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Appleton cemetery hires goats as weed-eaters

12 hungry goats are keeping things tidy at an Appleton cemetery, thanks to an anonymous donor’s fund within the Community Foundation.

Cemeteries are usually quiet places, where one can reflect. But visitors to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Appleton may hear an occasional munching sound, or even a bleat.

The cemetery hired an unusual landscaping crew over the summer – 12 goats – who are earning their keep by tackling the cemetery’s wild buckthorn overgrowth that has overtaken the riverbank along the nine-acre property.

I had to go check it out. So, on a rainy morning, I headed for the cemetery hoping I’d get a glimpse of the goats. They did not disappoint.

All 12 goats marched along a muddy ravine, up to the bridge where I stood with my camera. They stopped to munch the prickly buckthorn, which can damage clothing and human skin – not a deterrent for goats.

Brian Dresang, St. Mary’s Cemetery director

“Being so close to the river we didn’t want to use herbicide, and we’d heard goats love buckthorn, so we started out with five goats and eventually added more,” says Brian Dresang, cemetery director. “They are doing a great job cleaning things up!”

Funding to rent the goats from a local farmer came through an anonymous grant from a family fund within the Community Foundation. The $10,000 grant to St. Mary Parish covers the entire cost of the goat project. The anonymous donor’s fund has long helped the cemetery with several upkeep projects over the years.

“When they heard about the goats, they were intrigued,” Dresang says. “We we pitched the goat idea to the family, they loved the creative, out-of-the-box solution.”

Dresang adds: “This is a really unique relationship as I don’t think there are many cemeteries that would have a family foundation supporting a cemetery, but this family has loved ones buried here, and they’ve just been very, very good to us. There is no way we would be able to do this without them.”

The nine-acre cemetery has two acres of ravines and riverbank, and Dresang says that if the goats don’t finish their work this year, they’ll return in spring.

Do the goats have boundaries? I was curious as to whether the animals would be eating weeds around the headstones or walking paths, but Dresang assured me that the goats were only dining on the ravine and river bank weeds bordered by an electric fence installed just for this job.

Even into late September, the goats are still at it. They’ll go back home to their farm in Black Creek when it gets too cold, or they run out of munchies.

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