Hudson teenagers beware: a new group of kids could soon flood the yard work market this summer.
Hudson Common Council unanimously voted June 19 to draft a city ordinance allowing the use of goats to clear out invasive plants.
The "munching" trend, which involves unleashing goats in brush areas to eat weeds, has picked up in larger cities like St. Paul.
Clearing out vegetative scourges like buckthorn and poison ivy usually involves several days of hard labor and spraying herbicides. But for goats, the task is a matter of spending a few days engaged in their favorite pastime - eating.
"They're not noisy like machines, they're not harsh like chemicals," said Ali Egan, who herds goats in the town of Kinnickinnick. "They do the job and then get moved to the different area they're needed next. They're very efficient with their jobs."
Egan owns Oak Grove Farms, where she raises horses and fainting goats. She breeds goats for sale, but recently started offering "rent-a-goat" services.
After an assessment of a customer's property, Egan sets up fencing systems in areas that need weeding.
She then loads her "eating machines" into a trailer and hauls them to the work site, where they stay up to several days to a week, gorging themselves on pesky weeds.
They typically prefer leafy plants and will ignore grass as long as they have an ample supply of weeds like buckthorn, poison ivy and garlic mustard.
"It's a really good deal for them," said Ali Egan, who herds goats in the town of Kinnickinnick. "They're doing what comes natural rather than using harsh chemicals and a lot of hard, physical labor, it's just definitely the way to go."
The prospect of a natural method for weed management led Hudson resident Lana Sjoberg to the Munch Bunch, a "goat-for-hire" company in St. Croix Falls.
A herd of 15 goats spent a total of 24 days on Sjoberg's property devouring buckthorn, a plant that inhibits the growth of other plants and trees.
She said the whole process cost about half the price as hiring people to pull plants, spray and haul the debris, and was more effective.
Unlike pulling or trimming the plants, munching diminishes the likelihood of re-growth. The loss of leaves prevents prevents photosynthesis and weakens the roots, as does the goats' tendency to pull down the plants.
The animals, Sjoberg said, are a lot more entertaining, too.
"They're interesting to watch," she said. "One of the last nights they were here, we had a 'goat party.' We had chairs out, we were serving goat cheese, and had drinks. When the goats moved, the people moved."
The "munching" came to an early end, however, when police received a complaint. Hudson ordinances say that no person may "own, harbor or keep any livestock within the city limits."
Sjoberg and her husband, St. Croix County Supervisor Roy Sjoberg, advocated for modifying the ordinance to be more "munching"-friendly.
Mr. Sjoberg outlined possible routes during a June 13 Public Safety Committee meeting:
• Allow residents to obtain goat rental permits specifically for invasive plant control
• Establish licensing and insurance system for farmers and herders
• Modify "harboring" definition to disclude goats that are employed to manage vegetation
Munch Bunch owners Alyse and Dan Sorensen said at the June 13 meeting that goats produce few nuisances like noise or odor.
"We've only heard of one complaint, and that's why we're here," Alyse said. "There shouldn't be any smell at all, they're not noisy. ... There's usually a flock of people that just love them."
Ryan Sterry, agriculture agent with UW-Extension in St. Croix County, said setting up fencing, hauling the goats and monitoring them can be labor-intensive for farmers who offer goat rental services.
"It's not like turning goats out on your own farm where they stay and eat weeds on your own farm," he said. "It takes the right farm to set up the right way to pull it off."
Sterry also said one possible concern could be goat safety.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported in May that St. Paul police arrested two men accused of stealing a goat from Indian Mound Regional Park, where they had been released earlier that week.
Although the goat was returned to the herder unharmed, Sterry said he worries "that's what you'll run into" as munching gains popularity.
But Missy Lien-Sparrows, a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in Baldwin, said well-managed munching offers a more precise way to eliminate buckthorn, which grows rampant in western Wisconsin and southern Minnesota.
"It's grown on some steep slopes, and goats can handle that type of footing better than running a mower over it," she said. "Finding another tool to manage it is not a bad thing."