90.3 WBHM Birmingham-- What do you do when you've got a large tract of land that's overgrown with weeds and brush? You could bring in big lawnmowers and bushhogs. But if you don't want the carbon dioxide they spew into the air, you might consider something a little more low-key: renting goats. WBHM's Tanya Ott reports.


Todd and Allison Sluiss stand in their storybook perfect red barn feeding hungry goats. A sign on the barn wall reads "Goats at Work" - and boy are they ever! Todd and Allison got their first goat five years ago, as a pet.

"We had some friends with some brush that they needed cleared," says Allison. "And goats are really good at doing that. We got the equipment to set up some temporary fencing and we put the goats out there."

Word got out that they had goats for rent and the Sluiss's have been busy every since.

"We've done it for a school, also some factories that have areas say in their greenspace that are overgrown that they want brought under control."

Goats are perfect for the job. They can eat up to 8 pounds of green foliage a day and they prefer leaves and brush to grasses.

"Goats, actually, will eat poison ivy before they'll eat the grass from your yard," says Todd.

In Alabama and across the southeast they're used to control invasive species like kudzu. In California, they're used to clear underbrush on fire-prone hillsides.

"They'll work in a really small area or steep or even hazardous areas where people may not want to," says Todd.

"Lot of thorns or thistles or place you can walk through easily don't phase them at all," adds Allison.

Goats are so popular they've even attracted the attention of the Colbert Report - which recently pointed out some of the, um, drawbacks of using goats to clear land.

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Todd and Allison Sluiss laugh, saying it's free fertilizer. "It breaks down in about a week," Todd says. "A lot like rabbit pellets do."

POTENTIAL DRAWBACKS

Critics question the methane goats release into the air. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. They also say their hooves pit the soil, allowing rainwater to pool and weed seedlings to sprout.

Allison Sluiss counters that hoof marks are a lot less damaging than tread from heavy machinery. And she argues traditional landscaping uses herbicides and other chemicals that might run-off into nearby water sources.

The Sluiss's business has really taken off. Their herd is now 55 goats strong. They also use some sheep. Goats are browsers. They like bushes and overgrown weeds. Sheep have a taste for grass, so they're much better for clearing yards.

The Sluiss crew has traveled across four states for work. There's only on problem with the business plan: when the goats do their job right, there's usually no need for a repeat visit.


More | Find a goat rental service in your area

More | Wall Street Journal article about upscale neighborhoods using goats for landscaping

More | Blog about the legal implications of using goats in residential neighborhoods


~ Tanya Ott with production help from Lindsey Smith, November 17, 2010