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Township’s livestock ban has got this resident’s goat

Kyla Smith The Detroit News

Green Oak Township – Surrounded by neatly manicured bushes and daisies, Nancy Fisher sits on her porch reading a book.

Nancy Fisher and her husband Tom Welker walk on their property that backs up to a wetlands and is rife with Poison Ivy in Green Oak Township, Michigan on August 30, 2016. The couple had wanted to use 5 goats that would have been on the property for only 48 hrs and been contained within a temporary fence as a natural way to clear out the ivy and weeds. Fisher, who has lyme disease, didn't want to use chemicals to solve the problem. The township planner originally approved the goat-scaping but the city has since recinded their approval.

Most home owners have the luxury of being able to spend time in their backyard, but Fisher has to keep off the grass: the perimeter is covered with poison ivy leaves.

Because of a medical condition, she doesn’t want to use herbicides to kill the toxic plants.

Fisher came up with a safe Plan B: having goats eat the poison ivy. But she ran into trouble with township officials, who say keeping farm animals violates local law – even for people like Fisher with a medically valid reason.

“I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and I’m very sensitive to chemicals. I read that goats can eat poison ivy without getting sick and it would only be a two-day process,” said Fisher, who has lived in Green Oak for more than 20 years. “Initially, when I called the township, it was approved, but two weeks later, I was told that livestock wasn’t allowed.”

“Since there are wetlands behind the poison ivy bed, I would think they wouldn’t want to ruin that habitat with chemicals. Goatscaping would be the best choice.”

In many regions, homeowners and companies are using eco-friendly goatscaping as a way to clear out unwanted plants like poison ivy, poison sumac, briars and other invasive weeds. Four to five goats can clear an acre in a week, according to goatweb.com, a website that promotes raising goats.

Mike Mourer, owner of Twin Willow Ranch in Milan, leases goats and is already booked for the rest of this year and the first half of next year. On average, he charges a minimum of $150 per week depending on the size of the site that needs to be cleared.

Welker points out patches of Poison Ivy that the couple wanted the goats to eat.

“We usually lease goats to rural areas, but we have had more people in cities and townships ask for our services. I always tell people to check the ordinance first, because that is where the problem comes in at,” Mourer said. “I hope in the future, townships decide to be more lenient because goatscaping is cleaner for the environment.”

Debra McKenzie, planning and zoning administrator for Green Oak Charter Township, said the community obtained a legal opinion that its ordinance against keeping livestock includes goatscaping.

“We believed that goatscaping would be allowed but after consulting with the attorney, no barnyard animals are permitted,” McKenzie said. “At this time, we don’t have any plans on changing the ordinance.”

The township ordinance states that “the raising or keeping of animals which are normally part of the livestock maintained on a farm is prohibited, except in the RE and the RF zoning districts.”

As Fisher continues to search for other ways to rid her backyard of the poison ivy, she hopes the township will reconsider.

“I could understand if I was trying to start a petting zoo or to raise farm animals, but the purpose of the goats is to eat the poison ivy and leave within 48 hours,” Fisher said. “It wasn’t until I became sick that I had to change the way that I lived when it comes to chemicals used in everyday products. I was just looking for a greener alternative.”

Ksmith3@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-1855

Twitter: @kylasmith525