The sound of bleating echoed across the water.
“Do you hear them?” Kristen Fauteux said standing at the edge of Daggett Pond at Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary.
The still June morning had just settled over the pond on Wednesday as three pygmy goats made their maiden voyage from the head of the pond to its eastern edge, a small wake trailing behind their raft.
The owner of the goats, Randy Ben David, who owns Native Earth Teaching Farm with his wife Rebecca Gilbert, had connected two canoes to create a raft that looked like two giant pontoons. The goats rode in crates on a platform in the middle.
“They’ve never done anything like this,” said Mr. Ben David as he pulled up to the bank.
“Never ridden the ferry so to speak,” laughed Bill Bridwell, property manager for the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation which owns the sanctuary.
Ms. Fauteux is the director of stewardship for the foundation and overseeing a new initiative to use goats for rotational grazing at the sanctuary. The goats are expected to eat bittersweet, poison ivy and other invasive plants in this experiment to manage about four acres of land at the neck. It is the first time the land conservation group is using livestock for land management.
The trip across the pond was the most practical option for transporting the goats to the neck. Their journey began at Native Earth on North Road where they were loaded into a truck in their crates and driven to the Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary on the north shore.
Mr. Ben David hopped off the boat and opened the crate. The goat wouldn’t budge. He leaned over and picked a handful of greens from the ground to coax the goat out.
“It’s okay, buddy,” he said as the goat began to nibble. Mr. Ben David showed Mr. Bridwell how to carry the small goat properly so as not to get poked in the eye with his horns.
“They’re strong little buggers,” Mr. Bridwell said as he held tight.
Mr. Ben David, Mr. Bridwell and farm worker Stephanie Thibert each carried a goat uphill to the grazing area overlooking the north shore. The goats all wore harnesses in case carrying proved too difficult. Ms. Thibert’s goat stopped for a munch.
“Sassafras is so good, huh?” she said.
“This is a totally new experience for them,” Mr. Ben David said, holding his goat by the harness. “They eat this type of stuff on the farm but the experience of traveling in the truck, the boat and their new collar — they handled it pretty well. They could be much crazier,” he said.
“Come on, you’re almost there,” he said to the goat. “You’re going to be a lot happier once you get there.”
And happy they were. The goats immediately began munching. Ms. Fauteux said if the grazing is successful, the foundation may plan to put up to 10 goats on the property next year.
“This is the first time we’ve used grazing for a management purpose, other people have grazed animals on our property but it hasn’t been something we’re trying to do,” she said.
The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank is also using livestock for land management for the first time this year. Goats and sheep from the Farm Institute in Edgartown will arrive at Waskoskim’s Rock in Chilmark this weekend. The livestock will be used on grasslands in place of mowing. The farm has hired a sheep and goat herder to oversee the flock.
About seven goats and four to five sheep will graze on up to 15 acres of grassland, land bank conservation foreman Matthew Dix said. In the winter and fall months, the land bank mows the property and uses machinery to cut back shrubbery. But box turtles and birds appear in the summer months, and Mr. Dix said then a person must walk in front of the mowers, or the area must be cut by hand to protect nesting turtles. By contrast, grazing animals and nesting turtles can coexist without incident.
“In the long run we all like the concept of seeing animals being used in some way of grazing,” Mr. Dix said. “Our intent out there is not to make a farm but to maintain the meadows, and using animals to achieve that. It’s another tool.”
Ms. Fauteux and land bank ecologist Julie Russell will collect data to evaluate the effectiveness of the project.
The goats at Cedar Tree Neck will be moved around the four acres over the summer.
“It depends how quickly they eat,” Ms. Fauteux said. “Once they’ve eaten all of the vegetation in one area we’ll put them in a new one. We might even rotate them back through if the bittersweet starts coming back again.”
The goats will live in 16-by-16-foot pens with a small shelter. They will be given supplemental grain and hay throughout the week and plenty of fresh water.
Ms. Fauteux estimated that there were at least 10 different kinds of vegetation in the grazing area.
“Oh, they’ll love that,” said Mr. Ben David. “You’ll see later that they’ll blow up to twice as big as they are now. This is an experiment, we want them to stay healthy.”
Before Mr. Ben David left, he gave Ms. Fauteux some caretaking tips. Goats don’t like the rain and they’re picky about their water, which needs to be changed regularly.
In the fall the goats will return to the farm.
As a result, Wednesday morning’s trip might have been their first boat crossing but Mr. Ben David said it wouldn’t be their last.
“They have to go home,” he said. “If they want to. They’re going to be so happy out there.”