Landowners with properties overrun with invasive or otherwise problematic species like kudzu, multiflora rose and poison ivy don’t have to resort to herbicides, machine rental or exhausting manual removal. Goats will eat and thrive on many of these weeds. This can be a win/win situation.
Brush-clearing goats can convert your unwanted plants into valuable milk, meat and manure. The goat owner keeps the meat and milk, but the manure stays on your land, enriching it for whatever you want to plant next.
Goats are a beneficial land clearing tool. They are an eco-friendly option to herbicides. And, they cost about 50% less than hiring labor and renting machinery.
What Goats Can Do for Weed Control
Goats are nimble natural climbers who can clear steep, uneven ground that might defeat a mower or tractor. But, they’re also natural explorers and escape artists. Make sure you have a strong fence to keep them contained.
Goats will eat tough and thorny weeds that you wouldn’t want to pull by hand. But they’re not trained to eat certain plants and leave others alone. If you want an area completely cleared, bring them in. If you want some plants saved and others cleared away, be sure to surround the plants you want with goat-proof protection.
Goats are naturally inclined to be browsers, not grazers. They’ll eat your brush and grapevines, and some of your grasses and clovers as well. They won’t mow your lawn evenly. (Sheep are more mower-like, and sometimes they can be rented, as well.)
Goats will eat many undesirable plants, but they shouldn’t eat everything. If your land is overgrown with goat-toxic plants including mountain laurel, horse nettle, Jimson weed, poison hemlock, water hemlock and many others, goats can’t clear it.
Raising and Caring for Goats
Some landowners buy goats for brush clearing. If you want goat meat or milk, or if you already keep plenty of other livestock so that caring for a few goats won’t require much extra effort, this can make sense. You need about an acre of good pasture to sustain six goats year-round. (You can stock goats much more densely for a short period of time to clear your land; they just can’t live off it long-term.)
Goats need shelter from extremes of cold or heat. If you live in an area where pastures don’t grow year-round goats need hay to keep them going through the winter (grain too, if they’re milking or pregnant). They need a constant supply of clean water.
Fences are important, as has already been mentioned–both to keep goats in and to keep dogs and other predators out. Domestic dogs who have not been trained to work well with animals may attack goats; even if they don’t, they’re likely to provoke goats into fight or flight. Consult your town’s zoning ordinances–goats may or may not be permitted.
How to Rent Goats for Organic Weed Control
You may know a goat farmer who is looking for more grazing land. If you approach them about clearing your land, remember to be clear ahead of time about who will provide fencing, water, supplemental feed if any, etc.
Some companies rent goats out. Most goat renters will provide fencing, water, supplemental feed and supervision. Your local Cooperative Extension should have a list of goat renters in your area. See if you can speak with other landowners who have worked with those companies and get a sense of how well that worked for them.
Goat renters will come out ahead of time to inspect your land and determine whether their goats can clear it safely, how many goats they should bring and how long the whole operation will take. Be sure to talk with them about any plants you wish to protect. Have a clear understanding of the rights and responsibilities on both sides before you arrange to bring their goats onto your property.
Want to learn more about raising goats and using goats for weed control?
Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat and More (Amazon affiliate link)
For details on how to find and use goat rental services, check out: Goats: Living Weed Eaters.
For more general information about using sheep and goats for weed and brush control, see Is using goats, sheep to control weeds and brush right for you?.
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of Sami Sieranoja
Please note that links to Amazon from Gardening Channel are affiliate links.