Recently I was in Seattle with a friend who casually mentioned that she was having "the goat guy" come over to help her get rid of her out-of-control, brambly blackberry bushes out back.
After I got past wondering why anyone would want to get rid of their blackberries--the fruits are one of my favorite, so I deal with the thorns--I wondered who was this "goat guy" --some Seattle based Centaur?
The goat guy (and it turns out there is more than one and some are girls, including Rent-a-Ruminant on Vashon Island) is one of the locals who has developed a career as an urban herder. These downtown rancher-entrepreneurs have discovered that goats suck down brambles like spaghetti, and can clear invasives in a matter of hours, saving the city as well as private owners tons of money while being natural and environmentally friendly. This particular goat guy has a mobile herd of goats that he rents out by the hour or by the day within the greater Seattle area to people who need help with their yard work, but spurn gas-spewing mowers.
According to Umbra on grist.org, an hour of mowing with a gas mower has the same carbon emissions of driving your car for four hours. In 2012, there will be new emissions standards, but for now, gas mowers are one of the most polluting machines homeowners can use. Goats are not completely guilt-free: The do emit methane caused by fermentation in the first of their three stomachs, the equivalent of 0.3 Teragrams CO2 according to Umbra and the EPA (landfills emit 131.2 Tg, termites about 20 Tg for comparison).
Goats are not only a way to keep your lawn short (apparently Google's offices in Seattle started using them) but they eat the nasty stuff that you don't want to touch, like poison ivy and blackberries, without ill effect, no herbicides required, and no itchy welts or nasty scratches at the end.
How much can they handle? About 8 pounds per day of vegetation. Read more about Seattle local goat renters here. If you don't live in Seattle but have a patch you need cleared try goatfinder.com for a rental goat near you.