HILLVIEW, Ill. — Ameren is hoping goats can help a day’s work.
The utility has hired teams of the grass-nibbling creatures to trim vegetation on its Illinois rights-of-way.
“We’re hoping the goats are going to clear the vegetation,” said Dave Schenck, Ameren’s vegetation supervisor.
It’s the first time Ameren has used goats to control vegetation on its rights-of-way, but it’s expected to be both cheaper and easier than having human crews clearing out vegetation by hand or using chainsaws, particularly in dangerous areas.
Plus, goats are able to get into hard-to-reach places.
The goats are grazing on a steep hill to help control vegetation on a 4-acre plot along an Ameren Illinois right-of-way.
Farmer Dustin Ellinger, the goats’ owner, oversees their work.
“I raised goats for 14 years and this is the first year with the Goats on the Go, so this is still somewhat new to me,” Ellinger said. “They’re doing a good job.”
Ellinger set up an electric fence to keep his goats, which take from three to five days to clear 1 acre, in the intended area.
Keeping rights-of-way clear is important to Ameren, which needs easy access to its equipment so crews can make repairs after a storm or other damage. Keeping the vegetation trimmed also keeps it from growing into the lines and causing damage of its own, Schenck said.
“They are clearing the vegetation off the rights-of-way that would have to be done in another way,” Schenck said of the goats.
Ameren also uses other methods, including herbicides, to control vegetation on its rights-of-way. But not every method is suited to every right-of way, Schenck said, noting as an example that herbicides are not suitable for use in wetlands and other areas with protected species.
Large machines are good for turning vegetation into mulch, but it can be difficult — if not impossible — to get large machinery into some areas. Sending in a person armed with a chainsaw also can be costly and sometimes risky.
Sending in the goats was the most cost-effective method.
“We’re keeping folks like our vegetation management teams out of harm’s way because we’re letting the goats in who are much more sure-footed,” said Brian Bretsch, Ameren communications executive.
“The goats love this,” Schenck said. “They’re happy. It’s a playground for them, with food everywhere.”
The goats Ellinger uses in the project are a meat breed that was imported in 1994 from New Zealand. Ellinger has had Kiko goats for seven years, his herd now up to 50 goats.
“I brought the more mature, experienced goats, they work a little better,” Ellinger said. “They’re stronger, taller and have a little more weight so they can push over branches. They do make a difference.”
The hardest part for Ellinger is getting the fence up before the goats get out, he said. After that, the goats do the rest of the work.
“It’s easier when I come back because it’s clear,” Ellinger said.
Ameren also is pleased with how the effort is going.
“It’s a more natural way of (trimming) vegetation,” said Rick Johnson, Ameren’s vegetation manager. “A lot of areas we can’t use herbicide. We can’t use some mechanical equipment because of either the customer or whatever restrictions, so the goats can pose another tool in the toolbox, another opportunity.”