WEST KENNEBUNK, Maine — Goats are cute, goats are cuddly, goats are having a moment. But did you know goats also are expert landscapers?
Heather Lombard does. The southern Maine goat herder is launching a brush-clearing business next month called Scapegoats to help residents, municipalities and farmers tidy up fields, parks and yards in an eco-friendly fashion — all by goat power.
“The goats will go in and clear out all the invasive plants, including poison ivy and poison oak,” the 36-year-old said as her Nigerian dwarfs, Alpines and Oberhasli chomped on pine branches in her West Kennebunk backyard. “They will trample down all of the woody parts. It won’t clear everything because they don’t go in with their rakes and lawnmowers to get it pristine, but they will clean it down enough that you can go in with your clippers after.”
Popular in Massachusetts and on the West Coast, goatscaping is new for Maine. It seems like a natural fit. Instead of hiring a noisy John Deere-riding crew, a team of friendly goats go to town on your property for a week. There are “no herbicides, no gas or chemicals,” said Lombard, who runs the startup with her boyfriend, mushroom forager Chris Moulton.
Goats, which are rivaling cats on social media right now as the “it” animal, are yours for a week. But don’t expect fast results.
You’ve heard of slow food and slow money? This is slow mow. “They cover a quarter to one-third of an acre in a week,” Lombard said.
New to agriculture, Lombard, who runs a pet care business, learned the trade during an apprenticeship on a goat farm in western Massachusetts. Behind her home on the Mousam River she has seven goats, ages 1 through 6, that are hungry for shrubs and plants.
All customers have to do is have water available. Goats, that “eat and sleep all day,” shelter under trees or in her horse trailer. Lombard checks on them periodically to make sure they are healthy and alert and that the electric fence she uses to pen them in is working. Unless the weather is severe, rain doesn’t usually interfere with this cutting crew, Lombard said.
They love pine, and they’ll eat invasives plants such as Japanese knotweed — even the pernicious Asian bittersweet. The thornier the brush, the better.
Relax gardeners, they don’t go near rhododendrons (it’s a goat toxin) and grass is not really their forte. “That’s a sheep thing,” Lombard said. Goats are land levelers. Got up to 6 feet of bramble? No problem. Goats will go gaga. Homeowners can interact with this herd, a friendly and frolicky bunch, while they work. They are good multitaskers.
So far, several clients, from a state park to private landowners to a farmer, are interested in hiring Scapegoats, which purports to be the only such business in the state.
“People are wanting this because it’s green,” Lombard said. “There are a lot of animal lovers out there. They are just fun to have around.”
Also, there’s a byproduct: Goat manure is good for soil. “You get free goat manure when you rent goats for $500 to $700 for the week,” she said of her herd for hire. “It’s cheaper than renting a bush hog. Plus, it’s an experience.”