Is Using Goats to Clear Noxious Vegetation Safe for Them?

One bright spot during a pretty dismal news week earlier this month was the sight of 118 runaway goats munching away on lawns in a Boise, Idaho neighborhood.

The goats, and puns about the goats, went viral on social media.

How all those goats ended up on a residential street was an amusing mystery that was solved pretty quickly. They had been clearing vegetation near a retention pond just a couple of blocks away, when they knocked down some slats in a wooden fence and took off.

“Goats are great escape artists, and I guess they decided to go on an adventure today,” Kim Gabica, who with her husband Matt owns the self-explanatory business We Rent Goats, told the Idaho Statesman. “It’s rare that this many would get out, but they would definitely follow each other.”

Less than two hours after the goats were discovered on their adventure, they were herded up and driven back to their workplace. None of the goats were harmed, although the same can’t be said of some of those front yards.

Companies like We Rent Goats provide these animals to clear unwanted vegetation on public and private lands. Using goats this way is considered environmentally friendly because, it eliminates the need for chemical weed killers.

Now, not to be a Debbie Downer about the wonderful runaway goats story, but something on the We Rent Goats website caught my eye and bothered me: “[B]y eating the weeds and the seeds, goats can significantly diminish your noxious weed problem,” it says.

Is it safe for goats to eat “noxious weeds?”

According to the USDA, these are plants “that can directly or indirectly injure or cause damage to crops (including nursery stock or plant products), livestock, poultry or other interests of agriculture, irrigation, navigation, the natural resources of the United States, the public health, or the environment.”

Goats are livestock, right? Indeed they are, but unlike any other animals, they have special enzymes in their saliva and guts that are able to detoxify many of these plants before they swallow or digest them. For example, poison ivy has no effect on goats.

What gives them this superpower? There are about 937 million goats in the world, and most of them live in the tropics, just north and south of the equator, Jean-Marie Luginbuhl, a crop science and animal science professor at North Carolina State University, told NPR in 2015.

“They evolved in very arid areas and basically had to survive on plants that contained noxious compounds,” she explained. “So goats evolved this ability to detoxify noxious compounds much better than cattle or sheep [can].”

Goats are not, however, naturally immune to all vegetation. “A lot of ornamental plants are poisonous to goats,” Luginbuhl told NPR. But goats won’t die from eating, say, Piedmont azaleas — unless they digested mass quantities of them.

Some plants will make goats vomit, but after that unpleasant experience, they’ll avoid eating them again. The owners of We Rent Goats (and hopefully other goat-providing companies) do inspect properties beforehand to make sure the vegetation is safe for goats to eat.

We Rent Goats is a participant in the Animal Welfare Institute’s Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) program, whose standards are “the most humane and progressive care requirements in the nation,” according to the AWA. “Today, hundreds of participating family farms are putting each individual animal’s comfort and well-being first.”

“We treat our [goats] like queens,” the We Rent Goats website says. “They’re our bread and butter, so we work hard to keep them happy.”

Related at Care2

Photo credit: ulleo

111 comments

Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga8 months ago

thx

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Danuta W
Danuta Watola8 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN hEARFIELD8 months ago

tyfs

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Winn A
Winn Adams9 months ago

Awwwwwww

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Leanne K
Leanne K9 months ago

Oh this is a lovely story. I must admit I started the article with trepidation. Soooo glad for these winderful goats, They have such great personalities. Thanks Care2 this is one story I love.

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