Driving on Buford Dam can be one of the most beautiful sights in Forsyth County with Lake Lanier on one side, the Chattahoochee River on the other and a herd of goats eating grass on sharp inclines.
The latter might not be as expected as the others.
For more than 30 years, goats have been in charge of landscaping areas owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Buford Dam, mostly because they can get places not easily accessible by human crews.
“It saves tons of money in manpower and equipment,” Darrell Stone, regional landscape architect with the corps, said. “We call them the ‘Chew Crew’ and they take care of our business. These slopes are 40 percent plus [degrees], so also it’s (for) safety. They’re well-versed in steep slopes and they get on rock precipices and all that.”
Stone said the goats were the idea of a former power plant manager in the late 70s and started with a goat named Caesar.
“When I got here, there was a power plant manager at the time, Wayne Abernathy, he introduced the goats mainly because of all the issues having to mow this area,” Stone said. “We have about three acres in this fenced area and they had to hand-mow (weedeaters, etc.) a lot of this because you can’t get equipment on this piece of property.”
To keep the population under control all 11 of the goats are female, though a male will occasionally be brought in to bring genetic diversity and grow the herd.
Stone said six to eight goats are needed per acre to keep the vegetation manageable, and have a donkey to protect them from dogs and coyotes.
The goats are a crossbreed between pygmy and dwarf goats — unlike Caesar and other former goats, which were of larger breeds.
“If we have to handle them or maintain them, they’re easier to deal with,” Stone said.
The Chew Crew forages on the bramble, briars, poison ivy and poison oak at the dam and their diet is supplemented with a little grain, which Stone said serves a dual purpose to “keep them friendly” and “keep them healthy.”
The “friendliness” of the goats is recognizable as soon as Stone opens the large, mechanical gate between Powerhouse Road and the dam and the goats immediately come to watch him and start bleating for food.
Stone said the goats have become such a popular site on the dam they have fans that alert the corps if any are sick or injured.
“I guess you could say they’re the best public employees the public has,” Stone said. “They work 24 hours [and] don’t gripe and complain about pay.”