Goats are amazing when it comes to clearing overgrown brush from your land and saving on feed costs at the same time. They're also great for starting your own money-making business renting your goats out to others for brush control.
There are plenty of other landowners who are anxious to clear brush and weeds from their property and pastures, and they're happy to rent your goats for the job.
But which types of goats are best for brush control? How many do you need? How do you keep them from running off? How much will they cost?
And won't predators get them if they're turned out on your property to eat the weeds?
In this guide we will share advice we've learned from our own years of experience and from other goat farmers that can answer those questions.
After you finish studying this guide, you'll be able to do the following:
Let's get started.
(Featured Image Credit: CalTrans District 11)
Video Credit: Iowa Outdoors
A brush goat (aka Briar Goat, Hill Goat or Native Goat) is usually a mixed breed.
Although a number of breeds have qualities or characteristics that lend themselves to be a good choice for brush clearing, there is no particular breed that is inherently best suited for brush clearing.
Registered goats could be used for brush control but are generally considered too expensive to breed and raise for this purpose. Now that you know what a Brush Goat is, let's dig into the 8 best tips for using brush goats in brush control and land clearing.
Goats can restore pasture that has been taken over by invasive plants. Their manure is great fertilizer.
Goats are Xylotrophic (they feed on wood), so they control brush that a mower cannot. Don't expect a perfectly landscaped lawn, but goats don't damage land like machinery will.
They control brush and weeds without disturbing the existing grass and soil or leaving synthetic chemicals. Goats are very useful in their ability to reach things people can't, as well clearing the way for humans to work where goats have cleared brush.
Goat "Browsing" (eating plants) creates a "Browse Line" in the lower branches of the trees letting in sun for grass to grow. Brush goats are inexpensive, saving time and money compared to mowing, digging or hiring land-clearing services.
Goats reproduce easily. You can breed them, keep some and sell the others to pay for the existing herd, which helps to keep costs down.
Goats are powerful and efficient brush clearers. Here is a before-and-after video showing the power of goats for brush clearing.
Video Credit: Rebellion Ranch
Sheep are effective grass clearers because they are "Grazers" who feed on grass and low-growing vegetation. Goats are "Browsers" who feed on leaves, woody plants such as shrubs and branches of trees.
Goats will eat the brush plants that the sheep will not touch. Goats will happily munch-up the young shrubs before the shrubs are established and reach the point that they take a lot of work to remove.
Sheep have coats that can get tangled in bushes. Goats are smarter and more relational with humans than sheep.
One research study found that goats can be compared to dogs in their relatability to people.
Now that you understand some of the benefits of brush goats, let's talk about which goats are the best choice for your brush goat herd.
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The best brush goats are usually cross-breeds, rather than one particular pure breed. Cross-breeds tend to be hardier with better resistance to parasites and are less expensive, too.
Cross-breeds of goats are usually going to be your best choices for brush clearing goats. The most popular brush goats are usually a cross between a meat goat breed and a dairy goat breed for these reasons:
A couple of additional downsides with Angoras are:
Avoid the following when choosing goats to clear brush:
What Do Goats Eat When Browsing and Brush Clearing? Generally, goats will browse various plants in all of these categories:
It would be impossible to list every plant that goats eat, but here are some specific plants that people often request to be cleared:
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Brush goats can eat a large variety of weeds, brush, plants and trees, including some that are toxic to other animals.
When you use goats to clear brush, don't expect them to just run in and quickly strip all plants from an area. Goats tend to take awhile to clear an area - sometimes several days or more, depending on the size of the area and the number of goats.
And, even though goats can eat quite a few different types of plants, there may be some plants they just don't have an appetite for at the moment, and they may leave those in place.
Sometimes it depends on what else is available. If there are multiple plants around, they will go for the most desirable plants first.
If your goats get full, then the less desirable plants may be left untouched. Even so, at least the goats will trim down the brush overall so it's a little easier for humans to deal with, even if the goats don't remove 100% of the plants.
We should add here that individual goats, like people, have their own individual tastes and preferences. Just because a goat CAN eat something doesn't mean that goat WILL eat it.
With a particular plant, one goat may love to eat a ton of it while another goat may seem disinterested in that same plant. Each goat has its own likes and dislikes.
This is one reason a herd of brush-clearing goats is usually designed to include different types, breeds, sizes and sexes of goats. If one goat in the herd won't eat certain plants, some of the other goats will probably gobble it up.
Image Credit: Double El Agate Conservation Districts
Although goats have a reputation for eating just about anything, it's not totally true. They can eat a lot of different plants that many other animals can't eat. But there are still certain highly toxic plants that can quickly kill a goat. As a brush goat owner, it's critical that you learn to recognize these.
When you start using brush goats to clear land, either for yourself or as a business renting goats to others, one of the most critical things you'll need to learn is what kind of plants are poisonous to goats.
One of the first steps when using brush goats in a particular area is to carefully walk around and examine the area. You'll want to make sure that you remove all plants poisonous to goats.
To do that, it is suggested that you keep a list of plants poisonous to goats with pictures, for those toxic plants that are most common in your area. To get started, here are some example lists you can find online.
These are not all-inclusive, but they will help you identify what plants are toxic to goats.
Learning what type of plants are poisonous to goats can be a little tricky and confusing at first. You'll see a lot of conflicting advice online.
As you explore what is toxic to goats, you'll soon notice that some plants are shown on one list as okay for goats, and the same plants will appear on another list as "toxic".
You'll also hear about goat keepers who have their goats eating plenty of a certain type of plant that you see listed as poisonous or toxic for goats. There's a good explanation for this.
Goats have a unique digestive system that adjusts to the plants they're eating. A goat can eat many things that other mammals can't.
A goat can often nibble a little bit of a "toxic" plant, and not have any problem as long as the goat doesn't eat too much of it and is eating other stuff as well.
Also, as a goat eats more of that toxic plant gradually over time, its digestive system can often adjust to the toxicity of the plant, allowing the goat to eat even greater quantities of that plant with no problem.
This is why some goat herds are feeding off of lots of toxic plants with no problems. Even so, keep in mind that there are certain highly toxic plants for goats that should be avoided at all costs as they can sicken and kill a goat quickly.
Here are some examples of some of the highly toxic plants for goats:
When raising and working brush goats, the main thing is for you to learn the most toxic plants in your area, versus those "toxic" plants that really aren't a huge concern.
Then, you'll be able to confidently inspect the area in which your brush goats will be working, and you'll know that any problem plants have been cleared so your goats are safe. Even so, be ready to recognize goat poisoning symptoms.
Watch for any signs of toxic reaction in your goats. Symptoms of goat poisoning can include things like foaming at the mouth, diarrhea, shaking, trouble walking, fast or difficult breathing, crying out or convulsions.
Remember that prevention is the best cure as the effects of some toxic plants or herbicides may not show up for many months or years.
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There are several key areas you'll want to focus on while caring for your brush goats. Even though brush goats eat a lot of browse including weeds, brush, plants, bushes and trees, you'll still want to supplement them in-between jobs with grain feed and minerals to make sure thy get all of the nutrition they need to stay healthy.
Supplement the browse (plants) your goat eat with:
Provide shelter in the paddock. Some livestock trailers can be used for this purpose.
Livestock guardian dogs are the most effective choice for this. It is important to do thorough research to determine the breed(s) that would be best for your needs as well as the training necessary for them.
It's important to understand the dietary needs of your goats, both when they are brush-clearing and when they are not.
For more information about feeding goats in general, check out our blog post... "What to Feed Goats: Ultimate Guide to Goat Nutrition"
One of the best ways for you to learn the process of using your goats to clear brush is to go over some of the typical questions goat keepers usually ask when they're first considering brush goats for personal use or for business.
Here are some typical brush goat questions, with answers.
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This large herd of brush goats was able to clear a lot of acreage in only 4 to 5 days. They were contained by an electric fence and protected by a livestock guardian dog that stayed with them. You can tell they're probably thinking, 'Okay, job done. No more food left. Where do we go next, boss?'
This is not an easy question to answer because it depends on how much and what type of brush is on the acreage you need to clear.
It also depends on the type of goats you use, what they will eat and how fast they eat. To get a very rough estimate, many goat keepers have found that it takes around 8 to 12 goats roughly to clear one acre in one month.
Again, that number will vary up or down depending on the acreage and depending on your goats. If the acreage you're clearing has thicker brush, you may need more goats than that.
Also, if you have limited time and need to clear faster than one acre per month, you'll also need more goats. Another factor is that you'll need to decide to what extent you want the acreage cleared of brush.
If you merely need to trim back most of the brush, but leave it intact so it can regrow later, then you won't need as many goats or as much time, compared to a situation where you may want to have brush completely stripped from the acreage so it won't grow back.
An important issue you also need to consider is the impact on your goats. The more goats you put on a parcel, the more they will have to compete for food.
You'll need to be careful that your goats are getting enough regular nutrition. Also, there will be more feces in the area if the goats are crowded together.
On top of that, you'll need to think about what you plan to do with the goats when grazing season is over. Can you afford to keep them until the next season, and perhaps use them for other purposes in the meantime?
If not, would you sell the goats? Or would you have them slaughtered so you can use or sell the meat?
These are all things that need to be part of your planning so you won't be caught off-guard later.
Depending on the breeds and individual goats as well as the brush that is being cleared, different goat farmers reported different results:
Some brush goat keepers have successfully used as few as 3 or 4 full size goats per acre. Double that number for smaller goats.
It all depends on how much your particular goats can eat, and how fast. Your best bet, if you're just getting started with brush goats, is to get just a few goats and begin to test them out.
Fence them into a certain area and observe carefully how much vegetation is in that area. It will help if you take before-and-after photos.
Then, keep good notes on how long it takes the goats to clear the brush from that area to your satisfaction. Maybe try adding a few more goats at a time and see what difference in makes in the time it takes them to clear the acreage.
Also, keep track of your costs and effort involved in providing fencing, shelter, food, etc. After you test things and keep records for awhile, you should begin to get a pretty good feel for the ideal types of goats to use and the ideal number of goats per acre that you need.
Doing this kind of testing is really important if you plan to go into a goat rental business. You'll need to be able to understand fully what it takes to be profitable.
Many cow farmers add goats to keep pastures under control as the cows will graze the grass and the goats will clear the brush. The general rule is one goat per cow. It is important to never leave one goat by itself.
Goats are social animals and a single goat will suffer without interaction with others. Also, while goats are generally vulnerable to predators, one goat is even more vulnerable.
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Brush goats will clear most of the brush from the ground up to their 'Browse Line', which is the highest point they can reach when standing on their hind legs. They usually start at the top and work their way down. When a brush goat is eating near the ground, it usually means the goats have already eaten the good stuff higher up. When they get down below 6 inches where the parasites live, it's time to move them to another area.
Don't expect goats to completely remove all vegetation from an area in one session. It takes several years to completely eradicate brush.
Goats can reduce brush 50-90% in one year. But remember that brush will grow back.
Even so, if the goats eat it back far enough, the brush will grow back much more slowly than before. Over 5 years, brush can be reduced to just 2 percent if your goats eat in the area year-after-year.
Increasing the number of goats in an area so that the brush clearing is faster is known as "High Stocking Density". While the brush clearing is faster, this practice can result in nutritional deficiency for your goats if you're not careful.
Sometimes the timing and number of goats depends on the types of weeds. Some weeds grow and seed faster than others.
The timing will also vary with the growing cycle of different weeds, since some seed earlier than others. Herbicides can be used effectively on many plants after the goats have completed clearing the brush.
Just make sure you don't use them in an area right before your goats will be foraging there.
There are a couple of things that are important to do when assessing an area before you let your goats into the area to start clearing brush:
In that case, the electric wires should be the one wire at the top and the first wire up from the bottom. The remaining wires don't necessarily have to be electrified.
Another option is to use woven wire fence with a couple of electric wires. Some goat keepers us electric netting (electronet fencing).
The advantages are that it is less expensive and much easier to assemble and move around. Some say they have no problem with electronet fencing, but some goat farmers have found that the netting can be dangerous to goats as they can get tangled and strangled in it.
Also, it can easily short out in rainy weather. With all electric fencing, providing power to it is an issue.
If the fence is near an electrical source, then it's easy to just plug it in. However, if the acreage being cleared is far from any electrical source, then you'll need to use a solar fence charger.
Pay extra to get one of the more powerful chargers to keep goats in and to keep predators out. A downside of a solar fence charger is that it may not work so well when the sky is overcast for extended periods of time.
Goats are smart and can usually figure out when an electric fence isn't working. They're so smart, they will even test the fence every once-in-awhile.
If they don't feel a little zap when they touch it, then they'll test it even more, until they find out they can escape through the fence. Goats always think the grass is greener on the other side.
Fortunately, even if a goat escapes, it will usually stay near the herd and probably won't run off too far.
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Avoid tethering or staking out a brush goat, by tying it to a stake. It's tempting when you need your goat to clear some brush and you don't have the time or money for a fence. But it's dangerous. Goats can easily get tangled in a rope or cable and strangle themselves to death. They are also out in the open and unprotected from predators. As herd animals goats hate to be alone and don't do well without other goats around. If you still feel the need to stake out your goat, just make sure you don't leave. You'll need to stay there and supervise it continuously.
Some goat farmers have been known to "tether" goats or to "stake out" a goat when there isn't any fencing available to keep the goat secure. "Tethering" is when you put a collar on your goat and tie a leash from the collar to a wire or rope line which is several feet above the ground.
The idea is to keep the goat from running away, but allowing the goat to have the freedom to walk up and down the tether line to eat the brush in that area.
"Staking Out" is when you tie the goat to a stake which has been driven into the ground.
Tethering or staking out makes the goats very vulnerable to predators. Your goats will be out in the open and will be easy prey for a coyote or other predator.
A fence, on the other hand, can help keep predators out. Also, with tethering and staking out, goats can get wrapped around stakes, bushes or trees or get tangled and choke themselves.
If you ever feel you must tether or stake out your goats, make sure you are always there supervising them the entire time. Do not leave them unattended.
Notify nearby landowners that you will be using goats.
Helpful neighbors can notify you if there's a problem and may even assist by returning wandering goats.
Goats usually start at the bottom of a hill and work their way up. Plan your paddock and set-up accordingly.
When you let your goats into a paddock you may want to start with the bigger goats first. They can clear out some of the larger brush and plant growth that is higher off the ground and harder to reach.
After the larger goats have trimmed things down, then you can bring in the smaller goats to start working on the brush that is closer to the ground.
You can experiment to find out if it's more efficient to have them overlap and be in the paddock for a little while at the same time, or whether it works better to let the larger goats finish first, and then bring in the smaller goats.
Many brush goat herders put all the goats in at once to save time. Keep in mind that there's a higher risk of having your goats eat parasite eggs when they eat weeds down below 6 inches from the ground.
So, once your goats have eaten down to almost 6 inches, you may want to move them to a different paddock.
Goats usually start with the highest parts of plants first and work their way down.
Image Credit: Mountain Democrat
When you set up brush goats to clear land, it's important to check in on them at least once per day. Goats can get tangled up in fences or brush, can get attacked by predators or can escape outside the fenced area.
Goats see the grass as greener on the other side of fence. Without fencing goats can end up miles away continually chasing better forage.
However, many times they tend to stick near the herd. They don't like to be alone.
One thing to remember with any fencing is that if you are managing the forage area and the goats are happy, they won't be trying to test the fence so much.
Here are a couple of suggestions for preventing fence testing by your goats:
Doing these two things will eliminate a lot of headaches. If you have at least 5 acres and a larger herd, you can use permanent fencing to enclose a large area and set up paddocks with electric fencing inside of that larger perimeter.
This makes it easier to rotate the goats through the land that requires brush clearing. This applies to your own property or a regular customer's property that will need to be grazed repeatedly over time.
As mentioned above, to keep goats happy, they need enough food in the paddock. It is important to rotate them to another area as the brush is cleared.
Goats start damaging trees when there is not enough brush. Goats can kill trees.
They strip off bark all the way around, girdling the tree. The tree can die within a few weeks.
This can be avoided if you make sure there is other brush in the area that the goats like to eat more than tree bark. Then, there's a better chance they'll leave the trees alone.
Another option is to put wire mesh around each tree to keep the goats from eating the bark The more goats there are, and the longer time left without enough brush the more damage will be done to trees.
For areas requiring longer term clearing, return the goats when the leaves start to grow again. One method that many farmers report as being effective is rotating with other animals like cows and chickens.
Cows (or horses or other grazers) work the land differently than goats. Grazers will clean up the grass while browsers, like goats, will clean up the taller weeds and brush.
Also, chickens provide pest control by eating up bugs and parasites that are a threat to the other animals. Some people combine these different animals in an area at different times so they can work together.
Just be careful not to let the paddock get too crowded. Horses and cows have been known to step on goats, and goats have been known to step on chickens. Just be careful.
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Electric net fencing with a solar powered fence charger is one way to keep brush goats confined while they clear brush from overgrown land. Usually you'll also want more than one livestock guardian dogs to stay with goats to protect against predators.
The best time for goat brush clearing is during the early Spring and Summer growing season as it does the most damage to unwanted plants.
Browsing in late Summer or early Fall has almost no effect on brush regrowth the following year.
Late fall and Winter are when goats may do the most damage to trees because the nutrition from the leafy plants is not adequate.
As you learn about getting into the brush goat business, you'll find there are several key areas you'll need to take care of...
Some of the typical equipment you'll need if you start your own goat rental business includes the following:
When you work with brush goats, you need to be prepared to do several things:
To run a goat rental business, you'll also need to take care of the following:
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If you handle brush goats, you'll need a large livestock trailer so you can transport your goats to and from job sites. Make sure it's open enough to keep your goats cool. For longer trips, you'll need to provide hay and water in the trailer.
Most goat rental businesses start with something like $1 per day per goat as a base fee. Then, they add on additional fees to cover the business costs of brush control such as:
Make sure you set a price that will make a profit.
As we mentioned earlier, your brush goats don't have to be any particular breed, and cross-breeds make some of the best brush goats for clearing land.
When it comes to the price you'll pay to buy a goat, this is good news because cross-breeds usually cost less, compare to pure-bred goats or registered goats which are required for official goat show competition.
It's not unusual to spend $100 to $300 for a goat, depending on whether or not it's a pre-breed or registered goat, as well as other factors. The price can also vary depending on your location.
Some registered pure-breeds can even cost up into the $500 to $1,000, or higher if the goat has a track record as a show champion. Some champion goats at the nation show level can bring prices of $10,000 or more for one goat.
However, for brush goats, which are usually going to be cross-breeds, your cost should be at the lower end of of those ranges, perhaps $100, or even less if you shop around. Just be careful that you talk to the seller a little bit and ask a lot of questions.
Some goats are sold because they are sick or have diseases or other problems. You don't want to buy some goats and then find you can't use them, or can't resell them.
Also, goat with diseases can pass that along to other goats, and some diseases can even get into the soil, in which case that area can't be used for other goats later. Ask the seller if the goats have been tested for common diseases.
If so, the seller should be able to give you copies of the official test results. Also, ask if the goats have received vaccinations like CDT, which protects against some of the more common goat diseases.
Find out if the goats you're buying have had any health problems and make sure they were treated successfully and there are no problems remaining in the herd. This may sound like a lot of effort.
But it will save you a lot of headaches later, compared to the problems you'll have if you end up with a bunch of sick goats.
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When you get a new brush goat client, you'll need to go out and inspect the job site so you can provide an accurate quote that will be profitable for you and fair to the client. It's also good to visit the site with the client after the goats get started and after the goats are finished clearing the land. This will make sure the client's expectations are being met, and any problems are resolved early in the process.
Your typical clients in your brush goat rental business are not usually going to be suburban homeowners with immaculate lawns.
Instead, brush goats are typically going to be needed on large tracts of acreage that are overgrown with all kinds of brush and may be hard to get to or hard to work on, like properties with rocky or steep elevations.
Your best clients may be state and local municipalities, businesses and large landowners. Cities and counties often have easements, parks, right-of-ways and similar properties that need to be cleared every-so-often.
They will also have budgets available so they can afford to pay you. And if you get a contract, and do a good job, these clients may turn into repeat business on a regular basis, so you won't have to constantly search for new clients year-after-year.
Once you have an interested client it is important to put your best foot forward with professionalism and organization.
Here are some recommendations for client engagement when you are first contacted about having your goats clear the client's land that may be overgrown with brush:
In addition to negotiating and carrying out the work your goats will do, you will also need to set up all of the legal and financial matters in the background that any good business needs.
That's beyond the scope of this article, because here we are mainly focused on the goats, and there are plenty of other sources out there where you can get general advice on how to set up and run a small business.
Here's an example where you can find some great advice on setting up the legal and financial aspects of your own goat rental business: "How to Start a Goat Rental Business"
Video Credit: My Home, NC
If you're ready to get started raising goats for brush control, and to possibly start your own goat rental business, check out our article that will help you get started with goats for the first time...