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Silver Threads: Here today, goat tomorrow

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

The other night, as I was making a final meditative circuit of our big back porch before going to bed, I heard the distinctive and plaintive bleating of a goat.

The “wilderness” area of Brechtel Park is just across a canal from our yard, and I envisioned one trapped amidst the underbrush, bleeding from the thorns, caught in the vines, unable to get back to wherever in New Orleans he could possibly have come from. Were I at least 20 years younger, unbothered by hip and back problems and still in possession of good night vision, I might have gone over to help. I worried about him -- or her. What if she was in kid-birth?

I don’t think goats are scary. My little sister did, though, when she was 3. While visiting at a farmhouse, she had to run three laps around a goat -- screaming and yelling “Mama! Mama!” -- to escape the attentions of one of the critters. Bleating “Maaa maaa! Maaa maaa,” he badly wanted the ice cream cone she was eating. I was 6, and doubled up with the giggles.

The sound of the goat’s bleating wafted across the canal on another evening, but by that time I’d heard that the animals are being used to do some of the landscaping in the park and read the nola.com article, “Goats are the weed-eaters at Brechtel Park in Algiers.”

Instead of spending as much as $3,000 a week on manual labor, park administrators paid the same amount to hire a dozen goats to eat the weeds over a six-month period.

Goats have been used by humans to clear unwanted vegetation for centuries, says Wikipedia. “They have been described as "eating machines" and "biological control agents." There has been a resurgence of this in North America since 1990, when herds were used to clear dry brush from California hillsides thought to be endangered by potential wildfires. This form of using goats to clear land is sometimes known as conservation grazing.

“Since then, numerous public and private agencies have hired private herds to perform similar tasks. This practice has become popular in the Pacific Northwest, where they are used to remove invasive species not easily removed by humans, including blackberry vines with thorns and poison oak.”

It’s a shame our city fathers weren’t into this goat thing just after Hurricane Katrina hit. The weeds that grew up when the floodwaters receded could have been taken care of relatively quickly. And check out those vines encasing blocks of blighted houses -- if goats eat kudzu, and they do, that growth could have been stopped at the roots.

One of my pet peeves is the weeds and trash in the fence along the unused Brechtel golf course on Behrman Highway; I was envisioning a goat cleanup along the road until I read that these animals don’t really eat trash, just pick up objects that smell interesting. Well then, since nobody’s doing anything to clear it, hire a goat keeper to march along the road and take care of the inedible stuff first.

Goats are smart -- the one that chased my sister had walked up a woodpile along a fence and hopped over and down to get to her -- and I’m now expecting an invasion from across the canal any day. That will come when Brechtel looks like a fancy botanical garden and the four-legged groundskeepers are attracted to the weeds in my flowerbeds.

And I can’t go away without telling you that when googling “new orleans/goats” you get a list of restaurants at which “cabrito” presumably is on the menu. Kinda reminds you of where our town’s priorities are, doesn‘t it?

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]