A Little Sheep Goes a Long Way in Managing Kudzu
Some things are best left to nature, and controlling invasive vegetation is no exception.
Using an environmentally friendly approach to rid an area on campus of kudzu, Georgia Tech is hosting several four-legged, wooly friends over the next two weeks to assist in removing — or eating — the rapidly growing weed.
“Deploying sheep to help manage vegetation is a very sustainable and effective solution for keeping kudzu under control,” said Anne Boykin-Smith of Capital Planning and Space Management (CPSM). “The sheep love to eat kudzu. But, unlike goats, sheep are more selective and don’t eat the bark or buds on nearby plants and trees.” Kudzu is also a good source of protein for sheep diets.
Last summer, a collaborative effort began between CPSM and Facilities Management’s Design and Construction team to identify overgrown areas and develop a sustainable solution to the kudzu on campus. Kudzu, originally brought to the U.S. from Japan as an ornamental shrub useful in stopping soil erosion, has become a nuisance in the South due to its invasive nature. It can grow up to a foot per day and quickly take over trees. In the age-old struggle with kudzu, traditional herbicides are often used, but chemical treatments produce toxic runoff and are not always effective. Plus, traditional treatments leave behind dead organic material, which can turn into a fire hazard in times of drought.
“Using sheep is a good closed-loop way to take care of kudzu without using fossil fuel energy,” said Marc Weissburg, professor in the School of Biology and co-director of the Center for Biologically Inspired Design. “It shows we take our institutional commitment to sustainability seriously when we are actually making sustainable choices.”
It generally takes sheep no more than two weeks to defoliate a one-acre area. Like most removal systems, it will take repeated treatments, possibly three, to fully deplete the stored root reserves and kill the persistent kudzu plants. The sheep are scheduled to return to campus in the spring for a second grazing period.
“For now, if you see sheep grazing, please let them be,” Boykin-Smith said. “They have important work to do.”