Texas Goat ‘lawnmowing’ Service Turns Heads, Helps Trees Grow

Texas Goat ‘lawnmowing’ Service Turns Heads, Helps Trees Grow

“This article discusses how goats are employed annually at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center to clear away bracken and create space for the existing tree seed bed to grow.


NOTE: this article was originally published to Chron.com on June 8, 2024. It was written by Elizabeth Ellis.


Behind the scenes of bracken clearing at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center.


The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center has some very important service animal visitors this weekend—115 of them to be precise.

Goats are currently roaming a 3-acre wooded space and available for public viewing from now until roughly June 11, though the end-date may change depending on how fast they work. The well-trained eating machines are clearing away bracken to provide more space for the existing tree seed bed to grow up.

One day, early during the goats’ stay at the Arboretum, a brown and cream doe named Branch noses her way to a choice branch next to her companion Scarlet. A soft “baaah” of protest comes out of Scarlet, undeterred.

“They are voracious little eaters,” says Kyle Carr, co-owner with his wife Carolyn of the Texas chapter of Rent-A-Ruminant, LLC, a nationwide franchise that provides an eco-friendly alternative to vegetation management. “One goat can do about 10 square feet a day, and they have highly efficient digestive tracts, so any seeds they ingest, most of all those are broken down in their gut and then repopulated, as well.”


Kyle Carr, co-owner of the Texas chapter of Rent-a-Ruminant, hangs out with his goats.


Kyle Carr, co-owner of the Texas chapter of Rent-a-Ruminant, hangs out with his goats. – Elizabeth Ellis


Carr’s goats, which are trained on their ranch about five hours northwest in Brownwood, have been coming to the Houston Arboretum since 2020. Christine Mansfield, senior marketing and development manager of the Arboretum, says Rent-A-Ruminant was hired as part of an initiative to bring back historic land management techniques, including grazing and fire.

“We started [the goats] on an area around to woodway ponds in a space that is a little bit harder for us to mow because it gets muddy and tractors get stuck in there,” Mansfield says. “They don’t have as big of an impact on that land as our large tractor does, and they don’t compound the soil in the same way—plus they leave a little bit of fertilizer behind. They aren’t afraid to get into spaces that would be harder to get our staff or volunteers into.”

This year the goats have been let loose on a more densely wooded area, where they’re clearing out room under the tree canopy to allow the seed bed and younger trees to develop and mature. The electric fence surrounding the designated 3 acres in place during the herd’s visit helps them to stay focused on their work—not just eating the choice treats and moving on. Since they work during all times of the day, it also keeps them safe from natural nighttime predators, such as coyotes.

“The whole reason we are doing it in this area is so new saplings can grow up; otherwise, we end up with a mature top story but nothing younger underneath,” Mansfield says. “If we have storms and all the trees are one age and we lose a lot of them, there will be nothing to come back underneath them. The goats are helping us improve the health of this ecosystem.


Gio takes a break from munching on overgrowth.


Gio takes a break from munching on overgrowth. – Elizabeth Ellis


Historically, there would have been deer in this area to do the clearing job, but Mansfield says this chatty, ravenous herd is a worthy substitute. Conversations between the Arboretum staff and the Carrs usually begin six months in advance to line up schedules, and the land designated to be cleared is surveyed by both parties for any natural hazards like hornet’s nests that may need to be cleared away. Troughs have been set out in this area filled with “goatorade”—a Carr family specialty—that includes some added electrolytes to keep the goats well-hydrated in the heat as they munch away. The Carrs stay on the property with the goats the entire length of their visit for monitoring, and activated charcoal medication is kept on hand in case of any tummy troubles.

Then there is the weather to consider. The recent heavy storms set back this year’s visit by about two weeks.

“This is the first year the weather really impacted us. They were supposed to arrive on May 20,” Mansfield says. “Goats don’t really like to get their hooves super wet and so if it is really boggy, they won’t enjoy it as much and potentially won’t work as hard.”

Carr’s herd goes all over Texas, with its biggest recent job being a 17-acre project for the Harris County Coastal Prairie Restoration Project. Rent-A-Ruminant has a no-slaughter policy, and the animals that aren’t cut out for travel do their grazing at the Brownwood Ranch home base.

But for those ready and willing to take the road trip, the diversity of plant life buffet awaiting them at the Arboretum is the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time).

“They still surprise me with how much they can eat,” Carr says. “Our favorite place is the Arboretum—they gave us a shot early on when we started up the business. We look forward to coming back every year.”

The article – summarized by Perplexity.AI

The article discusses how goats from Rent-A-Ruminant, a vegetation management company, are employed annually at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center to clear away bracken and create space for the existing tree seed bed to grow. Here are the key points:

  • Hundreds of goats from Rent-A-Ruminant are brought in to graze on a 3-acre wooded area at the Arboretum for a few days each year.
  • The goats efficiently clear away undergrowth and bracken, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor and enabling new tree saplings to grow from the seed bed.
  • An electric fence surrounds the designated area to keep the goats focused on their work and safe from predators.
  • Historically, deer would have performed this clearing role, but the chatty and ravenous goat herd is considered a worthy substitute.
  • The Arboretum staff coordinate with Rent-A-Ruminant months in advance to schedule the visits and prepare the site.
  • Rent-A-Ruminant adheres to a no-slaughter policy, and any goats unsuitable for travel graze at their ranch.
  • The goats’ efficient digestive systems help repopulate seeds in their gut, aiding the growth of new vegetation.

So in summary, the goats provide an eco-friendly and effective way to clear dense undergrowth at the Arboretum, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor and promote new tree growth from the existing seed bed.

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