I was on my way to the Avondale Preserve for my morning walk with the Beagles when I spotted a school bus pulled over next to an overgrown lot. The bus was surrounded by a wire fence with yellow signs warning that the fence was electric and the goats were at work. The signs said not to touch or feed the goats and that the goats and herder might be covered in poison ivy.
Curious, I stopped. There was a big billy goat sitting on top of a rock with more goats piling out of the school bus. It was time for their workday to begin, eating the dense vegetation covering the lot. A group of neighbors gathered and we were fascinated as we watched the goats start to eat the vegetation and boy can they eat. It was like watching a giant biological weed whacker. They all had names such as Frankie, Enos, and Seth, but I thought Gobbler or Piggy might work just as well.
The land the goats were hired to clear is owned by Deborah Stollenwerck and is the lot next to her house. It had been for sale for years but the lot was so overgrown you couldn’t see the sign. She decided she’d rather not have a house built right next to hers so she purchased the property. Wondering about the best way to clear the land she researched alternatives to hiring a human crew with heavy equipment with all the attendant dust and noise pollution. One of the best things about goats is that they can eat most plants, even plants that are poisonous to people such as poison ivy and poison oak.
Through her research, she found the Laurel Hill Farm MicroFarm and its Herd of Hope. The 28-acre farm was founded in 2010 and is located appropriately enough in Hope, Rhode Island. The farm is owned by Wayne Pitman and his business partner Jacqueline Magnan. The farm originally started as a micro farm growing greens but over time has become an unofficial goat sanctuary. There are about 70 goats on the farm as well as some horses and sheep. Pitman laughed as he explained that goats can work for about 12 years of their adult life before they retire. “They get full retirement and medical benefits.”
The farm started goatscaping about five years ago to help pay for the care of the goats. Pittman said he lets the goats decide who wants to go on the bus for a job. “If they don’t want to get on the bus there are always plenty of others who will. We’re a goatscaping company run by goats with a little human help.”
Pitman explained that the farm charges $550 per day for four days or less and $500 a day for 5 days or more. Goat team 1 is used for the bigger jobs and consists of mostly the larger and older goats. They also have a van for smaller residential jobs. Some of the benefits of using goats include less fire danger from machinery sparks, no chemicals, and less regrowth because the goats digest the seeds.
The work begins with setting up a perimeter fence to keep the goats from escaping. The goat herder needs to be in the enclosure otherwise the goats will try to get out. For the Stollenwerck job the goats were onsite for 3 days at the end of which there wasn’t a leaf in sight. A line of large boulders was revealed that no one knew were there. A final cleanup of the stems and branches the goats didn’t eat will be done.
Stollenwerck set out coolers with drinks for the neighbors who came by to see the goats. “I’m really going to miss them when they’re gone,” she said. “It was the best thing I could have done.” I think her neighbors felt the same way. In this era of leaf blowers and weed whackers there was something peaceful about watching the goats clear the thick brush and I hope to see more goatscaping. To check out more goatscaping photos and stories check out their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/laurelhill.microfarm