One of my all-time favorite children’s books is Gregory, The Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmat. It tells the story of a cute billy goat who gets a tummy ache from eating too much junkyard trash. The book reinforces the common misconception that goats eat everything. In reality goats don’t eat trash. But they do eat unwanted vegetation, overbearing brush and invasive plants. Goats are great land managers that can clear crop and pasture land on your farm.
Utilizing goats to clear land offers several advantages to machinery, herbicides and other livestock.
Goats can go places machinery can’t such as wooded property, vine-filled fencerows, hills, hollows and creek banks. Unlike mowers that cut weeds and allow seeds to lie, goats consume most of the seeds along with the weeds, thereby preventing unwanted reseeding.
If you’ve run a bush hog under the heat of the summer sun, you’ll appreciate that goats are a less labor intensive land clearing method than operating machinery. Goats don’t require fuel, spare parts or repairs, making them considerably less expensive than heavy equipment. The only emissions goats release are organic fertilizer, milk, meat and club kids.
Residue from herbicides used to clear land can be toxic to humans, animals and pollinators. If you want to clear land for future food crops or reclaim pasture, consider goats as a sustainable solution to clear land without herbicides.
Goats are superior land managers to other ruminants and pigs because they are natural browsers. They have special gut enzymes that enable them to digest plants that are toxic to other animals, and prefer a mouthful of kudzu to grass.
What plants will goats clear?
Last year my goats completely cleared an overgrown fencerow, first annihilating vines and then eating away low lying weeds. They revealed tons of delicious wild asparagus for me to enjoy. They devoured the Japanese honeysuckle choking out a small tree grove. By fall the grove was clear of invasives and much healthier.
I scan new property for toxic plants before letting them on new land. My experience has been that goats are good at avoiding toxic plants without human supervision, but I mow down anything that might cause them problems just to be safe.
Goats will eat non-toxic things you don’t want them to eat. Mine destroyed several young apple and pine trees. Protect plants valuable to you. Also, beware: Goats love poison ivy and oak. It doesn’t harm them, but will transfer to you when you pet or milk them (I learned this the hard way).
Good fences make good neighbors
Goats will find any and every way to escape an area of confinement. Good fencing will keep them from clearing your neighbor’s decorative shrubs. Portable electric fencing is a good choice for temporary land clearing situations. For permanent pastures I use 12.5 gauge goat fence (4 inch) and 12.5 gauge field fence (6 inch).
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