Goats and Poison Ivy
Goats have a knack of eating things that no other animal will eat. What a goat loves more than life itself is the tender branches and leaves of a weeping willow tree. You can pretty much get a goat to follow you into the gates of hell if you have some of these branches. Mostly, a goat that is not in a tree likes to eat weeds. It will go around alfalfa, clover, and all manor of edible grasses to eat every weed it can get. The weed it likes best is poison ivy.
Those of us back east know poison ivy for the scourge that it is. It will grow anywhere, but mainly it loves to climb in thickets of trees. For the small percentage of people who are allergic to it, it can be life-threatening. The shiny leaves contain an oil that is a blistering agent. The blisters weep and carry the oil to other patches of skin. So somebody susceptible to poison ivy can contract it, then through scratching and perspiring can spread it to adjacent areas of skin. The one remedy in every medicine chest is calamine lotion, a heavy pink liquid that is slathered over the rash and keeps the afflicted from scratching long enough for the rash to heal. As a youngster, I’ve seen other kids literally coated with the stuff. My sister was allergic and would come down with a horrendous case every summer. One time a farmer about a quarter-mile away burned the weeds off his field and she breathed in the smoke. She wound up in the hospital with the rash inside her air passages.
This brings us back to goats. Goats love poison ivy. If you have a stand of poison ivy, a few well-placed goats can virtually eat it into oblivion in a few days. Some people use the milk of goats who have eaten it to obtain a kind of immunity (see Goat Peyton Place post). I had a buddy at work who owned a much larger farm close by. He asked to borrow my goats to eat his poison ivy patch. I agreed, because what are friends for? I told him to be careful. Goats are greedy. Given access, they will go deep into the patch in search of more tender leaves. The result is that the tethered goat will become hopelessly tangled requiring the farmer to go into the patch to rescue the goat. So a strategy must be used.
I use a corkscrew stake with a universal anchor for the nylon tether. This is no guarantee that the goat still won’t get tangled up, but it gives you the best chance of success. Carefully measure the length of the rope so that the goat can just barely reach the outer leaves of the patch. As the patch disappears, continually move the stake closer and closer. Two or three coordinated goats, and pretty soon, no more poison ivy.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, we were planning a driving trip to Canada. I loaded the goats into a cage on the back of my pickup along with the ropes and stakes. I showed my buddy how to space the goats, wished him luck, and left.
After a week, the patch should’ve been long gone. When I came by to collect the goats, it was hardly half gone. The day was hot, about 95F and very humid. My buddy came out of his house to greet me wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt with the tell-tale pink peaking through.
He had staked the goats too close and spent an hour in the patch trying to untangle them.
Goats. With great power comes great responsibility.