Goats helping Dubuque Franciscans save trees

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

DUBUQUE — With good stewardship of the earth foremost in their minds, the Franciscan Sisters of Dubuque have turned to a herd of goats to rid themselves of a threat to trees on the grounds of their home.

“We have 13 acres of woods that have a lot of invasive species,” said Sister Kate Katoski, OSF, president of the congregation of women religious headquartered at Mt. St. Francis.

The sisters found out about a year ago that the honeysuckle, multiflora rose and wild parsnip growing in the wooded area of their home are not native to the area and are harmful to the woods.

“They can kill your trees,” said Sister Karla Kloft, OSF, who works as a gardener and grounds keeper for the congregation.

Peg Harbaugh (right) helps Sister Monica McMahon, OSF, hold “Tate” while at Mount St. Francis Center on Sunday, Aug. 18.

Rather than turn to conventional, but less environmentally friendly chemical herbicides, the Sisters found a Des Moines-based company called “Goats on the Go” that offers an alternative solution. They hire out four-legged foragers to eat away the invasives. Since hooved animals are not usually legal within Dubuque city limits, the sisters first had to get special permissions from local authorities to use the goats, according to Sister Karla.

To do the work, they contacted Tim and Peg Harbaugh, the local “Goats on the Go” affiliate owners. Based on a farm in the Peosta area, the Harbaughs’ family goat business, which involves all four of their children, started about a year ago.

“We started with goats four years ago as a 4-H project for our kids,” said Tim Harbaugh.

After learning about the business prospects for goats, he and his wife decided to try their hand at the endeavor. Their job for the Franciscans will be the Harbaughs’ biggest project to date. They estimate the herd of about 38 goats now chewing on the invasive species will clear an acre every 5-6 days. The animals are protected from predators and kept where they are needed using a moveable electric fence, according to Harbaugh, whose family attends St. John the Baptist Parish in Peosta. The Harbaughs were on hand for a “meet and greet” with some of the Franciscans Aug. 19.

A set of young female goats was there too. Sisters were able to pet or hold the goats in a joyful event outside the Claire house residence at Mt. St. Francis. The goats began their work Aug. 18 and will be in the woods for several weeks, according to Harbaugh. Given the Franciscan dedication to caring for nature, Sister Karla was among those who are happy to have found a “green” way to solve the problem.

“This is very sustainable,” she said. “We don’t have to use herbicides. I love animals, and I think anything that brings us closer to animals is a good thing.”


Cover Photo: Franciscan sisters gathered for a “meet ’n greet” in the courtyard behind Clare House in Dubuque to see the goats up close before the goats were placed in the wooded area on the Mount St. Francis Center property. (Contributed photos)