Jamey Donaldson, better known as the 'goatherd,' oversees the Baatany Project and spends most of the summer on Roan Mountain with the herd.
The western balds of Roan Mountain will have some special four-legged visitors this summer.
For the seventh season, a herd of hungry Angora goats will gnaw their way through the invasive Canada Blackberry plants that threaten the natural "baldness" atop Roan Mountain. About two dozen goats will follow a bucket of corn and lead goat "Big Blue" to their summer home north of Carver's Gap, between Jane Bald and the turnoff to the Grassy Ridge Bald trail.
The seventh annual "Herding of the Goats" is scheduled for June 25 and will kick off a new year for the Baatany Project, which aims to restore plant diversity on the grassy balds using the great grazing qualities of goats.
During the herding, volunteers form a human fence to keep the goats together on steep, rocky terrain that's thick with shrubbery.
"The goats will spread out, and when they lose sight of the goat in front of them, they panic and that's when things can go wrong," said Jamey Donaldson, better known as the "goatherd" and leader of the Baatany Project.
Luckily, many of these goats have made this annual trek all their lives, so the herding tends to go smoothly, Donaldson said. The trip is definitely worthwhile for the goats, who love the abundance of blackberries.
The goats eat or "browse" sections of a nine-acre area through mid-September. Temporary fencing is placed around each section where the goats graze. It takes two or three times "re-browsing" a section to really make a difference, Donaldson said.
"About 50 years of no animals on the balds is hard to make up for," he said. "It's essential we are very well-grounded in the science of what we are doing. We are using goats instead of mowing. They like the woody plants and aren't that interested in grass."
Donaldson camps alongside the goats throughout much of the summer and stays busy monitoring vegetation on the balds and recording the results of the Baatany Project. He and several others have researched and published the benefits of goats browsing on Roan Mountain.
Also joining Donaldson and the goats are two dogs, Baxter and Bigdog, which help protect the herd, and are just as popular as the goats.
By the end of summer, the goats will come off the balds healthy and several pounds heavier. This will help sustain them during the winter after the goats return to Todd Eastin's farm in Shady Valley.
The Baatany Project will only continue to exist as long as there are volunteers and donations from individuals and groups like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Donaldson said. Goat and dog adoptions, plus Mohair yarn and hat sales, are some of the more popular ways to support the project.
Donaldson says visitors are welcome to observe the "Herding of the Goats," but should not bring dogs. The herding will begin around 8:30 a.m. Visitors are also welcome to observe the goats as they browse throughout the summer.
For more information about the Baatany Project including a map of where the goats are located, and to explore volunteer and donation opportunities, visit www.baatany.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.