Landscaping going to the goats in Seattle
Angie's List member Colleen McClure is reeling from sticker shock after she asked landscapers for quotes on removing dense patches of holly, ivy and 8-foot-tall blackberry that threatened to overrun her yard. "They told me it'd cost thousands just to remove a 70-by-20 section of ivy," the Seattle resident says.
Instead, McClure called highly rated The Goat Lady in Duvall, who provided two hungry goats that steadily munched away at the invading greenery, making her yard manageable again in a matter of weeks. "Goats are great," she says. "They did all the work and every day I'd come home seeing progress."
Using animals such as goats and sheep to manage unwanted vegetation isn't a new technique - our nation's 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, used sheep to trim the White House lawn. Today, the voracious foragers reduce brush that fuels wildfires in California and combat noxious weeds in Idaho pastures.
Tammy Dunakin, owner of Vashon Island's Rent-A-Ruminant, says the demand for goats to help clear urban and suburban Seattle's vegetation has grown exponentially since she started her business in 2004. Sure-footed goats can easily overcome steep or difficult terrain that bogs down man or machine. And goats produce no emissions, no erosion and no chemical run-off.
After several failed attempts last summer to control vegetation with traditional methods, Russ Ayers, landscape manager at Issaquah Highlands, hired a herd of more than 300 goats from Rent-A-Ruminant and Healing Hooves in Edwall to clear 12 acres of steeply sloped hills. The total cost was 75 percent less than human-based work and much more effective. "The weeds didn't have a chance," Ayers says.
Despite the obvious appeal, goat rental companies say landowners would be behooved to apply the same scrutiny to hiring a herd as they would to any company. "It's like any service you use; ask for references," says Craig Madsen, who owns Healing Hooves. Potential goat clients should also ask about insurance and check to see whether business licenses or permits are required for land-clearing work.
Generally, before any work begins, a goat wrangler will perform a site visit to evaluate access, how to best install the portable electric perimeter fencing that contains the herd and to identify potential goat hazards such as high traffic, sheer drop-offs or poisonous plants.
For homeowners with less than an acre, The Goat Lady offers smaller goat herds starting at $35 per goat per week. A two-goat minimum is required because goats are social herd animals. Instead of fencing, the goats stay tethered to stakes. Homeowners must provide water, keep the tethers untangled and move the goats to new grazing areas every few days.
Larger lots require larger herds, which typically take three to five days to clear one acre. Healing Hooves' herd of 250 goats and sheep starts around $700 and Rent-A-Ruminant offers 15-, 60- or 120-goat herds for $250 to $725 a day. The Goat Lady also offers herds of up to 100 goats.