Hiring out a herd of goats for weed management has led to big business for one Tama County farmer.
Adam Ledvina, 30, of Chelsea owns and operates Iowa Kiko Goats and Blue Collar Goatscaping — respectively a commercial breeding and meat goat business combined with a prescribed goat grazing “goatscaping” business for clearing out brush without the use of herbicides or machinery.
On a recent “Iowa Farmers Union Lunch and Learn” episode titled “On the Farm with Adam Ledvina,” Ledvina explained how he got so tied up with all things goat.
It began almost a decade ago while he was working to remove brush and invasive species for the Iowa DNR and various other conservation organizations.
Take the goat for example. It's a hard-working, low-maintenance, plant-eating, fertilizing machine with wide-set eyes and head-butting inclinations.
So, if a property owner wants to clear huge or unruly swathes of land without expensive labor, possibly toxic chemicals, or outside environmental damage, they might want to investigate goatscaping, a strategy that, while not new, is becoming increasingly popular.
It's a centuries-old custom to use a herd of goats to clean a land by browsing, foraging, and fertilizing. Goatscaping takes use of one of the herd's inherent abilities: devouring practically everything in its path. The nimble and sturdy goat may be a top-choice alternative for people concerned about poisons seeping into the ground from chemical weed killers, as well as reaching steep, tight, or rugged terrain that contemporary technology cannot manage.
Furthermore, goatscaping isn't only a natural solution for weeds and overgrown vegetation. Poison ivy, poison sumac, and invasive species such as kudzu, which grow quickly and suffocate native vegetation, are no match for a goat's hunger.
Businesses like Gap Mountain Goats in Marlboro, New Hampshire, are profiting from goatscaping's minimal maintenance and significant ecological effect.
Gap Mountain Goats owner Natalie Reid explains, "Gap Mountain is a functioning farm, and friends and neighbors were requesting to borrow a few goats to clean up their area." "We began by researching how to best employ the animals, as well as what type of fence works best in isolated areas, and we've progressed from there." "We have approximately 80 to 100 goats now," Natalie explains. It now accounts for half of our [business]."
Matt Gabica, co-owner of We Rent Goats in Middleton, Idaho, began with just a few goats four years ago and has now grown his herd into a profitable business.
"In March 2015, a friend requested us to remove a ditch bank on one of his farms, so we acquired our first four goats. Then someone else requested some land clearance, and so on," he explains. We Rent Goats was bought by Matt and his wife Kim in February 2018 and presently owns roughly 600 goats and babies.
It's all part of the job.
One of the most appealing aspects of hiring goatscaping services is that, like plants, goats' food preferences alter with the seasons. Goats can also traverse a lot of ground in a short amount of time, keeping companies like Natalie's and Matt's active almost all year.
"Most of our operations last at least a week," Natalie explains, "and 20 mature [goats] can clear a quarter acre in two to three days."
Is there anything that goats won't eat? Although goats' stomachs aren't choosy, they do have preferences and limitations.
Natalie explains, "Goats will only eat something that tastes nice and is in a stage of growth that is helpful to the goat." "Goats are naturally drawn to what their bodies require. We won't even put jobs out there if they have swallow wart or mountain laurel because they'll become terribly ill."
If your property is free of these dangers, goatscaping has additional advantage: the animals organically fertilize soil by dropping biologically altered excrement and pounding it into the ground with their hooves. This also slows the spread of weeds in the future.
Goats have an enzyme in their saliva that neutralizes a lot of seeds, making them no longer viable when passed by the goat, reducing the quantity of seeds left in the soil," Matt explains.
Mary Catherine Redmon of Decatur, Michigan, heard a news program on a local goatscaping business and decided to give it a try. She needed to clear the vegetation from the steep 50-by-88-foot slope beneath her house. The hill comes to a halt at the lake's edge, and adding anything strange to the groundwater is out of the question.
Pesticides would be used by a human gardener... Whenever feasible, I've attempted to choose the environmentally friendly way. It was made feasible by goats."
–Landowner Mary Catherine Redmond
Mary Catherine and her husband Tim recruited the help of Munchers on Hooves, a family-run business. "The goats are quite nice and gentle creatures," Mary Catherine recalls. "They have no trouble being in an unfamiliar area and are not noisy or obnoxious." "It's a lot of fun for us and all of our neighbors and friends who come over to view the goats."
People have come out to draw the goats and take pictures," Natalie of Gap Mountain Goats said. "It reminds people of being a part of the land, of seeing nature in its natural state."
Before you start goating, there are a few things you should know.
There are various factors that go into a goatscaping project, such as the amount of foliage that need attention, your terrain, the time of year, and weather conditions, all of which make the experience both very personalized and difficult to generalize in terms of cost and time. According to Matt, each consumer has distinct needs, and his firm strives to accommodate those needs.
"With clients, we always set the expectation up front that goats would not eat every last plant and leave you with a completely blank canvas to deal with," he explains. "What they'll do is drastically reduce the number of plants in the area, allowing you the opportunity to plant something new, create more space between plants to lessen fire danger, or just examine what's below."
Before letting a herd go on their property, landowners need be aware of several key criteria. A good task requires keeping the land free of dangerous objects such as plastic, rusty fence, and glass. Furthermore, while most goats are sociable by nature, some, such as the just kidded or weening, may be wary of dogs and overzealous youngsters; they will not eat, or worse, hurt themselves, if they are terrified.
"Our goats' safety and wellbeing are our first priorities," Matt explains. "They must be happy and healthy in order to create at their best." We try our hardest to keep them in the designated grazing area, but the environment sometimes throw a wrench in the works. We've had dogs go into the area and pursue or harm goats, water levels increase, reducing the strength of the electric fencing, and the goats can escape from their assigned area, which means we have to bring them back where they belong."
Matt laughs as he recounts the "great goat escape of August 2018," when some curious We Rent Goats members grand-marshalled an impromptu procession through a Boise neighborhood.
"As far as we can tell, the goats raised themselves up on the fence planks to reach the top of a particularly tall thistle, and two of the fence boards broke way." "All it took was 118 goats playing follow the leader across the neighborhood," Matt explains. "Fortunately, by the time we arrived, they had been corralled in someone's front yard, and the residents were enjoying a novel experience with animals so close to house."
"Our goats' safety and health are our top priorities."
–We Rent Goats co-owner Matt Gabica
The story quickly went viral, with news outlets from all around the world contacting Matt to learn more about the great goat escape. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the incident may be chalked up to one of the unanticipated realities of goat management.
Businesses like Gap Mountain Goats provide starter herds, which include five or six goats for anyone to establish their own herd, for farmers and homesteaders interested in starting their own goatscaping endeavor. Natalie comments, "There's enough work for all of us." "It's great that it's regaining popularity"
When sufficient safeguards are followed, the experience is a win-win for customers. "I look at it two ways," Mary Catherine explains, "we're helping local farmers finance their companies, and we made the environmentally correct and ecological option." Overall, it was a fantastic adventure for us."
Prepare your property for goatscaping.
Remove the following from your property: