Interview with the World's Best Weed Eater

Hear what this goat has to say about his species’ reputation as effective and efficient weed-eaters.
Megan Phelps
July/August 2007
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Goats are experts at getting rid of troublesome weeds.
istockphoto/ Aleksandr Lobanov


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If your back yard or pasture has a weed problem, you may be happy to know that there's an effective, all natural weed-eating solution: Just bring in a goat. Goats have a well-earned reputation for being willing to eat anything, and because they're more interested in eating weeds than grass, you don't have to do much more than turn them loose where you want them to devour weeds.

They're so effective that they're often used to control noxious weeds that are otherwise hard to get rid of, such as kudzu in the South and leafy spurge in the West.

To understand more about how this works, we went straight to the source and talked to a real live goat. Here are his candid answers to our questions about his favorite kind of work.

I've heard goats will eat anything, but what's your favorite food?

I'll eat just about any kind of plant, but I prefer weeds to grass. I've got my favorites, but I like to mix it up. I like cheat grass, dandelions, purple loosestrife, yucca ... what have you.

So you could say you're a natural weed-eater?

I think that's fair.

Do you eat kudzu?

Absolutely.

Christmas trees?

Delicious.

Laundry?

This is anonymous, right ?? I love it.

Hypothetically, if you were going to move into my back yard what would I have to provide in the way of room and board?

Well, taking care of a goat is a commitment. It's not something to be taken lightly.

For me, these are the basics:

Food. I'll eat your weeds, but I'm also going to want some hay and your basic commercial goat ration. If I don't get enough to eat, I'm out of there.

Housing. A barn would be nice, but I would consider moving into the right shed. Most goats just need some basic shelter, we're not that picky. But I definitely need a big yard to graze in, a couple hundred square feet at the very least.

Medical care. I don't need health insurance, but I'd like to know you at least have a vet you can call.

If I wanted to keep a goat in my yard, how high would the fence have to be?
We don't need much in the way of fencing. We like to stay in one place.

That's not what I've heard.
OK, you've got me. You know the old saying, 'If a fence won't hold water it won't hold a goat'? That's actually true. In fact, it's my motto.

I don't have a big enough yard to require a goat year-round. Would you be willing to work for an hourly wage?

Well, I have a pretty good deal here in my barnyard, but yes, there are people who rent out goats, so you can ask around. For large tracts of land, there are companies you can contract. In fact, the government hires goats to clear out noxious weeds in some of the Western states. I've heard some of those federal jobs are a pretty sweet deal.

Note from the editors: OK, you've got us. We didn't really interview a goat. But using goats to control weeds is no joke. You can learn more about it here and here . Do you have more stories of goats and other weed-eating livestock? You can share them by posting a comment.


Megan E. Phelps is a freelance writer based in Kansas. She enjoys reading and writing about all things related to sustainable living including homesteading skills, green building and renewable energy. You can find her on .


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Sue Hall_3
1/14/2010 5:24:36 AM
Goats are great, Burl Ives the singer had a pet goat he took with him I hear. Goats can be picky in that they work up first eating bushes, tall plants and grass last. They tend not to want to eat what they have stepped on like hay that is dropped as they eat. the goat dairy I worked on a lot of hay was wasted after it fell at their feet.

D Williams
11/12/2008 1:41:19 PM
We have several goats and they do a great job of clearing the weeds, however we are careful about where they roam as the neighbours lost some to poisonous plants - poison peach being one nasty. Fireweed can be eaten as goats are 20 times less susceptible as cattle to the poisonous alkaloid it contains, but the liver is still damaged in some way. Whilst I agree that goats are better than herbicides, I would suggest that the responsible goat owner look for info on these poisonous plants that grow in their area - and how to trim their hooves!!

T.S. LaBarre
10/16/2007 12:00:00 AM
Love all I've read. Have a question: Is it ok for out little weed eaters to eat leaves from grapefruit and orange trees? Thanks for your time,T.S.

Jeannie Marcom
9/30/2007 12:00:00 AM
maybe?

teresa edwards
7/16/2007 12:00:00 AM
My daddy used to work with a man that had 3 goats. He brought them over to eat some honey suckle vines at the edge of the yard. These never got out of the yard and we didn't tie them or fence them in. The billy would see me and come in the yard so i could push on his head. He liked to push back but not butt. They all were just really pets and were interesting to someone 13 years old.

Rita Swaringen
7/16/2007 12:00:00 AM
Bravo! One thing I would add is that you don't want to try to keep "A" goat. They are herd animals and need some kind of companion(s), but the beauty of them is they are not normally picky about who they hang with. I have kept them with dogs, horses, cattle. Another thing to keep in mind is that goats are browsers, like deer. First choice is bushes and trees, second is weeds. I've never had a problem with them eating anything that's toxic to them. Maybe they just don't eat enough at one time to bother them. Sorry to read about the stray pit bulls. Those are shot on sight in my neighborhood.

terri sullivan
7/15/2007 12:00:00 AM
Thanks great tips and articles. terri

Carmen Klapperich
7/15/2007 12:00:00 AM
We have 15 acres in middle Tennessee that we are rehabilitating from agricultural abuse. One year after I experienced my 4th poison ivy episode before April (!!) I got goats. Not only are goats good weedeaters but they are natural composters and fertilizer manufacturing plants. I use only wethers to avoid hormonal misbehavior. Right now I only have 2 boys but have had as many as 4. As another person said they do tend to be homebodies, they seem to want to be able to see the house at all times. To get them to browse the meadows and woods we tether them to a riding lawn mower. The mower is too heavy for them to pull and we can move the goats easily when we see they've gotten bored with an area. Whatever they eat they seem to prefer the newest growth first. Only if forced to will they deign to eat older growth. On the occasions that they get loose from their tethers (or, in a weak moment, I let them range free) I end up going round and round with them about some of my landscape plants. They do love tree leaves so I protect newly planted saplings with individual fences. They love to eat my forsythia, lilac, and butterfly bushes. Interestingly they don't touch most of my wildflowers except for purple coneflower and Maxmillian sunflower. I had to dig up and give away 2 lovely red-twig dogwood shrubs because if able the goats would eat them down to the ground.

Mary Weaver
7/15/2007 12:00:00 AM
I have 3 nubian goats and I love them. I have fresh milk every day. They eat the thistles down in my horse pasture and leave the grass for the horses. They are also wonderful pets with as much personality and playfulness as a puppy. Goats are good jumpers and a fence is nothing if the food and attention is better on the other side. That said, as long as they have a good supply of food, water, attention and play on the side of the fence you want them on, they will usually stay.

chtank
7/14/2007 12:00:00 AM
I hear that goat's milk is far more healthy than is cow's milk and I know goat's milk cheese is delicious. In fact, I do believe that MEN has run several stories on both the goat's milk and the making of goat's milk cheese.I hear, also, that goats make good pets, too, but not in the city, for land's sake, they need more room than the normal city back yard can provide. Besides, most city's have an ordinance against keeping livestock, it is a health issue. For city dwellers, better stick with dogs, cats and parrots.Now, what we need are stories about dwarf pigs and chickens. Back in the olden days in Oklahoma, we always had yard chickens which provided fresh eggs for breakfast and fired chicken for Sunday dinner.In fact, I used to help my dad control the egg production. He caught me throwing the cockerel eggs against the barn door to leave only hen's eggs. After all, he had told me that cockerel eggs were not good to eat.

James Smith_4
7/14/2007 12:00:00 AM
We had a goat who ate everything but the weeds. The ivy was first to go, then tree leaves. The weeds would stay until we finally went out there with a gas weed eater, and then she would go into an eating frenzy, like she had been saving the weeds. She was a great animal, but unfortunately got into a box of Minute Rice, which swelled her up four times her size and killed her. Then we got a sheep, he did a better job, but choked to death on a plastic bag. Then I got chickens, and they scratched the place to bare dirt. Weeds don't even have a chance to get started. So they are forever my yard buddies. But I still miss that goat.

Hazel Watson_3
7/14/2007 12:00:00 AM
Really cute story! And funny! Loved the part about the laundry and anonymity! I'm sorry I don't have any good stories about goats. I have one about Siamese cats, but that would be beside the point of Mother Earth News

Trudi Dixon
7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
I had three Nigerian Dwarf goats in an acre pen, and it was borderline too many goats per acre. They ate the weeds great, but grass... not so much. I'd recommend running 2"x4" american wire with a strand of barbed wire along the bottom to discourage predators from digging underneath. Unfortunately, I didn't consider the barbed wire before two stray pit bulls came along. :(

B Oviatt
7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
Our goats are not fenced, and stay very close to home, i.e. the house. We have three 1/4 acres, and they keep the 1/4 acre down OK, but the 3, forget it! IF we want a certian area cleaned up, we have to fence them in it. Then they will eat it down to nothing, including stripping the bark off the trees! We offer christmas tree disposal service, because we feed them to our goats in the winter. We love our goats, and use the milk they provide. They're entertaining as well.(from the last frontier - Alaska)

betty dillon_1
7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
AND you get the great company of the goats.... wouldn't trade mine for the world. They are intellegent, and kind.

Shirley_2
7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
Goats are great weed eaters - however, it's important to know that there are some plants that are toxic to goats - notably, mountain laurel here in the east. There are a few other shrubby plants tht don't agree with them, but I'm not sure what they are, only that they exist. You need to know what the goats are getting into.

Shirley_2
7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
Yes, goats are great weed eaters, but be careful, because some shrubby plants are toxic to goats, notably mountain laurel here in the east. I know that there are a few other plants that don't agree with goats, but can't remember what they are. Make sure you know what your goats are getting into.

FLORENCE MOWREY
7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
My experience has been with ponies rather than goats. They normally prefer grass, but we had one that developed a nightshade habit. Unhappily, that meant a night treating colic after the vet's visit. Mother had a remedy: she put us kids to work clearing out all the nightshade in about 6 acres of pastures. Daddy was always on the warpath against thistle. We had a lot of rosettes in the pasture so he used the same remedy: kids, hoe, wheelbarrow. One hot day we had the wheelbarrow half full of thistle wilting in the sun. When we came back from lunch there were three ponies standing at the barrow munching wilted thistles.

Esther Raichart
7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
I was wondering if you could tell me how big of an area that one weed eater will take care of? I am thinking I must have defective weed eaters, because mine have failed to keep my 3 1/2 acres eaten. It doesnt seem to matter how much or little I move them around, they are determined to only eat a set amount. I thought that 6 of them would be more than enough for my small space, but so far I am wrong. Maybe I should trade up for a better brand of weed eater? I bought mine, because they advertised as a multi purpose tool. (currently use Angora, they were touted as a wool factory.) So far the wool factory is pumping along, but not the weed eater end. Perhaps its too much to expect a muilti-purpose weed eater?

Chuck Kimberl
7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
I live just outside the Louisville, KY area. My wife and I have a very large goat operation. We would be a source if anyone wanted to rent a goat(s) for yard cleanup.

Linda Kay Behrend
7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
I have two Nigerian dwarf goats, members of my refuge family. They have a method to eating the pencil cactus that grows rampant in Texas fields: they nibble the needle spikes off first, then they go back for the meaty part. I couldn't believe it when I saw that the plant that I carefully avoid was gone! I LOVE my little goaties!

len buckholtz
7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
you could not be more on the button. really cute article. however, they did NOT mention what a nanny in heat will do or that they also eat rose bushes. lots and lots and lots of rosebushes. rose, thorns bark & all. and put the food in a rack or trough. 'hits the floor, wont eat it no more'. ummmmm, i am visiting san diego at the moment. and we just had birria. :-)

Beverly Bridge
7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
I had a lot of brush and weeds that the horses wouldn't eat so I got a goat. She ate the hair of the horses tails and when she started on their manes I gave her away. Now I have sheep.








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