Afton-based Totes My Goats landscapes in untraditional ways.
Goats. You’ve seen them at the zoo; you’ve seen them in the mountains out West; and you might even eat goat cheese derived from goat’s milk. They’re an animal everyone is familiar with, but there’s one task some goats do that people aren’t as familiar with: landscaping.
Now, the goats aren’t going to build patios or spread mulch around flowers in your backyard—their job is to remove unwanted vegetation, and they’re pretty good at it.
Five years ago, Afton’s Simon Wirth discovered the goats’ vegetation-removal skills and decided to take advantage of it and turn it into his own business. His wife originally wanted to have goats just around the house, so they decided to purchase a couple. “I looked in the rearview mirror and saw these goats sitting in the back of my wife’s SUV,” Wirth says. “And I just thought to myself, ‘What the heck did we just do?’”
He learned how to care for the goats and soon started using them in his own yard to remove buckthorn. Word got out about how well the goats were eliminating the buckthorn, and people started asking Wirth to bring the goats to their house to do the same thing, so he started his business, Totes My Goats, LLC. Since then, he’s been busier than ever. “People were disappointed to hear I was booked out last season,” Wirth says. “I couldn’t believe how quickly it took off.”
The process is fairly simple. Customers call Wirth if they have unwanted vegetation on their land, and he’ll go out and create a plan on how to set up the goats. He’ll look at ways to get the fencing placed, how the goats will get water, how many goats are necessary and other logistical factors. Wirth then brings in the goats, and they go to work.
Jobs tend to take anywhere from one day to one month. It all depends on how much vegetation there is to remove and how fast the goats eat. “People used to get mad at me because I would charge based on the amount of time it took to complete the job, and the goats wouldn’t be eating very fast,” Wirth says. “Well, goats don’t know they’re on the clock, so now I charge by the acre.”
Buckthorn is one of the main targets for Wirth and his goats. The goats come in and eat the buckthorn leaves, causing the root system to use its stored energy to refoliate. As the goats continue to eat those leaves, the roots cannot continue to sustain new leaf growth, and the plant dies.
Using the goats to eliminate buckthorn is a safer and environmentally friendlier method of eradication. Because of buckthorn’s large root system, the chemical used to kill it is extremely strong and will also kill everything else around it. “It looks like you dropped Agent Orange on it,” Wirth says. “The goats are great for environmentally sensitive properties.”
The goats are also ideal for areas where machines might struggle, whether it’s a steep hill or other terrain where expensive equipment could get damaged. “Attachment heads for skid steers can cost thousands of dollars,” Wirth says. “You don’t want to damage that when shredding thick vegetation.”
Wirth is up to 30 goats on his team now, and a team they are. He says the goats are great at working together. “The taller goats will reach up high and pull the branches down, so all of the shorter goats can get in and eat it,” Wirth says. “They really recognize each other’s strengths.”
Buckthorn isn’t the only vegetation the goats will remove. They’re also great for removing poison ivy and a wide variety of other plants. There is no minimum or maximum amount of acreage for a job to be done. Prices are set on a situation-by-situation basis, so Wirth says it’s easiest to simply give him a call, and he can go visit the property and give an estimate.
Those interested in having Totes My Goats come to their property to remove plants are urged not to wait, as bookings fill up fast. “The goats are a much more manageable, sustainable and fun way to remove a problem,” Wirth says. “And in a nutshell, it just works.”