Insights Into a Goat Grazing Business

by Natalie Reid, September 2019

Outlined below is a brief synopsis of how we have successfully added brush clearing with goats to our bottom line over the past 7-8 years. There is definitely a market for this kind of service and we have no shortage of inquiries that keep us busy in brush clearing jobs from May through October with overflow into the following season. We still have one brush crew out working and are busy quoting new projects for people looking to hire the goats for next year.

Typically, our projects last for at least one week but some run the entire season long. WE ARE INSURED for this type of service. I wouldn’t even consider doing it without coverage.

Our clientele are ecologically minded people who are looking for a responsible way to help clear overgrown foliage, brush and/or invasive species from their land. They usually don’t know much about livestock but are very enthusiastic about renting them for a short period of time. Having a background in plants, soil and sustainable agriculture with an emphasis on livestock is super helpful in selling the service. People are getting very nervous about using chemicals – and rightfully so – but they still need to be educated on all the ways using goats will actually be a benefit to them (i.e. lightly tilling in their pellets for fertilizer, improving soil structure, stopping photosynthesis, etc.). Municipalities, garden groups (rotaries), rail trail volunteers, etc. are often very eager to use goats because the areas they need cleared are in sensitive areas where chemicals cannot be applied or where machinery cannot access.

We always discuss with the client their overall plan for their property so we can ensure them that the goats will help them accomplish their goals. That said, plants grow back so if the client is under the false assumption that the goats are going to walk in, eat everything in site down to the ground and in two weeks the end result will look like a golf course, they’re not going to be very happy with the reality. The client should have an idea of what they want the area to look like or be used for because they’re going to have to put in some elbow grease to get it that way. The goats are merely a tool to help them get there.

Kids/smaller goats make better poison ivy eaters because it’s closer to their mouths. Larger goats will eat some of it but trample the rest.
Larger male goats with horns do really well on larger saplings like sumacs, maples, beech, etc. because they will girdle them entirely (depending on species) and knock them over.
The right number of goats for the size job is important. I want to keep the project as short as possible so I can move on to the next one. Example: a project of ½ acre heavy dense brush – I’ll put 20+ goats on it and be done in a few days rather than putting 8 goats on it that will take 2-3 times as long.
Projects that span several acres should be split into manageable sections to maximize damage to the plants, which is what the client wants.
Weather conditions play a crucial role in the life cycle of plants. Excess heat, drought, rain, etc. all affect the plant which, in turn, often affects when a goat will eat it. I’ve seen goats snub a plant for weeks then poof! One day it’s gone.

Typically, the property owner is responsible for ensuring the goats have fresh water a minimum of twice per day as well as minerals and baking soda (which we supply). Ditto for the dog – we supply the dog food but the client is required to feed him/her twice a day. If the client is unable to do this, we build the cost of us doing it into the price AND we only do it for jobs that are nearby. We run 2-4 jobs simultaneously from May – October and I don’t have enough time in the day to go running around twice a day feeding/watering dogs & goats that are offsite.

People hear about brush clearing with goats/sheep and think it’s “fun or cool” but don’t have a clue beyond that. Not every project is suitable for clearing with livestock.

The goats need to be fenced (and fence needs to be hot). The goats should already be trained to and respect the fence prior to being put on any job. Thankfully, we don’t have jumpers but if we did, we certainly wouldn’t put them out on a brush job.
Terrain plays a big role. We don’t put goats in sopping wet areas, for example, and there needs to be a suitable location for their shelter: flat and in a high area that won’t collect water if it rains.
Some projects require an LGD. If the livestock will be in a high-predator zone or unoccupied area and either no dog is currently available or the property owner isn’t comfortable with a dog, it’s a no-go.
The livestock needs to be able to work without being spooked, harassed or threatened otherwise they may be too stressed to eat and won’t perform as expected, if at all.
The area must be free from known poisonous plants and other hazards including but not limited to broken glass, barbed wire, trash, etc. Self-explanatory.
There needs to be either electricity available on-site for the fence OR sufficient sunlight for a solar charger.

What some people mistaken think (they do not make good clients):

That we just show up with a handful of goats – site unseen, let them out, and they will eat everything down in a matter of hours.
That their dog(s), children, guests are well behaved and should be allowed in or around the goat area. People love their dogs (and kids, obviously) and think “oh, they won’t hurt anything they just want to say hello”. The goats don’t want to “say hello” – they are there to work, not get sniffed by some strange mutt or chased down by a curious toddler. You wouldn’t have your dog/kid running around contractors while they’re painting or roofing a house – same principals apply here: our contract reads that dogs/children/guests are to be kept away from the fence line and OUT of the goat pen.
That goats eat anything and everything (tree branches, tree stumps, piles of leaves years old, anything green down to the ground, etc.). Goats can actually be finicky eaters and prefer to eat plants that are in a tasty and nutritional state. The analogy I use for clients is we eat yellow bananas, not green, and I won’t touch a green bell pepper if there are red, yellow or orange ones available.
That the service is cheap. A lot of labor goes into this kind of work and I don’t work for free. There are also overhead costs (trailer or van, gas, insurance, shelter, fencing, etc) plus a profit margin that needs to be considered in the quote.

I hope this helps anyone considering adding a service like this to their farm income. I have the contact info for two clients ready to go in Southern VT (Brattleboro region) for next season and will be happy to pass on their info to anyone who is SERIOUS about doing the jobs.

~Natalie Reid
Gap Mountain Goats