Hungry goats eat, recycle old Christmas trees
EVESHAM, N.J. (AP) — In the weeks after Christmas, Tami Fulcher Millaway makes a lot of meal runs for her kids.
It all sounds pretty routine — until Millaway describes the part where she throws the food over the fence so her kids can gnaw at it for hours.
Millaway, who owns BnT Farm with her husband Bill, has 12 goats on her Marlton property — five of them babies — and offers to collect her neighbors’ discarded Christmas trees so she can feed them to her animals.
For the second year, Millaway is collecting neighbors’ trees that otherwise would be left at the curb to be recycled.
“Instead of being chipped and thrown away, this way the trees are actually feeding my goaties,” she said.
Last Christmas season, about 50 trees became meals for her goats, Millaway said.
And this year, response has been swift. In the first five minutes of her day-after-Christmas post on a Marlton community Facebook page, Millaway had about 20 requests for tree pickups.
The goats are remarkably efficient with the trees.
“It takes them a day or two, or sometimes just hours. They eat the bark and everything,” Millaway said. “I had a 14-foot tree last year. They stripped it down. It took them three hours.”
By the time the goats are done with a tree, Millaway says, she can drag it away with two fingers and “it weighs almost nothing.”
“Last year we had two or three people who wanted to watch the goats eat their Christmas trees. It is kind of neat how fast and how vigorously they attack it.”
It’s no surprise that the goats enjoy their holiday snack. Millaway notes that no branch in the woods around her 10-acre farm is more than 5 feet long, thanks to the goats’ vegetation-clearing talents.
Feeding the goats Christmas trees developed as a way to give the animals natural food during the colder months.
“In the wintertime, we don’t let them out as much, especially in the snow. They hate snow,” Millaway said. “The goats think they’re the Wicked Witch of the West, and if they get wet, they’re going to die.”
Farms across the country repurpose Christmas trees as goat food. A petting zoo in New Era, Michigan, has been requesting trees for years and the owner said blue spruce, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, Scotch pine and white pine are among the varieties.
“They like some more than others,” noted Millaway, though she’s not sure which varieties are their favorites. “I make sure each pen gets one they like.”
Each tree must be checked to ensure it’s free of tinsel, hooks or anything else the goats can’t eat. The goats can sense if a tree has been treated with insecticide and won’t go near it, Millaway said.
Any trees that can’t be used are burned, she said.
The trees aren’t just tasty — at least by goat standards — but nutritious as well.
“The roughage is really good for them, and the pine needles are good for them,” Millaway said.
Millaway, a Marlton native, grew up visiting her grandfather’s 360-acre pony farm in upstate New York. He supplied the animals to be used in pony carts for the local Mennonite community.
“My dream was to have a farm like his,” she said.
So when Millaway had the opportunity to buy the property on Dutch Road off Route 73, she went for it, originally raising Peking ducks. When a Dunkin’ Donuts and daycare opened adjacent to her property, predatory wildlife had less room to roam — and quickly discovered her ducks.
Millaway, who also has raised chickens for 15 years, moved on to goats, researching the animals extensively so she would know how to feed and care for them.
She still works full time as an insurance claims investigator, and said the farm is equivalent to another full-time job.
Farm maintenance, such as fixing play sets and fences, is the most time-consuming part since the goats “love to head butt,” she said.
Over the few years she’s had the goats, Millaway has discovered their favorite “people food,” which includes animal crackers, Cheerios and bread.
“And they love bagels for some bizarre reason,” she said. “They will run you over if you have bagels.”
They nearly did, too: When Millaway’s friend brought bagels to the farm, the goats started chasing her around the yard.
Millaway instructed her panicked friend: “Throw the bagels out of the bag! They want the bagels, not you.”
There are nine Boer goats and three fainting goats at BnT Farm, and five of the girls were just born in May.
“So this will be their first foray into eating Christmas trees,” Millaway explained.
As usual, the goats will take a cue from their mothers.
“When you give them a new food, they’re like, ‘What is this?’” Millaway said. “They wait for their mommy to show them how to eat it.”
Millaway now has three generations of goats at the farm, and breeds the animals every two years.
“I am so proud of my goats,” she said. “They are really wonderful animals.”
The concept of goats eating Christmas trees is nothing new to the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade group for growers based in Littleton, Colorado.
It’s just one of the ways trees can seamlessly return to the ecosystem, noted Doug Hundley, the seasonal spokesperson for the tree association.
“Real trees are totally biodegradable. They are easily reused and recycled,” he said.
In fact, that’s why more than half of the states in the U.S. ban landfill disposal of Christmas trees, Hundley said.
The association’s website lists resourceful post-Christmas uses for trees that include mulch, bird feeders, fish feeders when they are sunk into private ponds, and path material for hiking trails.
The trees also can be used as soil erosion barriers, and were used to rebuild Jersey Shore sand dunes after Superstorm Sandy, said Hundley.
“They are being used in a variety of ways. Because they are so green and so organic, they can stabilize a lot of environmental situations.”
Millaway is happy to do her part by transporting whatever trees she can handle in the 8-foot trailer she hooks up to her SUV. She keeps trips local, although those who’d like to inquire about dropping off trees can reach Millaway through BnT Farms’ Facebook page.
The supply of discarded trees is nicely staggered over the season, especially since some residents don’t throw away their trees until after Epiphany, which falls on Jan. 6, Millaway said.
She’ll pick up those trees just as the goats are ready for seconds
And Christmas isn’t the only time the goats assist in holiday recycling.
“We do the same thing for pumpkins,” said Millaway, who followed up on a suggestion that since deer like pumpkins, her goats might enjoy them too.
“We cracked one open and they just decimated it.”
Information from: Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.), http://www.courierpostonline.com/