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Trendsetters: Goats For Hire

Got kudzu? Get a goat. Better yet, get 30 of them delivered to your home or business and let them roam your property to chew up nearly all the rampant weeds and invasive bushes and vines in just a few days.

But expect to be on a wait list for Get Your Goat Rentals for up to eight weeks or more. That’s because Georgians across the state are beginning to realize the environmental and economic benefits of employing goats to do what comes naturally to, well, get rid of unwanted nature.

“Goats will eat just about any green thing you put forward,” says Kristin Swanson, who co-founded the company with husband Michael in 2010. “They love poison ivy, English ivy, privet and vines, but they don’t like grass – that’s a misnomer.”

At presstime, 90 residential and commercial customers were in line to welcome the goats onto their property – customers who are seeking an alternative to what some see as toxic, harsh herbicides and raucous bulldozers.

On average, 30 goats can chomp through an acre of kudzu in three days. And they will quietly eat through the night. After a short cat nap and a pause to chew their cuds, it’s back to eating.

Kristin attributes the company’s success to a growing appreciation for natural land-clearing methods. “The other alternative is to use heavy equipment, and with that there is no way to protect certain plants. You just strip the land of everything that’s there. A 100-pound goat is better than a thousand-pound machine.”

Get Your Goat Rentals’ “employees” have gnawed through undesirable underbrush in condo complexes, parks, backyards and office parks. They’ve helped remove kudzu and overgrowth from the multi-use PATH400 trail in Buckhead and cleared several acres along the BeltLine for the Boulevard Crossing park. At least one developer has used the goats to keep vegetation down prior to starting construction as a means to avoid getting a citation.

The ravenous browsing habits of the bovine beasts provide a bonus: The fertilizer they leave behind is immediately suitable for garden use because as goats eat, food is pre-processed through their four-chambered stomachs. This is in contrast to chicken fertilizer, which must first be cured due to its high nitrogen content.

Kristin and Michael’s business got off the ground by lucky happenstance. They kept four dairy goats in the yard behind their home near Atlanta’s Turner Field. In no way was it a moneymaking venture; the goats were simply a source of fresh milk, cheese and soap, until a neighbor asked to “borrow” the animals to clear out her backyard. A few Facebook photos later, the business was born.

To meet steadily rising demand, the Swansons have invested in two trucks, two trailers and additional goats – meat goats, which are hardier and stronger than dairy goats. The goats are now fed, bred and kept on a nearby farm instead of their backyard. Still, Michael insists it’s a lot less work than the original four animals they kept in their backyard. “We had to milk the goats every 12 hours,” he says.

While he won’t reveal revenues, Michael says, “We’re not making a million dollars, but we’re paying the bills. And we want to continue to run it ourselves. We want to stay small.”

Before the goats are let loose on a job, temporary electric netting is installed to keep them from escaping. But on residential jobs, passersby often mistakenly conclude the neighbors are starting a farm.

“We get negative feedback when people aren’t educated in what we are doing. But 99 percent of the reactions are positive; people love bringing friends over to see what it’s all about.” The animals are generally friendly and open to petting, and their presence often sparks particular interest among children.

Renting goats can be slightly less expensive than relying on heavy equipment. The setup, transport and handling fee is $250; daily herd rental is $200. Commercial jobs generally last three to five days. But besides the economic and environmental benefits, there is another important reason to choose goats. Says Michael, “They are quite a bit more fun.” – Ellen Berman

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