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Goats have a reputation for eating anything they can put in their mouths, from clothes to tin cans. While this isn't technically true, they can and do thrive on some surprising local vegetation, including thistle, nettles and even thorny blackberry bushes.
Also known as "brush goats," these cloven-hoofed companions have become a form of organic weed control, battling pesky plant infestations that confound the more experienced gardener. With enough time in a backyard or field, goats go head to head with nuisance vines, weeds and problem shrubs, emerging victorious and with a full stomach.
Blackberry bushes in particular are a frustrating obstacle for landowners. The invasive fruit-bearing bushes are loaded with thorns, will throttle trees and grass and are a headache to eradicate. Goats, on the other hand, love to eat blackberries and the connected shrubbery. The best part is that this avenue is a win-win: It involves no herbicides, eliminates blood, sweat and toil and gives the goats a free meal.
All in a Day's Lunch
Goats are drawn to thorns, brambles and bracken more than they are to grass. With four stomachs and the ability to eat about 8 pounds per day, they are well equipped to handle stickers and woody vegetation. Faster and cheaper than human labor, goats also nix the need for heavy equipment, diesel or electric power or poisonous chemicals.
Keeping the happy herd from wandering is something the lawn-clearing land owner will need to consider. If you're renting goats, some franchises will use portable electric fences to keep the goats where you want them. Others keep an employee and guard dogs on hand, full-time or part-time, as the job requires.
If you intend to take on the task of goat ownership yourself, be sure to research what it takes to wrangle this particular species before embarking, and have a trained livestock veterinarian in the loop.
New Kids on the Block
Of course, as with any innovative movement, there are some drawbacks. Don't expect Billy and his friends to know a thing about landscape design; they will eat what and where they wish to eat until their entire habitat is cleared. Trimmed lawns with edged walks are not exactly in their repertoire.
You will also need more than one goat for the task. It might seem generous to help the little ruminants avoid food competition, but goats are social animals and can be lonely without a herd. If you're planning on clearing large portions of lands, a herd of 30 goats is not unusual; for a backyard, a smaller herd is fine.
While goats can stomach a lot, there are some plants that are toxic to them. These will need to be cleared first, before the herd is left to graze. Additionally, all goats can eat blackberry bushes without harm, but long-haired varieties might get tangled in the thorny brush.
Finally, renting goats to clear blackberries is a popular service in the Pacific Northwest, where such brambles are overly prolific. Depending upon where you live, however, you will want to check with city and state ordinances -- or your applicable homeowners association -- before bringing goats into the neighborhood.