Is a chew crew a viable option for your overgrown landscape? Come along as we learn more about these four-legged brush-eating machines.
Nature’s brush hogs
If you’re looking for a way to get rid of poison ivy or other noxious weeds in your lawn, consider a goat. Goats are the four-legged, living equivalent of a brush hog machine. Unlike cattle and horses, which are grazers, goats are considered browsers and prefer the noxious, prickly weeds that other animals eschew. This eco-friendly and unconventional method, often called “goatscaping,” has been used by city governments, fire departments, and homeowners across the country.
Goats in public service
Goats have become popular with city governments to help with land clearing and management. In years past, if you were in charge of the land along roads, bridges, or near waterways, you had two main options: mow or use herbicides. This is where the goats come in.
Agile for Challenging Situations: Goats assist when manpower or machines are impractical or impossible. For example, city land along waterways is often a significant challenge for city land managers. They can’t spray herbicides near a water source and large mowing equipment is difficult or impossible to maneuver down steep slopes.
A Tiller and Slope Erosion Treatment All in One: In addition, heavy equipment may contribute to compacted soils or erosion. But steep slopes are not a challenge for a goat, and their hooves help till the soil and don’t contribute to erosion in steep areas.
Aiding Smokey Bear to Prevent Forest Fires: These four-legged lawn mowers have gained recognition for another hidden talent: firefighting. Well, almost. Goats have been employed in states out West, California in particular, to help cities clear brush and create fire breaks near areas vulnerable to forest fires. Brush is the fuel that fires use to keep going, and goats have been a useful and cost-effective alternative to controlled burns and chemicals.
Goats for home use
Goats have stomachs of steel and are prized by homeowners for their ability to tackle harmful, invasive plants in their lawns.
Renting a herd of goats is a straightforward process. When you request a quote from a goat rental service, they will come out and survey the work and make sure the project is feasible. They also ensure there aren’t plants on the property that could harm the goats.
If you hire the company, they will come and set up an electric fence and will likely bring a guard dog to stay with the goats at all times. The goats stay on the property and eat, eat, eat, (and sleep a little) until the job is done.
Goats happen to love those awful, invasive species that can be a real problem for homeowners. Here is a short list of a few of the weeds goats find so tasty:
✓ Dame’s rocket
✓ English Ivy
✓ Garlic mustard
✓ Poison Ivy
✓ Poison Oak
✓ Poison Sumac
If you’re considering goats as a land management tool at your home, there are a few other things to know.
Multiple Grazings: First, if you have lots of brush, it may take more than one grazing to reduce the competition to the point where the native species can become predominant again.
For example, after an initial grazing of an invasive weed, some plants will re-sprout the following season. Then, after a second or third grazing, they will be weakened to the point where they will die and the desired species will be able to flourish.
Some Cleanup Required: Second, goats will strip the leaves but usually leave the bark or stems. After they eat all of your English ivy, for example, you can then remove the stems from your property.
Don’t Worry About the Weeds: Third, you may wonder if the seeds they eat are then digested and returned to the soil through their manure. The good news is that as the seeds pass through the goat’s digestive system, they are rendered sterile. So, there is no worry about those seeds resprouting because the goat’s manure placed them back into the soil.
Pro Tip: If you do have weeds that go to seed, be sure to have the goats come and graze before those seeds drop to the ground and reseed themselves.
If you’re still wondering whether goatscaping is right for you, here are a few highlights of using goats as a land management tool.
→ Goats are quiet – no noise from large machinery
→ Fertilizer at no extra cost
→ Goat’s till instead of compact the soil
→ No worker’s compensation for goats
→ Work well on slopes and difficult terrain
→ Great for use in wetlands or near water
→ Fossil fuel-free
→ Clears invasive species without pesticides
→ Fire mitigation tool
→ Plant seeds are sterilized
A cute and efficient cleanup crew
Goats present a bevy of advantages for large and small landowners who want to remove invasive species and restore their landscapes. They have proven useful as an eco-friendly way to help remove invasive species on difficult terrain and do fire mitigation work. While they are not the only solution to land management challenges, they are a welcome addition to the toolkit and have proven to be a win-win for both landowners and the environment.
If goats are not an option for your brushy terrain, consider calling a local professional to keep your property trim and tidy.
Main Photo Credit: Jorge Salvador | Unsplash