By John Barker, Mobile District public affairs specialist
Sixteen grazing goats, known as the “Chew Crew,” are in charge of trimming the treacherous terrain above Buford Dam, a site run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District.
Since the late 1970s, goats have been “employed” by the Corps to roam the steep hills at the dam, saving contract landscapers from tackling the steep slopes with weed eaters and hedge clippers.
“The slopes exceed 40 percent and there are many drop-offs without any protection,” said Cecil L. Quinley, power project manager. “The goat idea originated with a recommendation by a former powerhouse supervisor, Wayne Abernathy.
“There are safety benefits and labor savings,” he said. “The savings amount to thousands of dollars per year.”
Abernathy unleashed his billy goat, Caesar, launching the Chew Crew concept and the technique has been used by the powerhouse operators ever since.
“There are two areas they help with,” said Quinley. “One is around the Buford Powerhouse, which has approximately four acres of land around it. The other area is adjacent to the powerhouse and has 18 acres.”
As with all Corps projects, each project has a business line, the money stream from which each project is funded. Quinley joked that the goats, too, have business lines. The goats around the powerhouse are under the Hydropower business line; while the goats that graze adjacent to the powerhouse are under the Environmental Stewardship business line.
The dam, originally built in the 1950s, is responsible for power production, flood protection, water supply, navigation, recreation and fish and wildlife management.
The goats munch on vegetation, briers and poison ivy and quench their thirst by seeking out “water pockets” between the rocks. Quinley said they rarely need to see the veterinarian.
The goats might be easy prey to coyotes, but they have a donkey protector that patrols the hills with them.
“The donkey is not their only friend,” Quinley said. “There are social media sites that follow the goats, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. There seems to be a large public following of the goats.”