Goats on the Go affiliate in Minnesota provides weed control and entertainment to clients
Goats On The Go affiliates throughout the U.S. use goats to control nuisance and invasive vegetation on residential and public properties.
AUSTIN, Minn — Like most of their clients, Gus and Ann Maxfield love goats.
The Austin couple runs a goat grazing business which is an affiliate of Goats on the Go , a national network of independently-owned goat grazing businesses that provides weed and brush control with goats.
The couple has 120 goats that they split into herds of 40. Gus Maxfield said they purchased goats to clean up their own land a year before he retired from the boiler business he owned.
“I started this goat thing to try and control all the buckthorn on the 50 acres I have in Brownsville, which was the worst infestation of buckthorn I’ve ever seen in my life," he said.
After seeing how successful goats were at clearing the buckthorn, Maxfield said they discovered Goats on the Go and decided to add to their herd and join as an affiliate.
He said that electric fencing is used to keep coyotes, dogs and other predators away while the goats are grazing, and all they have to do while goats are on a job is check on them once daily to make sure the fence is still working and that they have enough water.
“We don't have any issues with them as long as they have food and water and everything's good, but when their food source starts to get low inside their paddock, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, and that can be an issue,” he said.
On the morning of Oct. 17, Maxfield drove his truck onto the golf course of the Austin Country Club, where a herd of goats was on day two grazing an overgrown section of the course.
“For buckthorn control, it doesn’t hurt to graze really late like this,” said Maxfield. “Because that's the only thing that's got green leaves on it, and pretty much everything else is coming off.”
He said buckthorn is usually the first thing the goats will go after.
“They’re not grass eaters,” he said. “I mean they’ll eat grass, but they gotta be pretty hungry.”
Some of the benefits that come from goats grazing are cleared woodlots of low brush and irritating plants, opened hiking paths, reduced nuisances from mosquitoes and other pests by thinning dense cover, improved sight lines from home windows and outdoor living areas and more.
Maxfield said the only limitation the goats have is that they can only reach about six feet, but he said they do get creative sometimes.
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“They'll get on each others backs, or climb up larger trees and get everything they can reach,” he said.
He said they only use meat goats, because they are “bigger, bulkier and they eat more brush.” He said the goats eat just about anything that nothing else will eat.
“They eat thistles, wild parsnips, garlic mustard, buckthorn — all kinds of invasive species,” he said.
The best formula the Maxfields have with their herd is putting 40 goats to one acre for about one week, which is enough time for them to clear it.
He said probably about 80% of their business is in Rochester, which is about 40 minutes from Austin.
“There's a lot of really nice homes in Rochester that have big lots, and it’s really pretty because it’s built into the hills, but they have no way to maintain it,” he said. “So that's where the goats come in — doesn't matter about how rough the terrain is.”
But Gus Maxfield said that there are some clients who are strictly in it for the entertainment.
“We had one guy say after we dropped the goats off that he was going to get a pack of beer and watch them,” he said. “People will have parties where they’ll hang out and watch the goats.”
Ann Maxfield said renting the goats has been a learning curve for them, but it’s been an enjoyable one.
“There's so much to it that we didn't comprehend was there, and it's been fun to learn it,” she said.
She said the hardest part of the experience so far was dealing with issues related to kidding out the goats, which she said was "overwhelming."
Business has only picked up for them since they began renting out the goats.
“This year is the busiest that we've ever been,” she said. “People are understanding how much good conservation a chemical free approach to brush control can really be for them.”
Now that it’s winter, the goats will be put into basically a feedlot situation, said Gus Maxfield. And they all have a job lined up for next year.
“What we do with our goats is just rent them out,” said Gus Maxfield, who said because of that, some goats feel like pets to them. “We don't sell them to the meat market or anything.”