Four years ago, Tony Garner, Grangeville, ID, decided to restore 360 acres of weed-infested pastureland for a 250-head beef herd. He considered several options, including grazing, mowing and chemical treatments. Eventually, however, he settled on an unconventional method: renting goats.
“They’re so much better than the chemical situation,” says Garner, who contracted with Tim Linquist of We Rent Goats, based in Wilder, ID. Linquist and his wife, Lynda, “lend” herds of goats to people who want effective but environmentally friendly ways to manage invasive weeds and restore pasturelands.
Linquist first weighs the size and specific concerns of an area to determine how many goats are needed. He provides electrified fencing, if needed, to control grazing and protect desirable plants and trees. The goats are supervised while on the property, and Linquist supplies all they need, including water troughs, a custom-mixed feed supplement and guard dogs to protect from possible predators.
Depending on the weeds or brush present, 50 goats will eat half an acre in 24 hours, he estimates. When the goats have finished, all that’s left is a weed-free property and some “free, natural fertilizer.”
For Garner’s project, Linquist allotted a 250-goat herd that spent roughly three months munching unwanted weeds. “I was very pleased; I think the goats did a heck of a job,” says the beef producer. He’s working a new farm now and says he wouldn’t hesitate to turn to goats again for future pasture management.
As it turns out, goats are ideally suited to cleaning up pastures, Linquist says. Although it’s a myth that they “eat everything,” goats do eat many plants that other ruminants dislike or find harmful. Those include poison hemlock, larkspur and horsetail. But goats don’t prefer the forages cattle enjoy, so graziers can improve pastures without losing valuable feed.
“I’ve seen the goats spit out a mouthful of alfalfa and start eating goatheads,” he explains. “The second-to-least favorite thing that a goat eats is grass; the first least-favorite thing is clover. Cattle and goats, they work kind of hand in hand.”
Goats also do a good job of destroying plants by chewing them to the ground. Their digestive systems largely destroy weed seeds and reduce the risk of redepositing them on rangeland.
Such benefits have helped the Linquists quickly grow their business. The first year, they invested in just 25 goats; the following year, they added 225 more. Last year, to keep up with rising demand, the couple leased another 700 goats from another grazing service. “We just keep on growing,” he says.
As an added benefit, the Linquists also market goat meat from their herds, which, according to USDA, is in increasing demand in the U.S. (See USDA fact sheet at 1.usa.gov/Nm9OL5.)