Two Men and a Goat
Sept 13 2012
Got some brush you want cleared? Weeds needing removal? Poison ivy in your way? Jesse Jackson and Chris Rude are the managers of Two Men and a Goat, a small enterprise whose livestock you might someday hire to clean out your woods. Several Iowa counties are already using “goat landscaping” to control brush and invasive species, without the use of chemical herbicides or heavy machinery, and the pair are experimenting with the practice themselves.
In an effort to clear brush and manage overgrown forest on the farm, they purchased some Boer and Boer-cross goats and set them to work. Goats, notorious for eating anything and everything, prefer to browse rather than graze. They can enter a lot and will clear everything “below five feet tall,” reports Jackson. Poison ivy, cedar, and multiflora rose are some of the species that people can’t stand but goats think are great. In fact, when the animals have gotten into a neighboring soybean field while their paddock fences were being moved, they picked out the sprouting cedar trees and completely ignored the soybeans.
Jackson and Rude manage about 25 acres that they hope to graze the goats on, rotating them through bit by bit. Electronet fencing from Premier is used to block off a section of approximately a half acre, where the goats reside for 1-2 weeks. They get mineral supplements and a handful or two of grain – just enough to keep them friendly. Other than that, they get their nutrition from the brush. So far they’ve done well. Only the buck has ever been dewormed, and the pair don’t intend on changing that. “All the parasites are in the low forage, in the grass,” says Jackson. “The goats are eating up higher than that.” So with sufficient browse and rotations, the animals should stay relatively parasite-free. Ultimately, Jackson hopes to make money by renting the goats out to others wanting brush to be cleared, and by marketing the offspring of his does. The system has great potential as a low-input enterprise: fencing is affordable and can be powered by solar energy or rechargeable batteries; other than that the goats need little more than a fresh water supply and some minimal shelter.
Attending the pasture walk were a number of farmers, some with goats and some interested in starting; and NRCS representatives looking for ideas and information for their counties. Other participants from IDALS Division of Soil Conservation, the US Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the DNR spoke about pros and cons of such an operation. Deer populations benefit from the cleared vegetation, and the overall environment is preserved by removing invasive species in a chemical- and machinery-free manner. At the same time, degradation of the area needs to be avoided – if stocked too densely or not rotated frequently enough, the goats may damage desirable trees by stripping the bark. They also brought up some financial resources for goatherds-to-be. EQIP, DNR, and IDALS funds are potential sources of aid to buy fence or obtain easements for the land.
Two Men and a Goat demonstrate an innovative way to utilize a resource many consider worthless: brush and unwanted woody plants and field margins. With some luck their enterprise will expand and will serve local communities by clearing parks and public lands. Those interested in starting their own goat landscaping herd, check out the resources below, or contact Jesse Jackson at Jess.Jackson@ia.usda.gov.
DNR programs: http://www.iowadnr.gov/InsideDNR/GrantsOtherFunding.aspx
IDALS programs: http://www.iowaagriculture.gov/fieldServices.asp