The Garden Plot: An Intro to the Summer Hit of Goatscaping!

Goats Gives Green Solution to Manage Landscaping

I am not sure if this will be Oxford Dictionary’s next “word of the year” (last year was selfie), but if you have not heard of goatscaping, here is your introduction…

Goatscaping is when families and farms, looking for non-chemical alternatives for managing a landscape, employ goats to help control weeds. My own horticultural company offers this environmentally friendly technique, but my ownership and caring of goats, and their help with managing the landscape of my clients and my own home, predates the actual term goatscaping. My goats have been goatscaping way longer then they knew there was a trendy word for what they were doing.  They just called it lunch!

So here is how it works… you find yourself needing to manage an area of your landscape you’d like to see clear of brush or herbaceous weeds. There are many good organic sprays on the market that control diseases and insects in the landscape, but none do a good enough job controlling weeds. That is because the natural sprays are not systemic only topical (they do not kill the roots, only the foliage, allowing the plant to regrow).

So goats are brought in, fenced or tethered in an area, eat all the foliage and then move to another area… leaving some fertilizer behind. Sounds pretty straight forward, but here are some issues:

  • Poisonous Plants — Most plants are not poisonous to goats (including poison ivy!), but plenty are. When you allow goats to graze, you need to know what plants grow on your property that could potentially harm them. Mountain Laurel is one such evergreen shrub that grows in our region and is harmful to goats. If your family is interested in goatscaping, this is a great opportunity for your kids to research what plants are harmful to goats and to learn what they look like, where they grow, and then to map out your landscape to see if they are growing nearby.
  • Edibility — Just because you want your goats to eat the “weeds” in your yard or landscape, does not mean they will only select what you have included on the landscape menu.  Due to their curious nature, goats will nibble on just about anything, choosing your handmade Panama Hat over leaves!
  • Escape — Goats are very smart and have all day to figure out how to escape from their fenced in areas.  Having a sturdy fence is imperative. Electric fencing is often used for goatscaping. Working together as a family to design and implement a fence will utilize geometry and measurement skills, so the process is perfect for integrated learning.  The goats will help you find the weak spots!  They always do! Followed by lessons on how to fortify your fencing.
  • Plants Grow Back — Denuding a plant of its leaves is a minor setback to the plant. Almost all plants have an energy reserve in its root system allowing it to re-foliate. For goatscaping to really work, the goats have to repeatedly defoliating the plant. This could take (if done properly) up to 6 months.

If goatscaping inspires your family to keep goats, there are 4H Youth Groups in western MA your children can participate in to help them learn about their care and upkeep. Check out UMass Extension 4-H Youth Development Program for goats 4-H resources in our region.


Jim McSweeney

Jim is a certified arborist, certified horticulturist, licensed pesticide applicator (needed for the application of organic pesticides in MA) & a professional landscape designer with over 15 years experience. He is also the owner of Hilltown Tree & Garden LLC. Jim is on the faculty at the New England Wildflower Society, teaching courses on a diverse range of topics. He lives and works in Zone 5 (Chesterfield, MA) with his family. Once a month here on Hilltown Families you will find timely gardening tips, from a pro in the field, that can be easily used by both avid and novice gardeners, specific to Western MA.

 [Photo credit: (cc) Kabsik Park]

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