By Damian Mann
Hungry goats will once again chomp their way through invasive blackberries in Medford this summer if the City Council on Thursday allows an exception to its code prohibiting the use of livestock to control vegetation.
Ern Russell's goat herd, which was a hit last summer at Coyote Trails Nature Center in U.S. Cellular Park, may be snacking on a 6-acre open area near Veranda Park off East McAndrews Road this summer.
"Our residents will love watching them," said Randy Jones, manager of the retirement center. "We can avoid using the toxic chemicals it takes to kill the blackberries, and when the goats are done, they will leave some fertilizer behind them."
The City Council on Thursday will consider an exception that allows the Hungry Goats 4 Hire herd inside the city limits.
Last year, the council approved a pilot project that allowed goats to spend 90 days devouring blackberries at Coyote Trails adjacent to Bear Creek.
Jones said the goats did their job so successfully that some residents and local students wanted to ask the city to allow the goats to munch down the blackberries on a city-owned property next to Veranda Park. He said Veranda will pay $100 a day for about 10 days of work by the goat herd.
Jones said he views this as a multiyear project, because blackberries are a pernicious weed that don't die easily.
"It will be nice to eradicate the blackberries that consume about 50 percent of this property," he said.
The blackberries are growing over a small creek that feeds into Lone Pine Creek.
The goats will be secured inside a solar-powered electric fence under the watchful eyes of two sheep dogs. At night they will be herded into a smaller pen, and the fence will be moved periodically as the goats eat through the thicket.
Lynne Reardon, office manager with Coyote Trails School of Nature, said the goats did such a good job last year that they won't be needed this year.
"We loved having the goats," she said. "They were goat superstars. They do a great job without using chemicals."
After a project to reseed some areas with native plants, Coyote Trails anticipates the goats will be needed again next year.
Russell, who keeps the goats on his Eagle Point farm, said the success of his herd last summer earned them a lot of attention. As a result, the city of Central Point wants to put his goats to work eating blackberries along the Bear Creek Greenway, he said.
He's got another project lined up on Sterling Creek Road south of Jacksonville to put his goats to work on a hillside that's so steep it's difficult for a human to stand upright.
He said the Veranda Park job will take about seven to 10 days, but he said it requires at least three years of follow-up to make sure the blackberries are completely dead.
Russell said he doesn't usually have any problems with escaping goats, although he received a report last year that two of his herd were seen wandering along the Greenway.
It turned out that a couple of pet goats had escaped from someone's property and were finding plenty to eat along the path.
Russell said the more he learns about goats the more he likes them. He has more than 100 goats on his property.
"They're like potato chips — you can't have just one," he said.