Would you ever think sheep could be used in the place of a lawn mower? How could an animal do the same job as a piece of lawn equipment?! Well, in the case of managing kudzu, sheep (and goats) are doing a great job of keeping the invasive species at baaah. Uh… I mean bay.
A couple of weeks ago, I joined a few members of my learning community on a trip to visit some live action kudzu eating. The sheep we visited were part of a company named Ewe-niversally Green (clever, eh?) which specializes in the removal of invasive plants, particularly kudzu. The company is currently working with Trees Atlanta, clearing multiple acres of kudzu from the metro area each week.
What is an invasive species and why are they bad, you ask?
An invasive species can be any organism (both native and non-native) in an environment which grows at a rate which impedes the natural order. Every ecosystem is comprised of multiple types of organisms in balance, and if a new species is introduced or if a native species begins to dominate the system, this balance can be thrown off. Kudzu, like other invasive species, intrudes on the naturally occurring species by out competing them for resources. Over time, if the invasive species is left to prosper, a decrease in biodiversity could result and the ecosystem could crash if the invasive species caused too much damage to the natural order of the ecosystem.
So how are invasive plant species typically removed?
Usually, kudzu is maintained via mowing or by the use of chemicals. By using sheep instead of traditional methods, the natural habitat is conserved in a more sustainable, “eco-friendly” fashion. The risk of funky herbicides seeping into the soil or water supply is greatly decreased, or potentially eliminated completely. Plus, the sheep are supplied with yummy vegetation which makes them quite content.
Sheep Fun Facts:
The sheep we visited (there were about 100 of them, including a few goats) could easily clear an acre of kudzu a day! They can also clear foliage off trees up to about seven (7) feet from the ground!
One sheep dog (a super cute Border Collie where we went) can herd around 1,000 sheep/goats by itself. The shepherd uses different whistle patterns to direct the well trained pup where to go and what to do. It’s quite spectacular!
And poison ivy? They love it! It’s their equivalent of a tasty candy bar! Azaleas and rhododendrons, though, are poisonous to the sheep.
Brian Cash at Ewe-niversally Green
Photos taken by Taylor James