one goat clear half an acre in a few weeks? Will five goats clear five acres? We have to figure out the best ratio . It's still too early to really demonstrate that the goats have saved us money, but I can say that have been extremely low maintenance so far. All they need is water. I think you'll really begin to see the results of this program next year."

He said no goats have been harmed or stolen, adding that neighborhood residents have taken to the animals.

"You really can't help but love them when you see them. They become your pets," he said. "The people that live nearby have all been really supportive."

The goats don't bother anybody, he said. They pretty much just eat.

"They don't smell. They're not loud. We've had no complaints," he said.

Ricky Winfrey, 34, who lives near the goat enclosure on Ramswood Drive, said he thought the government was "very smart" to use the animals.

"They haven't caused any problems or anything," Winfrey said. "It's definitely a good idea, and I hope they stay here awhile."