Davidson student helps college attack kudzu
by Staff Writer
by Lucia Stacey
DAVIDSON – Davidson College can be a stressful environment, especially as a freshman, as Rebecca McKee discovered this past year. The plethora of tests and the intensity of the workload triggers a lot of stress.
McKee, 19, relieved her stress by running on the college’s cross-country trails. During her time running on the five-mile course, which starts behind the Alvarez student union building. McKee was startled how kudzu had grown over the path.
“Every time I ran past it, I cringed because I knew the vines were spreading and choking out the native species,” McKee said recently.
McKee had seen the same problem at her high school in Asheville, and she went to college officials with the same solution: goatscaping.
Director of Property Management James King and Director of Grounds Maintenance Charles Jolly were more than happy to investigate McKee’s suggestion. And on June 13, 30 goats arrived at the Davidson campus..
Known commonly as “the vine that ate the South” with the capability of growing at the rate of a foot per day, kudzu has long been the bane of gardeners. Once thought of as aesthetically pleasing, kudzu has since become an eyesore, swallowing whole plots of land and smothering other plant life.
Davidson College has wrestled with the kudzu for years to keep it from covering the cross-country trails and the surrounding 5-acre ecological preserve. However, environmental covenants protect the land and prohibit college officials from using chemicals or controlled burns to contain the weed.
Similar environmental covenants protected the land around The Asheville School, where McKee went to high school. Her high school turned to the more eco-friendly solution of goats.
McKee told King and Jolly about Wells Farm, which provided the goats for her high school.
Farmer Ron Searcy has been using goats to clear overgrown land since 1998, and goat renting now makes up 90 percent of the farm’s business. He agreed to rent his troops to the college for $3,000.
Though the goats will stay for two months, anyone walking across Davidson’s campus can see evidence of the goats’ proficiency, after just a week. Each goat will consume 12 to 18 pounds of kudzu a day, and the animals already have cleared an immense field.
Searcy has set up an electric fence around a section of the land, and his goats will graze there for roughly a month. Not only are the goats an alternative to chemicals and fire, but they also provide fertilization and tilling, according to the Wells Farm website.
“Goats are great at maintaining problematic properties because they really cut back on the growth of even the quickest growing species like kudzu,” McKee said. “Over time they can rid property of it completely. They are also a good choice environmentally because they do not greatly disrupt ecosystems in the way that chemicals, large machines or other methods might.”