goats munching plants Munchers on Hooves/YouTube
Goats like these have been hired by Western Michigan University to clear plants from campus.

Western Michigan University's landscaping crew gets the goat of local union

Local union protests the university's use of goats instead of human labor to clear brush from campus.

Western Michigan University is bringing back the goats, and that has gotten the goat of a local labor union.

The university in Kalamazoo says it is bringing in a small herd of goats, as it did last summer, to help control invasive plants that have been damaging campus woodlots, 

But the grounds maintenance initiative has raised the ire of a local union, The Battle Creek Enquirer reports. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has filed a grievance contending that the work the goats are doing is taking away jobs from laid-off union workers.

The grievance asserts that Western Michigan did not notify the union that it was planning to use goat crews on campus, according to a chief steward report.

Last year's pilot project, in which 10 goats from Munchers on Hooves in Coldwater, Mich., gobbled up plants on campus, was deemed a success, so the university again sought their services. This summer, a 20-goat crew is expected to clear about 15 acres on campus before students return for the fall semester.

The university said in a 2016 news release that it was adding in 10 goats to its landscape services staff for a week to combat invasive plant species, particularly buckthorn, honeysuckle, oriental bittersweet and poison ivy.

"The current management practice to combat these species using labor, machinery and chemical herbicides is labor- and capital-intense and fails to improve the site to allow the native community to achieve balance and restore the ecosystem," Gooch wrote in his project proposal.

Gooch said last year that Western Michigan spends about $1,618 to clear one-quarter acre using labor, machinery and herbicides; hiring the goats cost an estimated $1,280 per one-quarter acre.

By cleaning up the acreage, the university will have a more usable and inviting green space, it says. Officials say the goats are a sustainable and economical way of clearing overgrowth and removing invasive plants.

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