By Arielle Dollinger
A group of wide-eyed, floppy-eared goats arrived at a local preserve this week to dine on invasive plant species whose uncontrolled growth could overtake native plants.
The Anglo-Nubians – a breed of goat developed in England through crossbreeding with goats of African or Middle Eastern origin and known for their floppy ears – traveled on Wednesday from upstate New York to Oak Brush Plains State Preserve, on the shared borders of the towns of Huntington, Babylon and Islip, as participants in an experimental effort by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to eliminate invasive plant species.
Ten goats will find a temporary home within a 6-acre enclosure on the grounds of the DEC-managed preserve.
Five goats visited on Wednesday, but were not here to stay. They and five others will return later this week to begin a four-month stay on the grounds of the preserve.
“The arrival of these goats gives us a new tool in our arsenal to control invasive species on the property,” said DEC Regional Director Peter A. Scully. “Hopefully, they will bring a voracious appetite which will soon rid this section of the preserve of these quickly spreading invasive species.”
Non-native species like autumn olive and mugwort, according to the DEC, are overrunning the 812-acre preserve’s native plants and putting the area at risk for such dilemmas as loss of wildlife and tree species and habitat degradation and loss.
The borders of the goats’ living space will be marked by a solar-powered electric fence. In late September, they will take their skills elsewhere.
The goats’ ride, and caretaker, is New York-native Lawrence Cihnek.
Cihnek had goats as a milk herd in the 1980s, but took a break from goat ownership during his career in advertising. When he retired from the advertisement business, he figured that he would move to Rhinebeck to make and sell goat cheese.
He did move to Rhinebeck; he has never made any goat cheese.
After receiving and responding to an email from a man in Statan Island looking for a New York goat herder, Cihnek found his way into the invasive species management business. His “retirement” now involves working 60 hours a week, caring for and transporting his goats. He has goats in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
The goats Cihnek brings to each location are those he decides are best-suited to the need at hand.
“They’ve got to be calm enough that they’re not going to run away if they escape,” he said.
And the “crazy goats” that would run through a fence are the ones who are not placed in a location with a fence that is electric.