The grazing animals with big appetites can tackle tough yard challenges.
By Kimberly Button
The goat’s voracious appetite is famous. Urban legends even tell tales of goats eating tin cans (though that is just a myth). But goats eat things that most creatures would turn their noses up at, so why not put them to good use?
More people are renting goats to keep yards and fields tidy; rental companies bring their goat herds to your patch of land for a few days. It is an especially appealing prospect when dealing with poisonous plants, thick weeds or thorny vegetation that would send humans running the other way but do not harm the goats.
Goat rentals are not new but have been garnering buzz lately, especially after Google and Yahoo revealed that they use goats to clear land on some of their properties. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and the San Francisco International Airport are also bringing in herds. Yet for all the media attention, goats have been happily grazing on everything in sight for millennia.
Unique Eating Habits
Why are goats such good landscapers? They are small and easy to transport and can easily climb steep slopes where other animals cannot. But the biggest reason goats are making a comeback in land management is because “goats are backwards,” according to Tim Linquist.
Linquist owns We Rent Goats (www.werentgoats.com), a family business in Idaho. He explains that goats eat in the opposite direction of most animals, making them highly valuable for jobs nothing else will touch, including humans and machinery. “Goats eat everything backwards. Cows, horses, and sheep put their mouth on a plant and start eating it down. A goat goes in from the side and bites it in half and pulls it in, eating backwards.”
That may explain why a goat can happily munch through a thorny briar patch while other animals shy away. Not only can goats eat the most undesirable of plants, Linquist says, they actually prefer them. “If it’s full of thorns and nasty, they like it,” he says. “Goats also really like weeds.”
Even poison ivy and hemlock are no match for these tiny powerhouses. “We had a project with some poison ivy this summer and they ate the stalks right down to the ground,” Linquist laughs, remembering how much the goats enjoyed the plants. “I’m not sure those plants will ever come back.”
The fact that goats are willing to eat the hardest-to-kill plants is a major boon for the cottage industry. “A big percentage of our customers don’t want to use chemicals on the ground. The chemicals aren’t working anymore, anyway, on many of these weeds.”
With chemicals losing their fight against tough terrains, and the high cost and ecological expense of bringing in gas-guzzling machinery belching toxins into the air, renting goats seems to be a win-win situation. The project can be done in a short time for a reasonable cost, and all that is left behind is natural goat fertilizer.
On average, 100 goats can clear a half to one acre of land in one day, according to Linquist. Costs start at $350 per acre but can increase depending on the vegetation. The goats will stay on the property until the job is done, guarded by trained dogs and portable electric fences.
In addition to nuisance plant removal, goats are helping to prevent forest fires. In the western US, fire mitigation is an important concern in keeping landscapes tidy. Clearing land around homes and public places can slow down the spread of a fire.
Tom Burns, Fire Wise Co-Chair of the Warm Mesa Springs Neighborhood Association in Boise, Idaho, used goats for fire mitigation when neighbors balked at the use of chemicals close to their homes. The results were so impressive that the association is investigating more ways to use animals in their fire mitigation plans.
“There are cost savings, it plays well to back-to-nature concerns and using goats was supporting a local alternative bio-approach rather than a more traditional chemical application,” Burns says. “It is true that goats are pea-brained, but if they are controlled or handled properly, you can get a lot out of them.”
While goats can clear a field down to the ground quite easily, it is possible to use the animals to selectively clear specific plants. “We do a lot of noxious weed removal, where we come in and target a certain species of plant that we want to get rid of,” Linquist says. “We did a project where the owner wanted to only get rid of oxeye daisies. The goats went in and pulled off all the heads of the daisies. As soon as every one of the white flowers were gone, we moved the goats to another location.”
With the effectiveness of renting goats for landscaping purposes, it is no wonder that the industry is booming. Linquist reports a 300% increase in business in 2012, primarily due to government work.
Yet for all the good that goats can do, it is still the novelty of having animals in the yard that attracts many customers. “If I could get paid for the entertainment value of the goats,” Lindquist laughs, “I’d make a lot more money than them eating weeds.”