PITTSFIELD -- Goats and sheep have been grooming Bousquet Mountain during skiing’s off-season.
"If you go up the mountain, you can actually see the spots near the tree lines where they’ve been grazing," said Sherry Roberts, business manager of Bousquet Ski Area on Dan Fox Drive in Pittsfield.
"We’ve got seven goats of different varieties, five sheep and a Wally," she said.
Wally, as it turns out, is a young male mule whose job it is to keep watch for predators and protect the flock.
Roberts said "employing" the animals to help maintain the mountainside was the pet project of George Jervas, her companion of nearly 20 years and the late owner of Bousquet. Inside the ski area’s lodge, a memorial display of photos includes a picture of Jervas bottle-feeding a baby goat named Junior, his favorite.
Jervas died on Aug. 20, and Roberts is continuing to operate the ski area in his honor, farm animals, snow enthusiasts and all.
"George did a lot of research on the animals. It turns out that other ski areas and even utility companies are using herds instead of machines to help trim around power lines and maintain grounds," Roberts said.
The idea of prescribed grazing has been around for centuries.
More recently, in 1998, Public Service of New Hampshire, a Northeast Utilities Company, piloted the "Grazing Power Project," which tested the use of a thousand sheep to maintain vegetation underneath its giant transmission lines. Grazing was seen as an alternative to costly mowing and potentially hazardous herbicides.
In 2005, a flock of 19 sheep from the Great Barrington-based New England Heritage Breeds Conservancy were used in a pilot study of grazing as a tool in land management on Nantucket Island.
Back in the spring, Roberts and Jervas tapped into the local farm community to purchase and learn how to keep the animals.
The sheep, for example, come from farmer Lila Berle’s flock in Great Barrington. Wally came to Bousquet with the help of 4-H Club leader Lisa Dachinger-Petricca of Pittsfield. The goats came from various auctions like the Berkshire Farm Center tailgate sale.
The animals moved to the mountain, most as babies, between March and April. They began near the top of the mountain and have since grazed their way toward the base.
Roberts said the public is welcome to view but not touch the animals because their enclosure is electrified.
"We found that we’d need a lot more animals to groom the whole mountain, but they did help. Now it’s more like a hobby," she said.
The animals will be on view through the fall and will be boarded at local farms for the winter.
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