For the past few years I have been taking small brush clearing jobs for my goats. Many articles have been written on the larger brush goat herds which clear weeds around sensitive areas. Most of these goat employers are government agencies with large acreages to clear. In Portland, a herd of about 300 goats work on killing English Ivy on the hillsides. Keeping herds that big, or even larger would be impossible for me to handle with my small acreage and small numbers of goats.
I wanted to share with you how I manage to use my Cashmere goats on small jobs. I started my whole goat operation with a brush clearing job. When I couldn’t wait any longer to begin raising Cashmere goats, I still didn’t have any acreage at all. My church had about an acre and a half of tall blackberry brush that they wanted to get rid of. I submitted a proposal to put goats on it and the board accepted. Someone at the church told our local newspaper about it, and they came out and did an article about it. That article brought me the second job and I basically learned as I went along. Here are some of the things I learned along the way:
Fencing: I wanted fencing that would be reusable. Some of the areas that I work are in town and have people that walk by. I would not want to risk hitting them with electricity, so electric fencing was out. I also did not want any fencing that had to be watched or checked on a daily basis. It needed to be stiff enough that it could not flex upward if a goat or predator wanted to scoot under it. What worked best for me were cattle panels with t-posts. Yes, cattle panels are expensive, but they last a long time and can be stacked up and moved (provided you have something that can carry them). If an area to be worked is not fenced, I charge a fencing fee. and put up a cattle panel fence as described.
Shelter: I have tried many types of shelter. Those garage type things (pipes with a tarp) you can buy at some of the discount stores can work, but they will tend to tip and can be picked up by the wind and carried pretty far. I almost lost one twice from the wind. The last time I put it up, I just left off one side of the legs and made it a lean-to. This worked just fine as long as it was lashed to the ground in some way. The other job just has two cattle panels arched and tied to some t-posts. A cheap plastic tarp covers them. One way to get a really nice shelter for little money is to build it yourself. Even if yo are not handy with tools, there are some terrific resources available to show you how, complete with materials lists.
Click Here for a very nice set of instructions for building every kind of structure!
Predators: This one is trickier. I think the cattle panels help to protect the goats from dogs. Most of my jobs are in areas where that would be the main concern. So far I have not had any problems. A guard dog would make too much noise and possibly be a liability concern. I had a llama once, and if she had really been a protective guardian, she would have been an asset. They are quiet and will also eat blackberry.
Water: All my jobs have water available by hose. I make sure of this when I start a job. It is the homeowners responsibility to refill the water on a daily basis. I clean out the water bucket weekly. If there is not water available close enough to reach the water bucket, I would not accept the job.
Poisonous plants: You must make certain that the homeowner does not put any clippings over the fence to the goats. I almost lost my first little herd from some Rhododendron clipping given to the goats by one of the church members. At a current job I have, I discovered nightshade vine. I don’t know if these berries are poisonous to goats, but they are to people so I have removed what I can. You would need to make yourself aware of what is poisonous to goats and check that any area where you use the goats is free of these things. Goats will often just avoid eating things that are toxic to them, but if they clear an area of everything else, who knows what they will try.
Reach: Here’s the tricky part. When blackberry grows way up overhead, the goats can’t reach it. They will do lots of things to try, but when you have a homeowner expecting to see the blackberry disappear, you want to help make that happen. Right now I have a first time pass at a blackberry eradication job. I come out with power hedge trimmers (the big hefty kind) and loppers. I cut away the places where the goats have already eaten the leaves. I cut away all the dead stuff that gets in the way, and I pull down the fresh blackberry canes so the goats can reach. It is time consuming, but I rather enjoy it. After it is all eaten the first time, then the goats can browse what grows back without any help.
Marketing: Since I only have enough goats for a few jobs, I don’t try very hard to market. Word of mouth gets around. The last job I got was at a vineyard. I had gone to the grocery store on a night when they have wine tasting. I talked to some of the winery owners at the store about weeder geese – something I am interested in trying. I happened to have a brochure in my purse that covered the weeder geese and brush eating goats. A few weeks later the brochure had been passed from the winery to a vineyard owner who had some blackberry he wanted to get rid of.
Since I get new culls every year, I intend to keep only a few of my brush goats each year and add the new ones as they come along. That way I don’t have to feed so many through the winter.
If any of you want to ask more questions about how to do this, I would be happy to discuss this with you over the phone or by email.
Using Cashmere Goats for Brush and Weed Control.
An herbicide free, non-toxic method which leaves the soil healthy and fertilized.