Goats for Hire
Goatscaping can reap big benefits for land owners and farmers
By Jennon Bell Hoffmann
Consider the goat. Known for its wide-set eyes and head-butting tendencies, it’s a hard-working, low-maintenance, plant-eating, fertilizing machine.
So when a property owner is looking to clear large or unruly swaths of land without costly labor, potentially harmful chemicals, and outside environmental impact, they may consider goatscaping, a method that, while not so new, is growing more popular by the day.
Using a herd of goats to clear a property through browsing, foraging, and fertilizing is a centuries-old tradition. Goatscaping takes advantage of the herd’s most natural talents: eating nearly anything and everything in its path. For those concerned about the risk of toxins seeping into the ground from chemical weed killers, as well as accessing steep, narrow, or rough terrain that modern machinery cannot handle, the agile and hardy goat may be a top-choice solution.
Additionally, goatscaping isn’t a natural fix for just weeds and overgrown brush. Dangerous plants like poison ivy, poison sumac, and invasive species like kudzu, which grow rapidly and can smother native plants, are no match for a goat’s appetite.
Goatscaping takes advantage of the herd’s most natural talents: eating nearly anything and everything in its path.
Businesses such as Gap Mountain Goats in Marlboro, New Hampshire, are cashing in on the low maintenance and high ecological impact that goatscaping provides.
“Gap Mountain is [a] working farm, and friends and neighbors were asking to borrow a few goats to clean up their land,” says Natalie Reid, owner of Gap Mountain Goats. “We started research [on] how to utilize the animals, what kind of fencing works best in remote locations and have taken it from there.” Today, Natalie says, “we have about 80 to 100 goats. Now it’s 50 percent of our [business].”
Matt Gabica, co-owner of We Rent Goats in Middleton, Idaho, started with only a few goats four years ago, and he’s since been able to grow his herd into a healthy business venture.
“We bought our first four goats in March 2015 when a friend asked us to clear up a ditch bank on one of his fields. Then someone else asked for some land clearing and so on and so on,” he says. Matt and his wife Kim purchased We Rent Goats in February 2018 and now have around 600 goats and kids.
All In A Day’s Work
One of the biggest benefits of using goatscaping services is that the goats’ eating habits change with the season, just like plants. Also, goats can cover a lot of land in a short amount of time, which keeps businesses like Natalie’s and Matt’s busy nearly all year long.
Natalie says, “Most of our jobs are at least a week, and 20 adult [goats] can clear a quarter of an acre in two to three days.”
So are there plants even goats won’t eat? While goats’ stomachs may not be picky, they do have preferences and limits.
“Goats will only eat something that tastes good and in a stage of growth that’s beneficial to the goat,” Natalie says. “Goats naturally seek out what their bodies need. If jobs have swallow wart or mountain laurel, we won’t even put them out there because they’ll get violently ill.”
But if your land’s clear of those hazards, another bonus of goatscaping is that the animals naturally fertilize soil by dropping biologically altered feces and working it into the ground with their hooves. This also mitigates future weed growth.
“Goats have a certain enzyme in their saliva that neutralizes a lot of seeds so when they are passed by the goat they are no longer viable, which reduces the number of seeds left in the soil,” Matt says.
Mary Catherine Redmon from Decatur, Michigan, saw a news segment about a local goatscaping company and knew she wanted to try it. She needed to tackle the overgrowth on the 50-by-88-foot steep hill below her home. The hill ends at a lakefront and adding anything unnatural to the groundwater is not an option.
“A human landscaper would use pesticides … I’ve tried to go the more ecological route whenever possible. Goats made it possible.”
–Mary Catherine Redmond, landowner
Mary Catherine and her husband Tim enlisted family-run Munchers on Hooves “The goats are very sweet and gentle creatures and had no problem being in a strange place and are not noisy or obtrusive,” Mary Catherine says. “It’s so fun for us and all the neighbors and friends who stop by to see the goats.”
“We’ve had people come out to sit and sketch the goats, taking photographs,” Natalie from Gap Mountain Goats says. “It makes people reminiscent of being part of the land, of witnessing nature as it is.”
What To Know Before You Goat
There are several variables that go into a goatscaping job, such as how much foliage needs attention, your terrain, what time of year it is, and weather conditions, which make the experience both extremely custom and hard to generalize for cost and time. Matt says each customer wants something different and his company works to meet those goals.
“We always set the expectation with customers up front, that goats will not take every last plant to the ground and give you a completely blank slate to work with,” he says. “What they will do is significantly reduce the quantity of plants in the area giving you a chance to plant something different, have more space between plants for fire risk reduction, or even just see what is underneath.”
Before property owners let a herd loose on land, they should know some important guidelines. Keeping land free of harmful items, such as plastic, rusted fencing, and glass, is imperative to a successful job. In addition, while friendly in nature, some goats, such as the newly kidded or weening, may be skittish or uncomfortable around dogs and overzealous children; they will not eat, or worse, harm themselves when afraid.
“The safety and health of our goats is our number one priority,” Matt says. “They need to be happy and healthy to produce at the most optimal levels. We do our best to keep them in the prescribed grazing area, but environment can sometimes throw a kink in that plan. We have had dogs get in the area and chase or injure goats, we have had water levels rise, drawing down the power of the electrified fencing, and while we hope it never happens, the goats can escape from their designated area, which means we have to get them back where they belong.”
Matt, laughing, recalls the “great goat escape of August 2018,” when some inquisitive members of the We Rent Goats herd grand-marshalled an impromptu parade through a neighborhood in Boise.
“From what we can sleuth out, the goats had propped up on the fence boards to reach the top of a very tall thistle, and two of the fence boards gave way. [That] was all it took for 118 goats to play follow the leader through the neighborhood,” says Matt. “Luckily, by the time we arrived, the neighborhood had them corralled in someone’s front yard and were enjoying a new experience of livestock so close to home.”
“The safety and health of our goats is our no. 1 priority.”
–Matt Gabica, co-owner, We Rent Goats
The story went viral in no time, with news outlets around the world calling Matt to hear about the great goat escape. Fortunately, no harm was done and the story could be chalked up to one of the unexpected realities of managing goats.
For farmers and homesteaders interested in starting their own goatscaping venture, businesses like Gap Mountain Goats offer starter herds, which includes five or six goats for people to build their own herd. “There’s enough work for all of us,” Natalie says. “I love that it’s gaining popularity again.”
For customers, when proper precautions are taken, the experience is a win-win. Mary Catherine says, “I look at it two-fold: We’re helping local farmers subsidize their businesses, plus we made the ecological and responsible choice for the environment. Overall, it was a great experience for us.”
Prep Your Land For Goatscaping
Clear your land of:
- Hunting Traps
- Rusted metals
- Barbed wire
- Uncovered wells
Are you interested in raising goats for goatscaping? Visit your local Tractor Supply, where an associate would be happy to help you learn more about goats’ needs.
Jennon Bell Hoffmann writes lifestyle and human-interest stories from her home in Illinois.