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Farmers Using Rented Cattle, Goats for Green Weed Control

With their four-chambered stomachs and insatiable desire to nibble on anything even resembling a plant, goats are gaining credibility as land clearers. As a result, the U.S. environmental movement has come up with a novel way to destroy large extensions of invasive weeds and grasses: Rent a Goat. So far, the results look like a win-win situation for all.

These hungry workers are very efficient. They eat most of the day, chewing on these invasive thorny roses and for the most part, they seem very happy to do the job. A total of 50 goats, and their two kids, have been brought to clear two hectares of wetland in Carroll County, Maryland.

Jim Wilds is their shepherd. He was originally contracted to just install the fences, but he ended up buying 350 goats to rent to several clients here and at other sites. So far, the new business seems promising.

"With more people going green and not wanting to use fossil fuels I think it may be something to look into," he said.

Wilds says he comes to check on the goats twice a week, to make sure they are healthy and doing their job.

Julie Slacum is a biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of this land.

"They are doing an excellent job, they really are," she said.

Slacum says this is the second summer season they have the goats and they plan to continue their contract for a few more years.

Several state, local and environmental organizations have joined efforts to pay one dollar a day for each animal. The goats are part of a habitat restoration project to save the bog turtle, the smallest (turtle) in North America. The invasive plants have dramatically changed the habitat for the turtle by producing large roots that drain the water from the land and create unwanted shade.

"The bog turtle is enlisted under the Endanger Species Act and the habitat where they live is a pretty rare habitat," she added.

Slacum says the use of machines or herbicides here could endanger the turtles, so the goats are an excellent alternative.

"This is definitely the best option, they are doing the work for us," she explained. "We come in, we check them, we make sure they are healthy and they are doing okay, but they are doing the work."

A few miles away from here, another wetland is being restored for the bog turtles. A team from the State of Maryland come regularly to check not just on the turtles, but on the goats and sheep.

"Well this is 8 acres [3.2 hectares], it's a fairly large site," said Bill Branch with the Maryland State Highway Administration. "They tend to like to spend the afternoons in the shade under the trees, to the north of us."

The use of goats, sheep and cattle are part of a growing environmental movement to cut the use of fossil fuels and chemicals in the land, while using the eating power of animals. In California sheep clear rows of grapevines, while cattle take care of grasses that in the past have initiated fires.