Lawn Mowing Takes a Cheap and Tasty Turn -- for Goats

Gas-guzzling weed-whackers and toxic chemicals are so yesterday when it comes to eco-conscious lawn and garden care, especially when homeowners can now use goats to do the dirty, dangerous work.

A cottage industry of entrepreneurs is flourishing by renting out goats to home warriors battling weeds, prickly underbrush, and other unwanted vegetation -- including nasty things like poison oak that you wouldn't want to get near yourself.

Don't worry PETA, this won't hurt the goats: They enjoy a diet of nutrient-dense, broadleaf plants and brush. That's the idea behind companies like www.rent-a-goat.com, the Goat Lady and Rent a Ruminant LLC, which bring the animals right to your front door or to your overgrown front acreage, as the case may be, where they forage on stuff you want to get rid of with no chemicals and only a tiny carbon hoofprint. (Sadly, you can't just buy some goats and keep them in the backyard.)

But how cost-effective and environmentally-friendly is goat weed control?

Prices range from $200 a day for a dozen goats to $1,000 for a larger herd of 1,000 or more. So it depends on how big a spread you have and how much underbrush needs to be cleared.

In a cost-benefit analysis at the Vanderbilt Mansion, a national historic site in Hyde Park, N.Y., the goats' $900 annual cost is "two-thirds of what hired manpower would be," thereby saving money on lawn care but perhaps stealing a jobs in the down economy.

As for greening your acres, going with goats will probably keep you and your begonias from contact with all the chemical goop that has been poisoning your neighbor's poodle. And then there's the gas saved from not using fuel-inefficient garden machines.

The $24-billion lawn and garden industry is slowly getting behind the eco-friendly movement with products like organic fertilizers made of alfalfa and kelp meal. While such products are entering the market, it's still only a fraction of the total, with sales of around $460 million in 2008.

So in the meantime you might want to get some cute, furry goats to save your back -- and the environment.


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