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Case Study: How to turn goat grazing into profits

January 22, 2016 -  By

Photo: The Goatscaping Co.

A Boston area company specializes in goatscaping. 

In 2012, investment banker Elaine Philbrick read a newspaper article about how goats could be used for brush clearing. With four goats of her own, Philbrick thought goat grazing or “goatscaping” would make a brilliant business model. That year The Goatscaping Co. was born, starting with one golf course as the company’s first client. Fast-forward three years and the company has expanded to 70 residential clients and many commercial properties, totaling more than 300 weekly rentals. The company owns 54 goats, primarily Alpine with a mix of other breeds, which make up 12 herds available for rent.

Philbrick, who never left her day job and operated this venture part-time, sold the company last month to landscape company Hedges Inc. She’ll stay on in a sales capacity.

People love goatscaping because it’s a “green” service—it doesn’t require chemicals or equipment, Philbrick says. It’s also a solution for clearing areas that would be difficult or dangerous for crews and machines to tackle, such as abandoned buildings, stone walls, steep slopes, poison ivy infestations, wetlands and others.

Goat grazing complements landscaping, but it requires different expertise, she says. For a company to add a goatscaping component to its business, it would need to find barn space to house the goats in the off season (they’re typically booked solid during the seven-month landscape season) and be prepared to work with the animals.

“Our recommendation to a landscaper who would like to do goatscaping would be to hire a herd manager to handle all animal care,” Philbrick says. “There’s a lot involved in goat care, including ordering food supplies, hoof trimming, tending to minor injuries, feeding during the off season, coordinating with a livestock vet and birthing babies.”

How it works

A typical client rents one herd for a week, which will clear approximately a quarter acre, Philbrick says. Four adult goats make up a herd.

To get into goatscaping, companies can expect to pay up to $300 for a typical goat, but a “pedigreed goat”—such as an exotic breed, 4-H Club champion or a member of a well-known milking line—could be $600 or more. Per-goat expenses run about $350 per year, Philbrick says, including feed and veterinary care, but food costs are lower for goatscaping goats, which eat free most of the year. Goatscaping equipment expenses run about $3,000 per herd.

The Goatscaping Co. charges between $700 and $850 for the rental of one herd per week. Developers, golf courses and multiweek residential jobs are applicable for volume discounts. “The bigger the job, the better,” Philbrick says. “Our ideal job is renting out multiple herds at a location for multiple weeks because our biggest expense is labor and gas.”

goastscaping_businessWhen rented for a job, the company transports each herd in a trailer with their equipment, including an arch-style white plastic field shelter, solar-fence charger, four to six rolls of electric net fencing, leashes, water buckets and food dishes. Additional equipment required for goatscaping includes commercial gas-powered hedge trimmers, loppers and Tyvek suits (to protect the crew from poison ivy). Upon drop-off, staffers clear a three-foot-wide path to install the fence, set up the shelter and drop off the other equipment; they return to pick up the goats and equipment when the week is over. During the week the goats are on-site, clients are responsible only for giving the goats water and, if the goats clear their space early, feeding them the provided hay until the company picks them up. Setting up the fence is the toughest part of goatscaping due to the “dense thorny ‘jungle’ of New England,” Philbrick says. “Goats are escape artists,” she says, noting set-up typically takes around four hours.

“The goatscaping business is deceptively simple,” she adds. “Buying the goats and equipment is the easy part; the tricky part is setting up the fencing, which takes training and experience.”

Photo: The G0atscaping Co.

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About the Author:

Payton is a freelance writer with eight years of experience writing about the landscape industry.

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