Chikungunya Virus, Is Georgia at Risk?

From the Georgia Mosquito Control Association newsletter – DIDEEBYCHA

In 2001, the CDC and the Pan American Health Organization jointly released a document entitled Preparedness and Response for Chikungunya Virus Introduction in the Americas.  In late 2013, Chikungunya was found for the first time on islands in the Caribbean, where it has persisted and continued to spread.

Chikungunya fever is an emerging, mosquito-borne disease caused by the Chikungunya virus. It is transmitted predominantly by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, the same species involved in the transmission of dengue.  Chikungunya is an RNA virus that belongs to the Alphavirus genus in the family Togaviridae. The name chikungunya derives from a word in Makonde and roughly means “that which bends,” describing the stooped appearance of persons suffering with the characteristic painful arthralgia.

Epidemics of fever, rash, and arthritis resembling CHIK were reported as early as the 1770s. However, the virus was not isolated from human serum and mosquitoes until an epidemic in Tanzania in 1952−1953.  Subsequent outbreaks occurred in Africa and Asia, many of them affecting small or rural communities.

In Asia in the 1960s, CHIKV strains were isolated during large urban outbreaks in Bangkok, Thailand.  These large outbreaks also occurred in Calcutta and Vellore, India, during the 1960s and 1970s.  After the initial identification of CHIKV, sporadic outbreaks continued to occur, but little activity was reported after the mid-1980s.  In 2004, however, an outbreak originating on the coast of Kenya subsequently spread to Comoros, La Réunion, and several other Indian Ocean islands in the following two years.

From the spring of 2004 to the summer of 2006, an estimated 500,000 cases had occurred. Since 2004, Chikungunya virus had been causing large epidemics of chikungunya fever, with considerable morbidity and suffering. The epidemics had crossed international borders and seas, and the virus had been introduced into at least 19 countries by travelers returning from affected areas.  Because the virus had been introduced into geographic locations where the appropriate vectors are endemic, it was thought likely that the disease would establish itself in new areas of Europe and the Americas.

What about Georgia?  There certainly is a risk of introduction and spread; there is no immunity and appropriate vectors and hosts exist here.  McTighe and Vaidyanathan (2012. Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, Vol. 12:867-871) tested the vector competency of Virginia and Georgia strains of Ae albopictus for CHIK virus and determined that they were all highly competent vectors of this virus. In their conclusions these last authors stated, “Only early and specific detection of human cases coordinated with vector control can reduce the risk of local transmission of CHIKV in the US.”

Chikungunya transmissionHuman Disease Symptoms:

  • High fever (103-104 F)
  • Rash
  • Severe incapacitating arthritis/arthralgia.

o   Generalized

o   Usually acute (several days to several weeks, though 20% of individuals have long-term joint complaints)

  • Hemorrhagic manifestations have been reported (rare)
  • Rarely if ever fatal – may cause encephalitis

These symptoms appear on average 4 to 7 days (but can range from 1 to 12 days) after being bitten by an infected Aedes mosquito.  Infected individuals develop a high titer viremia and can infect mosquitoes during this time period.




Termites are lazy, when they aren’t eating wood

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Termites in garden soil Dowdy
Termites feeding on pieces of wood in garden soil. Image credit: Sharon Dowdy

Those who tackle termites may think the tiny insects spend their days eating wood. But a University of Georgia entomologist says 80 percent of the time they do absolutely nothing.

“As a group, they always look busy. But as individuals, only a few of them actually spend their time digging,” said Brian Forschler, a researcher with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

To control a pest, you first have to know how if operates: its likes and dislikes, what it eats, where it lives, its enemies, etc. Over the years, researchers have made great strides into understanding termite behavior, said Forschler who has studied termites for more than 20 years.

“In the late 1800s to early 1900s they were called white ants. In the 1920s, scientists placed them in a special order (Isoptera) apart from ants. In 2007 they were identified as social cockroaches and classified in the order Blattodea that contains roaches,” Forschler said. “So you see, science isn’t written in stone. It’s constantly being questioned.”

Termites on bait Forschler
Termites feed on bait in a bait station Image credit: Brian Forschler.

Forschler collects termites in wooden bait traps, takes them back to his Athens laboratory and watches them in action.

“We put sections of 4-inch PVC pipe in the ground, and fill (them) with wooden sandwiches. The problem is figuring out what happens while we aren’t there – we are just getting a snapshot view of their lives,” he said.

Over the years, Forschler has tracked termite colonies, collected termites, dyed them blue or red and released them to track their movement. And he’s created artificial termite families to see how they interact outside their home nests.

In one study, his then graduate student Jeff Whittman placed six groups of termites in tiny arenas and video taped their behavior for seven days.

“They are simple creatures. They did about 10 things. (They) stood around, moved, chewed, tunneled, cleaned other termites and defecated,” he said. “They’re like cows and other animals that feed on cellulose. They spend time throwing-up and chewing their cud.”

Termites forage for food for themselves and take food from other termites, but they never share their cud, he said.

The UGA research team found termites to be very clean animals.

“We consistently saw them clean each other. A termite doesn’t clean itself, except for its antenna. They depend on their brothers and sisters to clean them,” he said.

Adult termites (the king and queen) can reportedly live for 20 years, and Forschler has termites in his collection that are over 14 years old.

“I have some in my lab that are 13 to 14 years old from logs in Georgia, and they were likely 4 years old when we collected them. A number of different types of social insects live that long. It’s not unusual,” he said.

Forschler’s research has also revealed that termites are not random foragers. They tend to use the same access points over and over.

On test sites, used since 2000 on UGA Athens campus, 83 percent of the infestations identified by Forschler’s team entered buildings using expansion joints, 11 percent followed cracks in stone foundations, 4 percent liked areas where wood was in contact with the ground and 2 percent used the weep holes in brick veneer.

Forschler has identified the following termite traits:

  • The queens lay most of their eggs in the spring.
  • An average colony contains around 50,000 termites, until they locate a large food resource (like a house, tree stump, or large log). Over the course of a few years that same colony can grow to include hundreds of thousands of termites.
  • Termites need a humid environment to survive.
  • Five species of subterranean termites are native to Georgia and one invasive species, the Formosan subterranean termite.
  • Five of those species swarm and release new adults (kings and queens, called alates) in the late winter and spring (February-May), while one does so in late summer (July-September).
  • Colonies move all the time and often don’t return to the same spot.
  • Termites have to swallow soil-applied termiticides to die, not just touch the pesticide.

For more information on termites, see these UGA publications:

Biology of Subterranean Termites in the Eastern United States

Identifying the Formosan Subterranean Termite

Termite Control Services: Information for the Georgia Property Owner

Boxwood Blight Found in Georgia

Edited from an article by Jean L. Williams-Woodward, Extension Plant Pathologist. Read the entire article here.

Boxwood or Box Blight, caused by the fungus, Cylindrocladium pseudonaviculatum (syn. Cylindrocladium buxicola and Calonectria pseudonaviculata) has been confirmed in two residential landscapes in the Buckhead area of Atlanta.

The source of the introduction to one of the landscapes is unknown as new boxwood plants were not introduced into the landscape. The spores of the pathogen are very sticky and it is possible that the disease was introduced on worker’s tools or clothing. Plants within the second landscape were newly introduced from NC. Once introduced, the disease can be devastating to boxwood in landscapes and nurseries.

Boxwood Blight 2 JWW
Boxwood blight infected dwarf English boxwood in GA showing tan foliage and dieback. (Image by Jean Williams-Woodward)

Hosts: Dwarf English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) is highly susceptible and develops severe symptoms and rapid leaf drop. American or common boxwood (B. sempervirens) cultivars are also very susceptible. Cultivars of Littleleaf (Japanese) and Korean boxwood (B. microphylla and B. sinica, respectively) appear less susceptible because they don’t show severe symptoms and leaf drop, but they are still susceptible.

None of the commercial boxwood cultivars are immune to this disease. In fact, lesser susceptible (e.g. tolerant) cultivars may act as a ‘Trojan Horse’ introducing the disease into landscapes containing more susceptible cultivars.

The value of lesser susceptible cultivars is in the establishment of new boxwood hedges. If planting a new area, use a more tolerant cultivar to lessen your disease pressure in subsequent years. The disease also affects other plants within the Buxaceae family, including Pachysandra terminalis (ground spurge) and Sarcococca sp. (sweet box).

Boxwood blight JWW
Boxwood blight symptoms clockwise from upper left: Tan to gray leaf lesions with a darker purplish border on an English boxwood; Circular, tan spots with a brown border on upper leaves; Tan blighted leaves and bare stems on an infected plant; blackening of stems and browning foliage; and black stem lesions on bare branch tips. (Images by Jean Williams-Woodward)

Management: The best control is exclusion. Do not introduce the disease on infected plants or tools. Inspect all new boxwood plants for symptoms of the disease. Be sure to check the lower leaf canopy and interior stems. Keep new plants isolated and separate from existing boxwoods. Do not apply fungicides to plants in isolation that would mask symptom development. Monitor plants for at least four weeks prior to introducing them into existing plantings.

If Boxwood blight is detected, the infected plants and all fallen leaf debris needs to be bagged on-site and removed from the area to be buried in a landfill to prevent its spread. Transport plants in closed bags. Leaf litter blowing from open trucks could spread the disease to plantings along the roadway. Fallen leaf debris should be vacuumed and bagged, burned on-site or buried. Debris should not be composted. The fungus also produces microsclerotia (small clump of fungal hyphae) within roots and leaf debris of infected plants that allows the fungus to survive for years. Removal of existing garden soil and replacing with new soil is an option, but there is no guarantee that this will completely remove the pathogen.

Boxwood blight cannot be controlled with curative fungicide applications. Fungicides are only effective when applied preventively. Fungicide efficacy trials have shown that fungicides containing chlorothalonil (Daconil, Spectro, Concert II) and fludioxonil (Medallion, Palladium) provided the best control when applied preventively. To a lesser extent, fungicides containing azoxystrobin (Heritage), pyraclostrobin (Pageant), trifloxystrobin (Compass), and thiophanate methyl (Cleary 3336, OHP 6672) provided fair to good preventative control. Most are not labeled for use on either boxwood, Cylindrocladium or both; however, this is changing, so check labels. Remember, spraying plants after the disease is present will NOT control this disease.

Recommendations for Landscapers:

  • Inspect boxwoods on all properties. Look for symptomatic plants. As weather patterns become conducive (wet, humid, warm), disease symptoms may become noticeable and spread rapidly.
  • Submit suspect samples to the UGA Plant Disease Clinic in Athens through county extension offices for disease identification.
  • Train employees and clients on how to identify boxwood blight. Educate them on how easily the disease spreads.
  • Only purchase plants from nurseries that have a Boxwood Blight Compliance Agreement through their State Department of Agriculture. Many plants are brokered, so ask where plants were grown. Keep new plants in isolation and monitor for symptoms prior to installation.
  • Never install or prune or work in boxwoods when plants are wet.
  • Always visit non-infected landscape sites first. Move healthy to suspect diseased areas; never the other way around.
  • Disinfect pruners and other tools frequently within and between different blocks of plants within the same landscape, and especially when moving to different landscapes.
  • The best product is Lysol Concentrate Disinfectant (containing 5.5% O-benzyl-p-chlorophenol). Mix 2.5 Tbsp per gallon of water. This can be made and kept in spray bottles. Tools need to be wet for at least 10 seconds and allowed to dry to be effective.
  • A 10% bleach solution (1:9 part Clorox or 1:14 part Clorox Concentrate) for at least a 10 second soak can also be used, but this will oxidize tools. Soak and then let dry.
  • When leaving a site suspected or known to have boxwood blight, all tools, shoes, and clothing must be disinfected.
  • Get in the habit of wearing clean disposable booties or washing off debris and dirt entirely from soles of shoes between landscapes.
  • Changing and laundering clothes between sites would be ideal; however, it’s impractical. Wearing disposable paper pants is an option.

Find more information here


Red bugs: It’s all over but the itching

Merritt Melancon, news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Forest pathAs children get out of school for the summer, many people will be spending time at outdoor camps or just playing in the woods. Unfortunately, in Georgia, just a few summer hours spent outside can mean coming home with red bug bites.

Red bugs are a type of mite. In their larval stage, when they can cause so much itching and torment, they’re called chiggers. They live along the margins of woods and fields and are particularly common in blackberry bramble patches.

It’s a common misconception that they live in Spanish Moss; they actually live in the undergrowth surrounding the trees that support the moss, said Nancy Hinkle, an entomology professor at the University of Georgia’s Department of Entomology.

Unlike ticks or mosquitos, they don’t feed on the blood of their host but rather their victims’ skin cells.

They don’t carry any diseases, but they can ruin a camping trip or a week at summer with the severe itching caused by their bites, Hinkle said.

“Unfortunately, they tend to collect around places where your clothes are tight,” Hinkle said. “Really, it seems to be the more embarrassing the better.”

The itching is caused by a complex set of chemical processes that the mite uses to harvest and eat its host’s skin cells.

The bugs inject a digestive enzyme into the skin to start breaking down the skin cells. Then they form a hole in the skin so they can access fresher skin cells under the outer layers.

The enzymes and the proteins left behind by the bug cause the skin to become inflamed and to itch.

The interesting part of this process is that the mites don’t even want to dine on human skin cells. They’d much prefer to dine on the skin of lizards and rodents.

The red bug itself usually falls off of its human victim within a few hours of biting them because they can’t survive long on a person’s body. By the time the tell-tale red bumps emerge, the bugs are long-gone, Hinkle said.

“Chiggers can survive on us for less than 24 hours ,” Hinkle said. “As miserable as you are, they are doing worse by the time they fall off.”

So stories of redbugs burrowing under skin or being inside the welts they cause are not true.

There are a few folkloric remedies for red bugs, but while most are not really effective, they don’t really hurt either, Hinkle said.

Covering red bug bites with nail polish, hair spray or nail polish remover will not provide any lasting relief from the bites. However, the sting of applying these products to a bite may distract a person from the itching for a while.

“If you want to paint them with fingernail polish, more power to you,” she said. “When the acetone is burning your skin, it will make you feel better for a while.”

Unfortunately, there’s no way to permanently stop the itch caused by red bugs, Hinkle said.

“Anything that reduces the itching, Benadryl or hydrocortisone cream, will help,” Hinkle said. “It’s purely symptomatic treatment at that point. There’s no cure once you’ve been bitten.”

Individuals who are going berry-picking or participating in other activities in possibly chigger-infested areas should use an insect repellent containing DEET on their bodies and spray their clothing with a product like Repel Permanone Insect Repellent, Duranon Tick Repellent or Sawyer Clothing Insect Repellent.

Parents of red bug victims and adult red bug victims alike should keep an eye out for secondary infections caused by scratching red bug bites. The bites should stop itching after about a week or so, Hinkle said.

Composting in the Community Garden-Guest Post by Amanda Tedrow


Compost Bin at Woodstock Community Garden
Compost Bin at Woodstock Community Garden

Every year, more and more people decide to start a compost pile in their backyard or community garden. By recycling organic materials from the house and yard, composters reduce the amount of material going into the landfill and create a free soil amendment for their yard. Anyone can compost, but the process can be tricky for first-time composters.

Here are a few tips that can improve your composting process and product.

Keep your ratio of carbon to nitrogen as two-thirds carbon and one-third nitrogen. Carbon sources include dead leaves, sticks, branches, shredded paper, dead flowers and sawdust. Nitrogen sources include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags and grass clippings.

Keep your compost pile moist throughout the pile. The microorganisms (bacteria, fungi and microbes) and macroorganisms (earthworms and insects) need this moisture to survive. Your pile should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge. A pile that is too wet will smell, and a pile that is too dry will decompose slowly.

Chop your ingredients before adding them to the pile. The smaller the inputs, the faster they will break down. Small ingredients are much easier for the micro and macroorganisms to consume!

Turn the pile regularly. The center of the pile is where the magic happens. In the center, the compost reaches the high temperature required for decomposition and killing weed seeds in the pile. Turning the pile ensures that all parts reach the center. Use a pitchfork to turn the pile every one to two weeks.

Compost bins at the North Fulton Annex Community Garden
Compost Bins at the North Fulton Annex Community Garden

The minimum size for a compost pile should be 4’x4’x4’. The pile needs to be this large to maintain temperatures for decomposition.

Do not put oily items, dairy or meat in your compost pile. These items will attract pests and rodents, and they can create foul odors in the compost pile.

Don’t limit yourself to just the backyard compost pile. Some gardeners use sheet composting, trench composting, com-posthole-ing, tumblers or vermicomposting. Research what method works best for your lifestyle and embrace it!

If you would like to learn more about composting, consider participating in the Georgia Master Composter Program. Participants of this nine-week program learn the chemistry and microbiology of composting, types of and reasons for composting, backyard composting techniques and tools for sharing this knowledge with their community. They also visit a variety of composting facilities.

The next Georgia Master Composter Program will be held in Athens from January through March, 2015. Registration will begin in November.  As always, your local UGA Extension Agent can help you develop a composting plan for your community garden.

Amanda Tedrow is a UGA Extension Agent for Athens-Clarke County and is affectionately known as the “compost queen!”

Happy Gardening!


UGA Landscape Safety Training Program Moves Online

Safety pub 1Ellen Bauske, UGA Center for Urban Agriculture

Creating beautiful landscapes is rewarding work, but it can also be dangerous. Finding safety training that is easily accessible and takes into consideration language and literacy barriers can be challenging. New workers are hired during the peak season and safety training overlaps with the daily work load.

The Safety Training Program, housed at the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture, is successful at overcoming many of these challenges. Over the past three years, 1,923 landscape workers have been trained and received a combined 7,867 contact hours of safety training. We greatly appreciate the industry and UAC support that has made this program successful.

Change is inevitable. The safety training moved online and Rolando Orellana, the program safety trainer, moved to a new position as the UGA Cooperative Extension Agent in Cobb County Cooperative Extension. He can be found in the Cobb County Extension office.

The Safety Makes Sense: Landscape Worker Safety Certificate Course is available at no charge online. With this tool, you can train on your time schedule, rainy day or any day. The training video (a compilation of the Safety Makes Sense series) can be viewed online. It can also be downloaded and saved for use when no Internet is available. The course study guide and supervisor’s key provide talking points and a quick review.

Upon successful completion of the evaluation (70% or better), workers are emailed Certificates of Completion. The publication “Safety Checklists for New Landscape Employees” is also available on Designed to assure and document safety training for new employees, these well-illustrated checklists are suitable for use with both English and Spanish speakers. They cover general safety precautions, equipment safety, mower safety and basic pesticide safety.

The bilingual safety manual, “Safety for Hispanic Landscape Workers,” is also available at Bound copies can be purchased at

All center safety training resources and Hispanic worker resources are available on the Center Safety page..

The Landscape Safety Training Program is the result of the efforts of many people and organizations. The program was initiated in 2005 by faculty members of the Georgia’s Hispanic Specialists Group at UGA and housed in the Center for Urban Agriculture. It has benefited from the efforts and support of Cooperative Extension agents throughout the state, the UAC, business owners and UGA faculty from many departments. Much of this work was supported by a series of Susan Harwood Training Grants made available through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

An unusual lawn invader appears during wet weather

Slime mold 3 turf disease pubThis is a Slime Mold growing on turf.

This information is taken from the UGA publication, Turfgrass Diseases in Georgia: Identification and Control 

Slime molds are caused by the fungi Physarum spp. and Fuligo spp.

All turfgrasses are susceptible to slime molds

Slime mold turf disease pubSymptoms: Large numbers of pinhead-sized fruiting bodies may suddenly appear on grass blades and stems in circular to irregular patches 1-30 inches in diameter. Affected patches of grass do not normally die or turn yellow and signs of the fungi usually disappear within 1 to 2 weeks. These fungi normally reproduce in the same location each year. The fungi are not parasitic, but they may shade the individual grass leaves to the extent that leaves may be weakened by inefficient photosynthesis.

Conditions favoring Slime Molds: Slime molds are favored by cool temperatures and continuous high humidity. An abundance of thatch favors slime molds by providing food directly in the form of organic matter.


Remove slime mold by mowing.

Remove using a gardening tool or high pressure stream of water.

For more information on slime molds and other turf diseases, see Turfgrass Diseases in Georgia: Identification and Control 


Slime molds elsewhere:

Dog vomit slime mold, Sandra Jensen, Cornell University
Dog vomit slime mold, Sandra Jensen, Cornell University

Other slime molds form irregularly shaped ‘blobs’ that grow on mulch, turf or other areas with organic matter. Read more about these in the publication, The Truth about Slime Molds, Spanish Moss, Lichens and Mistletoe


Also find pictures of various slime molds here.

CT Scanning Shows how Fire Ants Interlock to Form Floating Rafts

From Entomology Today

Fire Ants image by Novak and Hu and taken from Entomology Today article
Fire Ants image by Novak and Hu and taken from Entomology Today article

When water levels rise, red fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) stream from their nests and rapidly grip onto their nearest neighbors in order to form rafts to carry them to safety. Each individual ant is denser than water and is in danger of sinking. However, the ants somehow manage to stay afloat, and they don’t just draw the line at constructing rafts — they routinely form bivouacs, assemble towers, and even coalesce into droplets when swished in a cup.

“You can consider them as both a fluid and a solid,” said David Hu from the Georgia Institute of Technology, who teamed up with Paul Foster and Nathan Mlot to investigate how balls of living fire ants self-assemble.

Read the entire article at Entomology Today

Happy Pollinator Week

In honor of National Pollinator Week we ask the question “how important are pollinators in our community garden?”  VERY!! Technically pollination is the process where pollen is transferred from the male flower parts (stamen-anther and filament) to the female flower parts (pistil-stigma, style, and ovary).   Sometimes the male and female parts are on the same flower and sometimes they are on different flowers on the same plant, like squash and cucumbers.  Pollinators visit flowers to collect pollen and nectar.  The pollination process is a consequence.


Honey Bees - Jeff Martin photographer
Honey Bees – Jeff Martin Photographer

Pollinators are an integral part of any garden.  They play a major role in the production of 150 food crops in the United States.  Apples, almonds, melons, strawberries, blueberries, onions, squash, cucumbers, and broccoli are just a few food crops that are dependent on pollinators.  One third of every bite of food we eat is due to pollinators.  So, they are vital to your community garden.  How do you attract and keep pollinators?

Some community gardens have common areas set aside for flowers.  This is a great spot to add plants that attract pollinators.  Plants like black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), bee balm (Monarda didyma), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), zinnia (Zinnia elegans), butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), dill (Anethum graveolens), and aster (Aster spp.) are all great choices.  These not only attract pollinators but other beneficial insects like lacewings, praying mantids, and parasitic wasps.  Plan your area for a long bloom time.  Bee balm and black-eyed Susan start blooming early in the summer while many asters bloom late into the fall.  Some gardeners may want to include a few of these in their individual garden plot.

Bumble Bee on Orange Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Perennial shrubs are also great for common areas since they create a more permanent landscape.  Consider fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)  which starts blooming early in the spring.  Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) blooms in midsummer and is usually covered in pollinators.  Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) provides flowers in the cooler months when the hairy bumble bees may be active. UGA Commercial Horticulturist, Jeffrey Webb, has a great publication, Beyond Butterflies:  Gardening for Native Pollinators, which has a comprehensive list of plant choices.

Use pesticides ONLY when necessary.  If you have to use them, spot spray rather than cover spray.  Apply pesticides that are the least toxic to pollinators.  And, spray when the pollinators are less active.  Your local UGA Extension agent can help you decide which pesticide is most effective with the least damage to the beneficial insects.

With a few additional steps your garden can even become a Certified Pollinator Garden.  The pollinators win since they have a great place to collect nectar and pollen.  Your food crops win because their flowers get pollinated.  You win because your vegetables are more abundant and extra delicious!

Happy Gardening!

Goats and Sheep Battle Invasive Plants

The Athens-Clarke County Commission approved on June 3, 2014 a new law that will allow people inside the city limits to rent goats and sheep to help get rid of invasive plants on their property (info taken from the Center for Invasive Species blogspot). Read the following story to find out why.

The following article is by Merritt Melancon, news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Goats and sheep have a reputation for eating vegetation that most other grazing animals would not touch.

This trait makes them invaluable to people who need to raise livestock in tough climates, but it’s also made them popular for landowners who need to clear brush or invasive plants from overgrown parcels.

The nimble grazers can get into overgrown areas that even the most dedicated groundskeeper or gardener won’t chance. They’ve proven to be a low-impact, low-cost way to control invasive plants like privet, kudzu, honeysuckle and English ivy.

The practice of using sheep and goats to clear out unwanted brush is called targeted grazing, and many government agencies, municipalities and private landowners are using it to keep vacant lots, steep back yards, parks and right-of-ways clear of brush.

When is it time to bring in a herd?

Targeted grazing is a suitable option, whether a landowner is dealing with acres of stream bank, a detention pond or a small back yard, but it’s not meant to replace basic maintenance, said Brian Cash, owner of EWE-niversally Green sheep rental service in Dunwoody.

“We’re not a lawn mowing service,” Cash said. “We’ll do that, but we like to focus on overgrown yards and lots.”

Cash often works with new homeowners in and around downtown Atlanta who have purchased foreclosed homes with overgrown lawns and local government agencies needing to clear brush from public lands.

Sheep and goats are most useful when an area is so overgrown that no one else wants to clear it out. Even if its just a small yard, most homeowners, and many landscapers, don’t want to work in an area that’s choked with poison ivy, poison oak and briars, he said.

Sheep and goats are also useful in areas that are too steep or too wooded to use a tractor to clear out brush.

“If you can do it with a bush hog on a tractor, then that would be cheaper, but if you need a guy with a weed whacker out there, then I’m cheaper,” said herdswoman Jennif Chandler, of Shady Brook Farm in Colbert.

Chandler and her sheep have worked with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences on the Athens campus to clear invasive plants including privet, kudzu and honeysuckle from along the bank of the Oconee River.

She also works with homeowners in the Athens area to clear Kudzu covered hills and backyards.

While goats and sheep are a surefire and efficient way to clear out a choked backyard or lot, there are a few things that homeowners should consider before buying a half-dozen goats or even hiring a service like Cash or Chandler’s.

They’ll eat everything

While herdsmen and women out on the West Coast are training goats and sheep to nibble around delicate plants like grape vines and other crops, targeted grazing isn’t a technique homeowners would want to try around their prize hydrangeas or a heirloom rose bush.

In fact, some ornamental plants are seriously toxic to sheep or goats. Examples include azaleas and Japanese yew.

“They’re not very discriminant,” said Sarah Workman, an Extension Agroforestry Specialist with the CAES. “If there’s something you don’t want them to eat, you need to protect it.”

While goats and sheep eat pretty much the same thing, sheep prefer broad-leaf weeds like ivy or kudzu, and goats seem to prefer woodier plants, Cash said.

Sheep usually can clear an area up to about a five-foot height, but goats can climb and take care of plants up to seven feet off the ground.

Because of their climbing ability, goats can take care of larger plants. However, that skill and natural curiosity, makes them more likely to escape and antagonize neighborhood dogs.

Cash usually sends a few goats along with his sheep herd to get the best of both worlds, but he’s careful to select his best-behaved goats.

Graze, wait and repeat

If a homeowner’s goal is to eradicate a specific invasive species, it may take repeated grazing to accomplish that goal, Workman said.

She and Chandler organized the first targeted grazing demonstration at UGA last year. The project, an effort to remove privet from a portion of the River Road area, is ongoing.”

These invasive plants are invasive because they are so persistent,” Workman said. “The idea is that the repeated introduction of the animals will deplete the root reserve of the (invasive) shrub.”

The shrubby stuff and woody vines are things that need repeated browsing,” Workman said. “And hopefully the more they’re eaten and knocked back, the less strength they have to regrow.”

Chandler’s sheep are scheduled to be back in action this summer to continue the eradication effort.

Managing the herd takes expertise

Herdsmen and women, like Cash and Chandler, have worked with their animals long enough to know how they’ll graze a specific area and how to meet homeowners’ goals for targeted grazing. Their customers get the benefit of that expertise when they rent their herds.

Another option is for a homeowner to purchase a few sheep or goats, but they need to be ready for the responsibility, said Will Getz, professor of animal science at Fort Valley State University’s Georgia Small Ruminant Research and Extension Center.

Zoning laws prohibit many suburban and urban homeowners from keeping any goats or sheep in their backyard. Additionally, suburban, urban and even rural landowners will face the challenge of keeping their herds contained and safe from neighborhood dogs or coyotes.

Moreover, there is the matter of food.

An acre of grass and brush can support about a half-dozen goats or sheep over the long-term, Getz said. If a landowner wants to load their land with more than six sheep or goats per acre, they’ll clear it out quickly.

“If you exceed that stocking intensity, then the animals are going to clear the area out more quickly,” Getz said. “But then you need to be prepared to sell them or otherwise get them off of your land when they’ve finished, either that or start buying feed.”

Homeowners interested it either renting or buying goats or sheep to clear their land should contact their local UGA or FVSU Cooperative Extension agent and the zoning or public development office in their county or city.