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Goats hired out to eliminate invasive species
By JONATHAN CRIBBS
SUNDERLAND, Md. (Aug. 2, 2016) — Clearing overgrown brush or eliminating invasive species from a farm or park can be a groan-inducing chore.
If you’re lucky, maybe you organize a group of volunteers, hand out shears or weed whips and spend hours if not days clearing land, lucky to escape without a poison ivy rash.
Jacqueline Bowen and her family offer a different approach: Goats. Lots of them.
Hire their small company, Browsing Green Goats, and they’ll set up a perimeter of electric fencing and unleash an army of up to 40 goats (depending on the job’s size).
In a few hours or days, the goats can gobble everything on the ground and anything growing on trees up to eight feet off the ground, Bowen said, including poison ivy (goats are immune), kudzu, Japanese honeysuckle and multiflora rose. They can consume up to 22 percent of their body weight.
“They’ll eat pretty much anything,” said Bowen — also the reigning Miss Anne Arundel County Farm Bureau — from inside her family’s home on their five-acre farm, Prosperity Acres, in northern Calvert County earlier this month.
Browsing Green Goats is riding a fast-growing trend of goat employment in the gardening and landscaping industry. More companies are using the animals to mow grass and consume invasive species for a number of reasons, including the environmental benefits.
Goats require no gasoline, for instance, so they don’t expel the sort of emissions a machine does. Google uses goats to trim the lawn at its California headquarters. The city of Boston employs them as well. (The city of Salem, Ore., recently decided to stop using them after determining they were too costly and damaging to native species.)
Bowen and her family’s business have had a few choice clients of their own. Last August, her goats helped clear Congressional Cemetery in Washington. They’re generally booked from April to November, Bowen said, and they’re moved week to week.
“Our business is booming now, so we need to have them go out and work,” she said.
When the goats are taken to a job, they’re watered and monitored occasionally. It’s important to not ignore them as goats have occasionally hopped over the fencing, Bowen said.
The fencing also does a good job excluding predators such as foxes and coyotes.
The goats’ breeds include Boers, Alpines, La Manchas, Spanish goats and Kikos, Bowen said.
The family also raises beef cattle. They initially raised goats for meat and dairy, but Bowen said they recently stopped raising them for meat so they can build their herd to 100 for Browsing Green Goats.
They also take the goats to fairs to educate the public, an important part of Bowen’s job as Miss Anne Arundel County Farm Bureau.
“Everybody likes goats,” she said. “Unfortunately, not a lot of people know about them.”
Bowen is also an avid horse enthusiast and a qualified trainer for the Retired Race Horse Project, a Davidsonville organization that places Thoroughbred ex-racehorses into second careers.
“It’s a tough choice between the goats and the horses,” she said.
When pressed, she admitted she couldn’t ride goats.
“That’s the difference,” she said.