By Kendra Waldenberger
U of MN Extension Ag Intern
Over the past five years, “Goatscaping” has increased in popularity while becoming an option several landowners choose.
Goatscaping is a weed management practice that offers several additional benefits that traditional landscaping does not. Hiring a herd of goats could be a great strategy implemented on landowner’s properties who want to mitigate weeds without pesticide use.
Several businesses and landowners have called upon herds of goats to tame unruly weeds and tough areas to maintain. Goats will eat almost anything. They have no problem eating dangerous plants like burning nettle, poison ivy, and poison sumac. Steep and hard-to-mow areas are no match for the goat as they are agile and hard-working creatures that can get into rough and narrow spots.
The practice of using goats and sheep for weed and vegetation control has been around for several centuries. During World War I, the White House implemented sheep grazing to maintain the large lawn because the US was reserving the necessary manpower for the war efforts. However, when the war was over gas-powered lawn mowers, and weed whackers soon put these animals out of a job.
Using goats to clear land provides many benefits that traditional human management practices do not. Goats provide a source of fertilizer, which they work into the soil with their hooves. Goat hooves also stomp on weeds, helping mitigate them in future growing seasons.
The goat digestive system can aid as a herbicide when trying to prevent the spread of weeds. When a goat eats seeds from a weed, its saliva contains an enzyme that neutralizes several seed types. After the material passes through the goat and is excreted, the seeds are no longer viable to grow back.
Goats have been given credit for helping slow the spread of wildfires. The vegetative areas where goats graze are shorter in length and have more space between plants. If a wildfire breaks out, the increased distance between the plants provides more time for the fire to extinguish before catching the next plant on fire and spreading.
While there are many benefits of having goats, knowing and recognizing some of their downfalls can help avoid potential mishaps. By nature, goats are herd animals and will always need a companion when grazing.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as having several goats will help complete jobs faster. Like humans, there is always a chance a goat can get hurt and be out of commission while they heal. To avoid potential injuries and protect the health of the goats, the land needs to be clear of glass, plastic, rusted metals, hunting traps, and barbed wire.
Goats are also very clever when it comes to escaping their assigned area. Some can jump several feet in the air and can clear short fences. If goats escape, they have the potential to get injured and damage neighboring properties.
Having a secure perimeter for the goats will ensure their safety and the property of others. Make sure to post signs around the fence discouraging people from petting and feeding the goats. Feeding and petting them could introduce a potential sickness and distract the goat from doing their job.
Goatscaping could be a good fit for landowners looking for a chemical-free and organic way to manage their weed populations. The use of grazing goats eliminates worrying about the risk of potentially harmful chemicals and negative environmental impacts.
Goats eat almost anything and everything, provide fertilizer for the field, neutralize several varieties of weed seeds, and are a low-maintenance method of land management.