Anybody who’s ever tried to kill a blackberry bush knows how difficult it is.
You’ve basically got two options: spray it with buckets of weed killer, or engage in backbreaking — and sometimes painful— yard work.
But now, Oregonians have a third option — one that’s jumped from the first century into the 21st: Goats.
Kristian Foden-Vencil met with an Damascus woman who has grown her goat-rental business from one pet to a herd of 75 animals in just nine-months.
Just outside Portland’s urban growth boundary lie some beautiful homes surrounded by acres of lush land.
Computer security expert, Jon Karl, is lucky enough to live on eight acres here — complete with a Mediterranean mansion and stately horse barn.
But there’s a problem. Invaders have grown across five acres.
Jon Karl: “We’ve got thistles, which are pretty common here. We’ve got blackberries, which are common here. And we’re constantly battling those things and they had sort of overtaken us.”
Karl wants to have a hobby farm, with olive trees or maybe hazelnuts. So he doesn’t want to spray haphazardly.
Instead, he rented a herd of goats — even though they have a reputation for eating everything from rolling lawns to plastic fence posts.
Jon Karl: “We were definitely worried about that. I think I was more worried that they wouldn’t eat the stuff that I wanted them to eat. Why would they eat the blackberries when they could eat the grass that was all around it? Oddly, they seem to like blackberries more than anything in the world, so go for those first.”
Goat Rental Northwest brought a couple of dozen goats to the home and set up electric fencing to keep them in. Every day or so, company founder Georgina Steiner moves the fencing, so the herd can clear another area.
She has pigmy goats, Pagora goats and dairy crosses. Some like the blackberries, others English Ivy — but having a variety means just about everything gets eaten.
Georgina Steiner: “On a blackberry stalk, they’ll eat the tops down, but they won’t eat the actual woody stock.”
Kristian: “So the stories about them eating the rope of the fence or the gate, that’s when there’s not much else to eat. So they’ll just eat whatever’s left.”
Georgina Steiner: “Right. And we never leave them in an area where they’ll strip paint of the car or anything like that.”
Kristian: “Good. Well, I’m pretty cheap. So I might be the one to say, oh, that’s a great idea. Why shouldn’t I go and get my own goat and save myself some money. Why shouldn’t I do that?”
Georgina Steiner: “Well I would never discourage anybody from getting a pet goat. But it’s not something to take lightly, they’re very difficult to keep enclosed in a space. If you’re clearing say an acre. It will take probably a good month or month an a half to clear that. But then they’d be looking to you as their food source.”
And that’s expensive.
Steiner says her goats will eat most of the invasive species that the city of Portland asks people to get rid of.
Apparently, they don’t like Ragwort and there’s some question about Policeman’s Helmet — the plant, not the hat.
Anyway, Steiner says the business is doing well. The goats are clean with shiny coats and they do seem to love their work.
Steiner started her business after hearing about someone in Idaho who was hiring goats out for yard work.
She’s growing her herd by adopting unwanted animals and …ah… the natural way. And she has a 20-year plan that includes thousands of them.
But that brings up an interesting question. Goats aren’t native to Oregon, so what do state authorities think about them?
Keith Kohl: “Goats under wildlife integrity rules are classified as exempt. The same classification as cows and gerbils and mules and llamas and horses.”
Keith Kohl is with Oregon Fish and Wildlife. He says goats are essentially livestock.
Keith Kohl: “Well, I don’t know who decided and when decided to exempt them. But they’re just one of those common species, people have them across the state and just like any species if they were to escape from captivity and go feral, and go out into the wild, they could have impacts on native wildlife and their habitat.”
For example, he says, they can carry diseases like pasteurella that can be passed onto big horn sheep and other natives.
But that doesn’t bother Andrea Karl back at her home just outside Portland, where the goats have been at work.
Andrea Karl: “I’m all for it. It’s been great for the kids. In fact, they’ve each been able to hold the baby goat because they actually had babies while they’ve been out here working.”
The average city yard will take goats a few days of work to clear, and that costs about $300. If you’ve got a whole acre and the brambles are head-high, it’ll be more like a $1000.
Oh, and one last thing — they’ll chew the brambles down to the brown stalks, but you have to finish the job by digging up the roots.