Gardening With Goats

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Hiring garden goats was a huge trend a couple years ago — you could even book the service on Amazon for a while. But the buzz died down, and it seemed like goat rentals were just another passing trend. Then in early August, Twitter exploded with the story of a Boise neighborhood that was invaded by a herd of 100 goats. It turns out that, yeah, gardening with goats is still a thing.

Community and Environmental Service

Goats rarely escape past the temporary, often electrified fencing around the areas they are hired to clear. Using goats can cost half as much as human laborers, in part because they work best in steep slopes and confined spaces. These are often public spaces that are dangerous or inaccessible to human workers and machines. Because of their inaccessibility, such areas are often used for illegal activity. Unlike humans, who must use their hands to pick up weeds, goats are easily able to avoid drug needles discarded in overgrown areas. And clearing brush in these areas can help deter crime.

But the real benefits are environmental. Goats excel at removing the kind of dry, brushy vegetation that fuels wildfires. Goats eliminate the need for both polluting gas-powered machinery and toxic herbicides. They also fertilize the soil with their manure as they work.

A Baaad Situation

The goats in Boise were rented to clear vegetation in a highway district water retention pond when they broke through the fence and took over a neighboring landscape. Fortunately, the homeowners were more amused than put out by the incident, and the goats were quickly rounded up and put back to work.

The outcome was much more serious back in 2011 when a herd of garden goats got loose on I-5 in California. Nearly 40 goats were killed on the freeway, and several crashes resulted.

Goats for Home Gardens

The risks of runaway goats are small when compared to the benefits, but goats aren’t right for every situation. If you have some weeds in your lawn, goats are not going to help you. They are too voracious for selective weeding. But if you have a few acres of brush to clear — a herd of goats can make short work of invasive species and plants that are difficult for people to pull — like blackberry, thistles, and poison ivy. They will even eat the lower branches off of trees. There are very few plants that goats will not eat.

While many goat rental agencies specialize in very large jobs requiring hundreds of goats, there are still ruminant rentals who serve private homeowners. One of the originals, Rent-a-Ruminant, has franchises in Washington, Texas, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Goats on the Go operates in even more states, and Hiregoats.com maintains a comprehensive list of goat service professionals. Just be sure to ask about their goat containment practices.

Feature image courtesy of KlausHausmann on Pixabay

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Gemma Alexander

Gemma Alexander has an M.S. in urban horticulture and a backyard filled with native plants. After working in a genetics laboratory and at a landfill, she now writes about the environment, the arts and family. See more of her writing here.

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