Goats will landscape highlands hillsides
June 9, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Parts of the Issaquah Highlands will resemble a PEMCO Insurance ad in late June and early July, when hundreds of goats start to munch invasive plants on steep hillsides. Some of the goats clearing brush in the highlands were featured in the “Goat Renter Guy” spot that poked fun at Pacific Northwesterners for relying on ruminants to tame wayward plants.
Issaquah Highlands Community Association managers hired a pair of goat herders — and about 400 goats — to tackle landscaping on stretches of hillside too difficult and expensive for human crews to maintain.
“I’m told they’ll eat anything that’s green,” said Russ Ayers, landscape manager for the highlands community association.
Goats will work in the highlands for about two and a half weeks. Ayers said arrival dates for the goats had yet to be finalized.
Managers budgeted $27,000 to rent goats from herders from Vashon Island and Edwall. Ayers said the four-legged landscapers are cheaper and willing to work longer hours than their bipedal counterparts. Plus, the sure-footed animals will have little problem scaling steep terrain.
Managers expect goats to nosh on high grass, as well as invasive Himalayan blackberry and Scotch broom. Ayers said goats would also eat alder seedlings. Crews will protect landscaped planting areas with fencing.
Herder Craig Madsen plans to bring about 240 goats to the highlands from his Healing Hooves ranch in Edwall, about an hour southwest of Spokane. He said goats prefer shrubs and plants with broad leaves; they also have a taste for blackberry. Madsen said his herd would begin nibbling across the highlands in early July.
Another herd will come from Rent-a-Ruminant, a Vashon Island brush-clearing business. Rent-a-Ruminant owner Tammy Dunakin said goats are able to clear brush in areas that cannot be accessed safely by people or machinery. Goats eat vegetation as they clear it and they fertilize soil with their droppings. Moreover, the rumen — part of the goat digestive tract — sterilizes most seeds and prevents plants from spreading, she added.
“They’re a very green alternative to using machinery,” Dunakin said, adding she plans to bring about 120 goats to the highlands.
Highlands residents who hope to watch the goats work will be able to do so from several vantage points. Bystanders will be able to watch herds near South Pond, adjacent to Central Park. Goats will eat across the hillside between the pond and houses on 24th Avenue. Ayers also recommended overlooks and trails on a stretch between 30th and 28th avenues where goats will work.
But bystanders should stand back: Goats will be secured behind temporary electric fences. Madsen and Ayers said goats are usually wary of strangers.
“This is not a petting zoo,” Ayers said.
He said residents applauded the goat proposal since managers announced it in the monthly highlands community newspaper.
“People think it’s a very clever idea,” he said. “Of course, no goats have gotten loose yet.”
Madsen said he plans to transport the goats across the Cascades in a double-decker trailer. After days of tending to the herd, he’ll bed down in a sleeper compartment in the cab of his tractor-trailer. Madsen is familiar with the routine. Healing Hooves goats have also tackled municipal landscape projects in Auburn and Tukwila.
Association managers said goats could return to the highlands for future landscape projects.
“We’re optimistic about this project and will be considering additional treatment areas for the future,” Ayers wrote in a follow-up e-mail. “There are over 1,400 acres of open space here, and so far, invasive species do not have much of a foothold.”
Ayers said association managers considered using goats to landscape portions of the highlands for a couple of years. He said the pace of construction kept managers from calling in goats earlier.
“We’re very excited about this,” association general manager John Beaman said. “Our motto up here in the Issaquah Highlands is living green. A lot of people live here because of our green philosophy.”
Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.