By Nathalie Weinstein
Dolan Media Newswires
Portland, Ore. — While gas-powered brush cutters can clear land of unwanted plants, more cities and businesses are finding that goats can do the job more sustainably and for less money.
Goats, with their insatiable appetite for plants that other animals wouldn’t touch, are a favorite land clearer in rural areas. And now they are being used in urban areas, too.
A crew of goats from Portland’s Goat Rental Northwest is chewing up 10 acres of invasive blackberry bushes at the AmberGlen corporate campus in nearby Hillsboro. From big goats with horns to pygmy goats slightly larger than house cats, a crew of 40 can clear up to 3,600 square feet of land a day, according to Georgina Steiner, owner of Goat Rental Northwest.
“We give the goats a job they really enjoy,” Steiner said. “That’s eating.”
Officials from AmberGlen’s property manager, KG Investment, said they first heard about the goats from landscaper Pacific Landscape. Invasive blackberry bushes had overtaken 10 acres of the property, said Kim Schoenfelder, project manager with KG Investment. Because a creek runs beneath the property, the use of bulldozers and herbicides raised concerns about erosion and possible contamination of the creek.
But Schoenfelder had concerns, too, about letting farm animals onto the property. Would the goats be on leashes or running wild? What would happen if one escaped? But using goats to clear land is nothing new, said Brian Benedict, area manager for Pacific Landscape. States with wide open spaces, such as Montana and Idaho, often use goats. Goat Rental Northwest surrounds its herd with an electric fence.
So Schoenfelder agreed to take Pacific Landscape’s advice.
“At first we jokingly brought it up in staff meetings,” Benedict said. “I guess we’re getting back to these things people used to do back in the day.”
Goats’ eating abilities can be attributed to their four-chambered stomachs. Plants are softened within the animal’s first stomach, then regurgitated into a slimy mass called cud, which the goat chews again. Once the goat’s meal has been processed by all four chambers, the plant matter is broken down so much that it is unlikely to grow back, even if it’s left behind as fertilizer.
To keep the goats healthy, Steiner first surveys land for poisonous or dangerous plants. To clear an area, Goat Rental Northwest uses screens to flatten plants that are too tall for the goats to reach. Also, water bowls are placed on the site to keep the animals hydrated. Once the goats have cleared an area, a crew comes in to pick up any debris left behind.
“I’m amazed by what the goats have been able to clear in a week,” Schoenfelder said. “It takes longer, but there are no herbicides and it costs half of the money we paid to bring in machines.”
The only drawback to the goats, Benedict said, was the timing. By fall, blackberry bushes have become woody and tough for the goats to tear through, so they may need 30 days to do the work. Next time, Benedict would like the goats put out in springtime, when the plants are more young and tender.
Business is booming for Steiner, who started her rental operation a year ago with one goat. By the end of the year, she plans to have 200 goats to keep up with demand. The goats come from a rescue group in California and have a long-term home on Steiner’s property. Her clients include KXL Radio and Cricket Wireless, which use the animals to eat blackberry bushes surrounding their telecommunications towers.
“We normally would have our staff out there with weed whackers,” said Bill Ashenden, general sales manager for Alpha Broadcasting, which owns KXL Radio. “Our engineers have told us the goats are keeping the blackberry bushes back effectively. Environmentally, it’s a lot easier, and these workers don’t need health insurance.”
The city of Wilsonville for the past eight years has used goats from Hawley Land and Cattle Co. to remove English Ivy from its Memorial Park. A study commissioned by the city showed that after the goats eat it, the plant has not returned. The goats have been so popular in Wilsonville that the city now has a celebration every year for all things goat, according to Kerry Rappold, natural resources program manager with the city of Wilsonville.
“People look forward to the festival every year,” Rappold said. “The goats are our four-legged environmental stewards.”