Host: Rebecca Williams
Show date: 11/23/2010
So let’s say you’ve got a large piece of land that’s overgrown with weeds and brush. You could bring in big lawnmowers and bushhogs. But if you want something a little more low-key… you could rent a goat. Tanya Ott reports:
(nat sound of feeding the goats)
Todd and Allison Sluiss stand in their storybook perfect red barn in West Olive, Michigan, surrounded by goats.
(sound of Allison naming the goats)
It’s feeding time, and Todd throws down hay by the handful. A sign on the barn wall reads “Goats at Work” – and boy, are they ever! Todd and Allison got their first goat five years ago, as a pet. But then…
“We had some friends with some brush that they needed cleared and goats are really good at doing that. We got the equipment to set up some temporary fencing and we put the goats out there. And here we are.”
Word got out that the Sluiss’s had goats for hire.
“We’ve done it for a school, also some factories that have areas, say, in their green space that are overgrown that they want brought under control.”
Goats are perfect for the job. They can eat up to 8 pounds of green foliage a day and they prefer leaves and brush to grasses.
“Goats, actually, will eat poison ivy before they’ll eat the grass from your yard.”
In the southern U.S. they’re used to control invasive species like kudzu. In California, they’re used to clear underbrush on fire-prone hillsides.
“They’ll work in a really small area or steep or even hazardous areas where people may not want to. Lot of thorns or thistles or place you can walk through easily don’t faze them at all.”
Goats are so popular they’ve even attracted the attention of the Colbert Report – which recently pointed out some of the, um, drawbacks of using goats to clear land.
“That’s right, goat landscaping’s number one problem is “number two.” They come, they eat, they poop and they leave. I don’t think we’d ever poop on a jobsite.” (fade clip under)
Todd and Allison: “It all stays, it does. It breaks down in about a week. A lot like rabbit pellets do. Free fertilizer.”
There are potential drawbacks. Critics question the methane goats release into the air. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas.
They also say their hooves pit the soil, allowing rainwater to pool and weed seedlings to sprout.
Allison Sluiss counters that hoof marks are a lot less damaging than tread from heavy machinery. And that methane’s better than herbicides and other chemicals that might run-off into nearby water sources.
The Sluiss’s business – called Goat Mowers – has really taken off. Their herd is now 55 goats strong. They also use some sheep. Goats are browsers – they like bushes and overgrown weeds. Sheep have a taste for grass, so they’re much better for clearing yards.
The Sluiss crew has traveled as far as Indiana, Illinois and Ohio for work. There’s only on problem with the business plan – when the goats do their job right, there’s usually no need for a repeat visit. For the Environment Report, I’m Tanya Ott.
Thanks for Lindsey Smith for help with that story. If you want to learn more about renting a goat, we’ve got links on our website – as well as the full Colbert Report goat expose. You can also see a photo gallery of the Goat Mowers. I’m Rebecca Williams.