As more homeowners, businesses and towns seek to maintain land with fewer chemicals or fossil-fuel-powered machinery, a growing number are trying goats to get rid of unwanted vegetation. Internet rivals Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. hired herds to clear around their Northern California headquarters this year. So did the Vanderbilt Mansion, a national historic site in Hyde Park, N.Y. And this April, nannies and billies were deployed at the U.S. Naval Base Kitsap Bangor in Silverdale, Wash., to annihilate pesky scotch broom plants.
While predators, poisonous plants and peeved neighbors can test goats on the job, the small livestock are well-suited for such labors.
Easy to manage, they relish prickly brush and weeds and their agility makes them "popular employees" for navigating steep slopes that can thwart humans and machines, says Brian Faris, president of the American Boer Goat Association in San Angelo, Texas.
It cost 55-year-old Mr. Holdaway $200 to clear a 1,700-square foot swath on his land with goats, pricier than the weed-whacking he's been doing himself for a decade with a gas-powered trimmer. "But like many organic practices, you are going to have to pay a premium sometimes," Mr. Holdaway says.
A few years back, I posted about a NY Times article that discussed a similar type of rental herd. It seems that goat rental entrepreneurs are getting more widespread, and using goats for a wider variety of projects. I've always thought it would be excellent if the road department made use of sheep to trim those big patches of grass near freeway on-ramps. Sheep would be well-suited for that, because the land tends to be grassy. Goats will eat grass, but they really love the bigger and weedier stuff.
As always, my biggest concern about portable livestock "landscapers" is fencing. There are good portable fencing systems out there; as the article points out, some of these goat services even set up electric fences powered by solar panels. We've personally never used portable fencing, and I'm not sure I'd trust it if the goats were working unsupervised --- especially near a busy road. Our goats are constantly challenging their fences. And they're not stupid. Given enough time unsupervised, they always seem to find a way to go under, over, around, or through to the other side. Because, you know, it's forbidden. So it must be better over there. Where the grass (or brush) is greener.
I guess this is on my mind because I just came in from spending a couple of hours mending the fence in our goat pasture. It's amazing how much damage they've been able to do in just a few months. Fortunately, the Yeoman Farm Children and I seem to have secured all the places the goats were managing to escape.
At least for now. But as those of you with livestock know, mending fences is never done. Especially not with goats on the job.