Umass Lowell uses sheep to maintain a steep slope and eliminate poison ivy

At UMass Lowell, there have been some visitors lately who can’t be encouraged to stop eating and learn table manners. Their goal is to eat just about anything in their path, without restriction.

During the week of July 25, a flock of 45 sheep worked on the grounds of the university’s North Campus, adjacent to the VFW Highway. Instead of being the ones being sheared – as is the usual way of doing things for ruminants – the sheep were busy doing the shearing themselves, shearing and nibbling at the vegetation growing in the field. steep roadside.

“It’s about a 30% grade, which is very difficult and dangerous for anyone using mowers,” said Kevin Block, field operations manager for UMass Lowell. “It’s also a narrow area next to a busy road, which hinders access and safety if we try to use mowers.”

Enter the sheep, rented by Goats To Go from Great Rock Farm in Georgetown. This is the second time the University of Massachusetts has used sheep from Great Rock Farm for grounds maintenance. In 2019, a flock of sheep was working on the same slope, as well as another section of campus with a similar steep slope.

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In total, the sheep team working in the field beginning July 25 was responsible for cutting vegetation on approximately 21,000 square feet of slope on UMass Lowell’s north campus — about half an acre. Most of what they graze there consists of grasses and prairie plants, as well as poison ivy, of which there is an abundance.

A pair of sheep feed on grasses on the UMass Lowell campus, helping to groom the steeply sloping grounds there.

While their approach just involves a lot of “shearing” around, the sheep are kept on task by being put to work in an area hemmed by an electric fence. It helps, Block said, that “sheep also stay together in a flock and don’t leave the flock.”

Public reaction has been entirely positive, he said, noting that “the community loves having the animals on campus.”

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They also realize the many benefits of using sheep.

“It’s more sustainable, since we don’t use any gas-powered equipment to mow it,” Block said. “It’s also much safer for our field crew to have sheep tending to it. It’s a dangerously steep slope to use mowers, and there’s a lot of poison ivy too.”

A sheep feeds itself while helping maintain the steeply sloping grounds of the UMass Lowell campus.

Plus, he added, it’s “cheaper than hiring a landscape contractor or having our field crew mow it.”

The only real downside, Block said, is that the sheep don’t eat everything.

“Some of the more woody plant material they won’t eat,” he said. “So once they’ve finished grazing, our field team may be pulling some vegetation to finish it off.”

Sheep help with grounds maintenance on the UMass Lowell campus.

Say ‘baa’ weed and brush humbug

Jaime Genest is the farmer in charge of the shearing sheep, as well as herds of goats, which Goats to Go rents out for the same purpose. Family-owned Great Rock Farm launched the Goats to Go service in 2012.

This supply of sheep and goats for weed and brush removal projects has taken on a life of its own since then and seems to be intensifying as more and more people begin to adopt greener and greener ways of doing things. more durable.

“It gets busier every year,” Genest said. “People love it, it’s only natural. Sometimes I get to the point where I don’t have enough animals. I’m flat out until the snow starts falling.”

Sheep help manicure steep slopes on the UMass Lowell campus.

The farm has more than 220 sheep and more than 130 goats, in addition to 30 cattle, according to the Goats to Go website. ewe who works at UMass Lowell welcomed 45 lambs this spring, Genest said, while a sister flock of 22 ewes produced multiple sets of twins and triplets, giving birth to 42 lambs this year.

Sheep and goats are employed for everything from residential jobs to weeding and brushing projects needed by municipalities, institutions and businesses.

“Our goats love a challenge when it comes to weeds and poison ivy projects. They help you efficiently clear your yard in suburbs, backyards, and even parks and protected lands to make them more pleasant and usable”, the goats at Go to the notes of the website.

A sheep who helps with manicures on the UMass Lowell campus stops for a drink of water.

And in addition to providing a ground-care alternative to using gas-powered mowers, herds also provide an alternative to using more expensive and environmentally harmful chemical herbicides.

In addition to the work the Goats to Go animals have done for UMass and the City of Lowell, they have also been employed by the School District in Rye, New Hampshire, the Springhill Solar Farm in Bradford, the Covanta Energy, Resource Recovery Installation, and more. in Haverhill, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Charles River Boston, the Parks & Rec Dog Park in Danvers, and the endangered Blanding’s Turtle Habitat in Georgetown.

Sheep manicure ground on the UMass Lowell campus.

Sheep and goats from Great Rock Farm were also employed to cut vegetation at the historic West Parish Cemetery in Andover, “in an effort to uncover hidden and unknown headstones”, according to Goats to Go.

In addition to brush and weed control services, Goats to Go also offers classes and workshops, as well as special events such as goat treks, yoga sessions and cuddle with goats.