They purr, they hiss, they hum, they sing, and they laugh (ack, ack, ack!). They're llamas, and they've joined the "kudzu goats" on Missionary Ridge to fight the invasive vine.
Seven goats arrived Monday. Two llamas joined them on Tuesday morning to help the goats finish the job they started last year. They wasted no time getting down to business.
"I've got the llamas, because they're taller and can get up higher in the trees," said Maurice Beavers, the person contracted by the city of Chattanooga for its experimental project.
In the fall, the goats ate mature kudzu leaves and swept the area clean. This time around, they're charged with "nipping the kudzu in the bud" as new shoots emerge.
Mr. Beavers hadn't been sure exactly when he'd have the llamas in tow. "Just as soon as we can catch them," he said. He was relying on his fellow goat herder Kenny Pendergrass to accomplish that feat.
"I've been told I was abandoned as a child and raised by goats. They call me 'goat whisperer.' Maybe that'll work on the llamas, too," Mr. Pendergrass said.
Actually, it was colleague Marty Martin who came to the rescue and expertly guided them into the trailer for their transport from Beavers' Lakesite farm.
While they were gentle as lambs when unloaded and meeting a stranger, llamas are animals not to be taken lightly if threatened.
"Like camels, they'll spit at you, and it's pretty ugly. They'll spew out green slime up to 10 feet, and if they hit you, the smell will stay with you for days…like a skunk," Mr. Pendergrass said.
Unlike goats, llamas have upper and lower teeth, and they'll use them.
"Story is of a goat that got on the wrong side of one, and it bit the goat's tail off," he said.
Mr. Pendergrass hastened to add that llamas are better known for protecting goats from any predators, aided by claws on their hooves for additional means of defense.
"They'll go after anything…dogs, coyotes, people," Mr. Pendergrass said.
"Anyway, I treat them with respect," Mr. Beavers said.
The female llama had already been bred when Mr. Beavers bought her, and he believes she's pregnant, but paternity is in question, because she had several partners.
"We named her Anna Nichol Smith," he laughed, referring to the former Playboy Playmate who gave birth before she died of what was determined to be an accidental drug overdose.
Several men are claiming they fathered the little girl.
"We're going to wait to name the male after they finish DNA testing on them and figure out who it is."
In the meantime, the llamas and goats have their work cut out for them, with more territory to cover this time around.
The original test section on the west side of McCallie Tunnel is now being extended 100 feet south on city property as well as adjacent private property to the north, which will not be at taxpayers' expense
"The partnership will be a real plus for us, because kudzu spreads like wildfire," said Jerry Jeansonne, self-described "official goat dude" for the Chattanooga Public Works Department.
He said if it were allowed to go unchecked it would negate the city's progress on its site.
Also, an agreement is being worked out for Mr. Beavers' menagerie of animals to attack the eastern side of the McCallie Tunnel in an area bounded by South Seminole, Rose Terrace and Rosemont Drive.
The McCallie School has talked to Mr. Beavers about a kudzu eradication project, but is having to weigh the pros and cons.
"We've got a problem," said Bill Kropff, director of communications, "but we have to consider boys being boys.
"What we don't need is our students getting the goats out and putting them around campus or Baylor spray-painting them red."
For everybody else who's fighting kudzu on their own property, help is on the way.
"Everybody now wants to have a goat, but there's more to it than just putting one out in the yard," said Steve Leach, director of Public Works.
To that end, a Goat Browsing Academy is scheduled for May 21-24 at Greenway Farm. The academy was planned due to overwhelming response after the success of the project on Missionary Ridge.
"We're getting a lot of calls," said Dr. Ray Burden of the University of Tennessee Extension.
The academy is a joint endeavor of the city of Chattanooga, Cooperative Extension, Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee Extension.
While the itinerary is geared more toward serious would-be goat contractors, it is open to people who have a kudzu problem and see the goats as a miracle cure.
"Going through the academy will help them learn about what they should expect and what their responsibilities are," Dr. Burden said.
Participants in the academy can be accredited, and then they'll be on a 311 call list for property owners to contact if they want to hire some help.
Topics will range from building a business, health and reproduction and nutrition to fencing and guardian animals. (The full schedule is listed below.)
Dr. Burden said it will be a "hands-on" course with participants being up-close with goats and seeing them in action on a site adjacent to the farm, which will ultimately become a leash-free place for pet owners to bring their dogs for exercise and recreation.
Speakers include An Peischel, TSU Specialist, and David Pratt and Roger Ingram, renowned goat producers and educators of UT Extension.
The cost of the academy is $125, which includes lunch each day and a handbook.
To register, call the UT Extension-Hamilton County office at (423) 855-6113.
GOAT BROWSING ACADEMY
Day 1 - David Pratt, Ranching for Profit
8-10 a.m. - Profitability
10 a.m.-noon - Diagnosing Problems and Opportunities
Noon - 1 p.m. - Lunch
1-4:30 p.m. - Building a Business that Works for You
Day 2 - Roger Ingram and An Peischel
8 a.m. Introduction / Overview (lecture)
8:30 a.m. Rest Period and Graze Period (lecture / demonstration)
9:30 a.m. Stocking Rate (lecture / demonstration / activity)
10:45 a.m. Low-Stress Goat Handling Basics
11 a.m. Paddock Set-up (activity)
12:30 p.m. Lunch
1:30 p.m. Brush Ecology (lecture / activity)
3 p.m. Multi-Species Grazing (lecture / activity)
5 p.m. BEHAVE - Understanding Post-Ingestive Feedback and Its Impact
on Feed Consumption
Day 3 - Roger Ingram and An Peischel
8 a.m. Review
8:30 a.m. Nutrition / Supplementation (lecture / activity)
10:30 a.m. Field Walk / Assessment
1 p.m. Water Development, Livestock Guardian Dogs (lecture / activity)
2:30 p.m. Browsing Planning (lecture / activity)
4 p.m. Monitoring
4:30 p.m. Reproduction and Health (lecture)
6 p.m. Dinner
7 p.m. Browsing Jeopardy
Day 4 - Roger Ingram and An Peischel
8 a.m. Review
8:30 a.m. Economics - the Permitting Process (lecture)
9:30 a.m. Marketing (lecture / activity)
10:30 a.m. Putting it All Together
11 a.m. Field Walk / Assessment
Noon Lunch / Wrap-up / Evaluation