Getting Your Goat

In some California neighborhoods, weed removal is an occasion for barbecues and block parties. Residents gather in their yards to sip cocktails and watch as hard-working weed management teams clear thistles and scrub from the local hillsides.

And it isn’t because residents are just looking for an excuse to sip cocktails. Instead of hiring guys with weed-whackers and herbicides, more and more California cities and local homeowners associations are turning to goats.

The idea isn’t really new — ranchers have been using goats to regenerate pastureland for centuries—it was just temporarily disregarded in favor of pesticides and gas-powered devices.

"Managed grazing is the best way to get rid of invasive weeds," says Brian Dodds of Sycamore Farms, a Watsonville, California ranch that rents its goat herd out as an environmentally friendly weed management system.

Dodds says 90 of his goats can clear a 3.5-acre parcel of land in about three weeks. For landowners, that means reasonably fast results without toxic pesticides, noisy equipment or fire-prone dry plant waste.
Unlike people with weed-whackers, goats can clear vegetation from steep hills and other hard-to-reach places, and they"ll eat the seeds that pesticides leave behind, keeping next year’s generation of weeds at bay.

The benefits are clear enough to entice more than a handful of entrepreneurs into the goat rental business. California’s goat rental kingpin is Goats-R-Us. The company goats need close supervision; unchecked, they’ve been described as "the single most destructive herbivore." Invasive goats pushed eight native plant species into extinction on San Clemente Island in California.

Goat rental is gaining momentum. "We had to stop advertising," says Dodds. It seems there just aren’t enough goats to go around.