by Shaylah Jackson
Staten Island, NY– The goats are back in town.
5 acres of Poison Ivy on a steep hill may seem like a mission to us humans but for these 20 goats, they are not your typical weed wackers.
With no complaints, all they require is lots of clean water and an occasional shady break. Goats are social animals and very friendly, which makes them the perfect candidates for the task at hand.
They are needed for the Vegetation Management Project at Fort Wadsworth specifically for controlling the poison ivy and “obnoxious” weeds on steep inclines near trails where visitors walk.
Other goat farms have worked at Fort Wadsworth’s Gateway National Recreation Area for ten years but this is the first year that Suburban Acres Farm, owned by Adrienne Vento and Izzy Ferluga, will begin their venture.
In preparation for the herd’s temporary position, Ferluga built a goat shelter and groomed the area for the preliminary electric fences.
The goats are transported via horse trailer from their farm in Manalapan, NJ and will reside in Staten Island, NY until September 30th.
Another 6 goats will be sent to Sandy Hook National Park to complete the same mission.
The couple has to go to the location of their goats bi-weekly to visit them and make sure that everything is going okay with the operation.
Starting out with only two goats for the purpose of making cheese, Vento and Ferluga have been goat breeders since 2007 and their herd has grown over 10 times the size they began with.
With over 20 goats, they acquire 5 different breeds. These include Oberhasli, French Alpine, Nigerian Dwarf, Lamancha and African Pygmy.
The goats are not labeled by their binomial nomenclature, they are each given a unique name that separates them from the rest. They are nurtured as children and treated as an extended part of the family.
A typical day at the farm begins at 6 AM with replenishing fresh water, counting the goats, inspecting them to make sure they are in good health (i.e. checking for dehydration), and cleaning out the barn.
“keeping a clean environment is key for a healthy herd,” said Vento while raking the goat manure that she usually piles up to sell for 10 dollars per 5-gallon bucket.
Their philosophy for raising the healthiest and happiest goats is that they have to keep the mother does with their doelings and bucklings for optimal health.
The bucks are kept in their own pens and only let out in October for mating season. They rotationally graze them to different padlocks to let the nutritious cover crop on the farm grow.
“We also do not believe in disbudding goats like other farmers because, the advantages of keeping their horns are protection against dogs and other predators” explained Vento.
“Many people do not know that the horns serve as a ‘radiator’ to help cool the animal.”
The goats are only bottle-fed when they are refused by their mothers. Often times a mother will favor one twin over the other–majority of babies that are born are twins or triplets.
When the goats are not chomping ivy their daily diet consists of hay and grain during the winter, as well as hay and grasses during the summer.
They prefer to eat grasses, bushes, and branches but poison ivy is what they love and they do not get sick from it.
When the duo is not on the farm, Vento is a school teacher at New Brunswick High School and Ferluga works from home. Together they maintain a 5-acre farm rearing sheep, chickens, and goats.
Their life may seem like any other farmers’ but they strive towards sustainability, agriculture, and agritourism.