WHITE HEATH – On a gray overcast day in late December, 40 goats and a few sheep await a green, tasty snack in a pasture in White Heath.
Mitch Gardner runs Goats on the Go Champaign-Urbana. He lays a Christmas tree on its side at his farm along I-72 near the Piatt and Champaign County border.
“They’ll [goats] come in herds,” said Gardner. “They’ll come running from across the pasture. And surround it and then they’ll all pick on each other over it. “
During the summer, Gardner rents the herd out to chomp down on pine, cedar, and honeysuckle. Their ambitious appetites help eliminate invasive plants and vegetation that could become wildfire prone. Last winter was the first time Gardner fed Christmas trees to the goats. The trees came from family members. This is the first holiday season, he’s accepted donated trees from strangers.
“This time of year, all we have is dried hay that their diets mainly consist of, and some grain. This is a good way for them to get some live vegetation,” says Gardner.
Before January 13, people can leave fresh-cut Christmas trees on a a trailer at the corner of Meridian Street and Sunset Lane in White Heath. Donated trees must have the tinsel, lights and metal hooks that hold the ornaments removed. The pine needles still must be green because the goats don’t like dried out brown needles.
For nutritional reasons, the goats only consume one tree a day. And when they’re finished?
“Probably like the saddest Charlie Brown tree you’ve seen,” says Gardner. “There’s really nothing left of them. It’s just bare wood, just a stick basically.”
Donating trees to goats is gaining traction from Nevada to New England.
Gardner has owned goats since the 1990s. He and has family have raised the animals for dairy, meat and show part of the herd at both state fairs in Illinois. He says the ‘kidding’ season or when baby goats are born is coming up, and that’s when raising goats is the most fun.
“If you’re having a bad day, you go watch the baby goats bounce around and play around,” says Gardner. “They have some pretty interesting moves and pretty entertaining to watch.”