Landscape Architect with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Darrell Stone feeds a branch of leaves to one of the goats which maintains the land surrounding the Buford Dam powerhouse at Lake Lanier. (Photo: Frank Reddy)
Goats Cut Grass in Buford
Due to the terrain which is predominately slope, nine goats are used to maintain the grass surrounding the Buford Dam powerhouse at Lake Lanier.
BUFORD — In the beginning, there was Caesar.
A billy goat bent on breeding with any nanny goat in sight, Caesar was the first of his kind to roam the steep, green hills that rose above Buford Dam.
Caesar was the paterfamilias — the founding member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “Chew Crew” at the dam site.
It was the late 1970s when Caesar’s owner, Wayne Abernathy — a supervisor at the dam — devised a plan to keep contractors from having to trim knee-deep brush and bramble which grew on treacherous slopes above the structure.
Turned out, it was a brilliant notion.
Letting goats graze the grounds kept landscapers from risking life and limb — dangling before the scary precipice — while they moved through the vegetation with weed eaters and hedge clippers (the grade was too steep for mowers).
And as an added bonus, it saved the federal agency some money.
“The amount of savings was a huge benefit to the government,” said corps landscape architect Darrell Stone. “They normally had a crew of three or four guys out there mowing it, and now you’ve got the goats here doing the job more efficiently, more effectively and more safely.”
Caesar’s grandkids and great-grandkids still roam the hills above the dam, which was built in the 1950s for flood protection, power production, water supply, navigation, recreation and fish and wildlife management.
In total, there’s currently 11 goats — all female. The herd walks the grounds with a donkey, which Stone said protects the nanny goats from predators such as wild dogs or coyotes.
“The donkey will defend the goats, and the nanny goats will adopt the donkey as their protector,” he said.
The animals have three acres of grazing space, which includes two of their favorite snacks: briers and poison ivy. During periods of heavy rain — like right now — the goats feast on the fast-growing vegetation.
“Water pockets” in the rocks provide plenty of drinking opportunities.
Stone said that in the winter, corps staff will “supplement their diet with a little bit of corn … if we have to perform any veterinary services we can get them to come, and the corn coaxes them on down the hill.”
But they prefer it way up there. “It’s a natural instinct. They like to have a good vantage point so they can see predators from far away,” he said.
Unlike humans, who generally prefer flat ground.
Perhaps that’s why three decades ago as he watched landscaping contractors negotiate steep slopes above the dam, Wayne Abernathy had his “aha” moment.
Thanks to his decision, Caesar and his progeny grew fat and happy, grazing on grass above the dam. It was certainly the best thing that ever happened to the billy goat (who lived to be 18 years old), and it worked all right for the corps of engineers too.