|Goats and sheep
have a reputation for eating vegetation
that most other grazing animals would not touch.
This trait makes them invaluable to people who need to raise livestock
in tough climates, but it's also made them popular for landowners who
need to clear brush or invasive plants from overgrown parcels.
The nimble grazers can get into overgrown areas that even the most
dedicated groundskeeper or gardener won't chance. They've proven to be
a low-impact, low-cost way to control invasive plants like privet,
kudzu, honeysuckle and English ivy.
The practice of using sheep and goats to clear out unwanted brush is
called targeted grazing, and many government agencies, municipalities
and private landowners are using it to keep vacant lots, steep back
yards, parks and right-of-ways clear of brush.
is it time to bring
in a herd?
Targeted grazing is a suitable option, whether a landowner is dealing
with acres of stream bank, a detention pond or a small back yard, but
it's not meant
to replace basic maintenance, said Brian Cash, owner of EWE-niversally
service in Dunwoody, Georgia.
"We're not a lawn mowing service," Cash said. "We'll do that,
we like to focus on overgrown yards and lots."
Cash often works with new homeowners in and around downtown Atlanta who
have purchased foreclosed homes with overgrown lawns and local
agencies needing to clear brush from public lands.
Sheep and goats are most useful when an area is so overgrown that no
one else wants to clear it out. Even if its just a small yard, most
many landscapers, don't want to work in an area that's choked with
ivy, poison oak and briars.
Sheep and goats are also useful in areas that are too steep or too
wooded to use a tractor to clear out brush.
"If you can do it with a bush hog on a tractor, then that
be cheaper, but if you need a guy with a weed whacker out there, then
I'm cheaper," said
herdswoman Jennif Chandler, of Shady Brook Farm in Colbert, Georgia.
Chandler and her sheep have worked with the University of Georgia
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences on the Athens campus
invasive plants including privet, kudzu and honeysuckle from along the
She also works with homeowners in the Athens area to clear Kudzu
covered hills and backyards.
While goats and sheep are a surefire and efficient way to clear out a
choked backyard or lot, there are a few things that homeowners should
before buying a half-dozen goats or even hiring a service like Cash or
They'll eat everything
While herdsmen and women out on the West Coast are training goats and
sheep to nibble around delicate plants like grape vines and other
targeted grazing isn't a technique homeowners would want to try around
hydrangeas or a heirloom rose bush.
In fact, some ornamental plants are seriously toxic to sheep or goats.
Examples include azaleas and Japanese yew.
very discriminant," said Sarah Workman, an
Agroforestry Specialist with the CAES. "If there's something you don't
want them to
eat, you need to protect it."
While goats and sheep eat pretty much the same thing,
broad-leaf weeds like ivy or kudzu, and goats seem to prefer woodier
plants, Cash said.
Sheep usually can clear an area up to about a five-foot height, but
goats can climb and take care of plants up to seven feet off the
Because of their climbing ability, goats can take care of larger
plants. However, that skill and natural curiosity, makes them more
likely to escape and
antagonize neighborhood dogs.
Cash usually sends a few goats along with his sheep herd to get the
best of both worlds, but he's careful to select his best-behaved goats.
Graze, wait and repeat
If a homeowner's goal is to eradicate a specific invasive species, it
may take repeated grazing to accomplish that goal, Workman said.
Invasive plants are invasive because they are so persistent,"
Workman said. "The idea is that the repeated introduction of the
animals will deplete
the root reserve of the (invasive) shrub."
The shrubby stuff and woody vines are things that need repeated
browsing," Workman said. "And hopefully the more they're eaten and
knocked back, the less
strength they have to regrow."
herd takes expertise
Herdsmen and women, like Cash and Chandler, have worked with their
animals long enough to know how they'll graze a specific area and how
homeowners' goals for targeted grazing. Their customers get the benefit
of that expertise
when they rent their herds.
Another option is for a homeowner to purchase a few
sheep or goats, but
they need to be ready for the responsibility. Zoning laws prohibit many
suburban and urban homeowners from keeping
any goats or sheep in their backyard. Additionally, suburban, urban and
landowners will face the challenge of keeping their herds contained and
neighborhood dogs or coyotes.
Moreover, there is the matter of food.
An acre of grass and brush can support about a half-dozen goats or
sheep over the long-term. If a landowner wants to load the land with
than six sheep or goats per acre, they'll clear it out quickly.
"If you exceed that stocking intensity, then the animals are
going to clear the area out more quickly," Getz said. "But then you
need to be prepared to
sell them or otherwise get them off of your land when they've finished,
that or start buying feed."
Homeowners interested in either renting or buying goats or sheep to
clear their land should contact their local Cooperative Extension agent
the zoning or public development office in their county or city.