As an alternative to using herbicides, property owners in Southern Maryland can hire the goats to chow down on unwanted vegetation.
Many of the things goats feast on, are things you don’t even want to touch.
“They love the wild rose bushes, poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak. (They’re) not a problem for them whatsoever,” says farm owner Mary Bowen.
The Calvert County farm will bring the goats to a given property, set up a temporary fence to keep them in one place and protect them from predators, as well as provide the animals with water and check on them daily.
“As long as they’ve got the weeds to eat, the goats are very content,” Bowen says. “It’s as if they’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet.”
“Not only are the goats cleaning up, but then they’re fertilizing in a natural and organic way, and they’re leaving their fertilizer behind,” she says.
The arrangement works well for her because during the summer, Bowen says she doesn’t have to spend money to feed her goats at all.
Right now, the goats are being used to maintain the Mellomar Golf Park in Lower Marlboro, where the goats have become a local attraction. They are also helping to clean up a vacant farm in Prince Frederick that dates to the early 1800s.
The male goats at Prosperity Acres are raised for their meat, which Bowen says is healthier than chicken.
“I think it tastes sweet, but I can’t compare it to another meat. It does not have a gamey taste like a deer,” she says.
No matter if they’re male or female, all of the goats get a lot of love.
“We care very much for our animals, as if they were our dog or our cat.They all have names,” Bowen says.
Many are named after characters from the “Cars” animated movies, including Lightning McQueen, Sally, Guido and Luigi.
A few months ago, researchers at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore launched a three-year study to determine how best sheep and goats can be used to eliminate unwanted vegetation.
“We want to develop a model that can be transportable and reproducible, so we can tell the farmer, ‘This is what you need to do to your farm,'” says Assistant Professor Enrique Nelson Escobar.
Bowen is helping with the project by allowing scientists to study her “green goats,” and by testing some of the researchers’ ideas to see if methods she’s using can be improved.