Rent-a-Goat

These liv­ing lawn mow­ers clear land by the mouth­ful.

Farm & Ranch Living - - NEWS - BY EL­IZ­A­BETH HAR­RIS AND SHARON SELZ

Liv­ing lawn mow­ers clear the land one mouth­ful at a time.

No­body loves her kids more than Tammy Du­nakin. But she doesn’t have any qualms about mak­ing them earn their keep.

“Goats are about the most eco-friendly way to rid prop­erty of un­wanted veg­e­ta­tion,” says the founder, CEO and head goat wran­gler of Rent-A-Ru­mi­nant (rentaru­mi­nant.com).

Tammy, who spent most of her life on farms, runs a new breed of land­scap­ing busi­ness from her land on Vashon Is­land, Wash­ing­ton. She quit a high-stress job in a trauma cen­ter to fo­cus on her goats. “One day, while gazing at my goat pen, I thought, You guys look bored,” she says. “I de­cided they re­ally needed a job to make use of their ta­lents.”

With four-cham­bered stom­achs and a propen­sity to chew their cud, Tammy’s ru­mi­nants are eat­ing up this unique job op­por­tu­nity. “Goats are browsers, so they’ll chomp on brush, black­ber­ries, this­tles and most kinds of in­va­sive plants,” she says. “Since they’re nat­u­ral-born climbers, they can reach places that peo­ple and ma­chines can’t go eas­ily or safely.” In many cases they’re also cost-ef­fec­tive, Tammy says, “and you don’t have to worry about car­bon emis­sions or engine noise.”

Her hun­gry herd has worked for uni­ver­si­ties, ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions, city parks and pri­vate home­own­ers. The goats even won a govern­ment con­tract with the U.S. Navy. “Each job is priced based on the size of the area to be munched,” Tammy says. It takes 60 goats three to five days to clear a quar­ter-acre of mod­er­ately dense veg­e­ta­tion roughly 4 feet tall. For jobs larger than a half-acre, she en­gages around 120 goats.

Tammy has been in this busi­ness for more than 14 years. “When the in­dus­try first started,” she says, “it was pretty much used in Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire coun­try for fire re­me­di­a­tion.” And it can still serve that valu­able pur­pose, qui­etly clear­ing fire-prone brush, along­side less pre­dictable ap­pli­ca­tions. “When I worked in the city of Seat­tle, po­lice would re­quest the goats for clean­ing up high-crime ar­eas that had low vis­i­bil­ity due to all the veg­e­ta­tion. Even air­port main­te­nance and old ceme­ter­ies—the his­toric ones that peo­ple rarely visit any­more but want to keep up—can be a good fit.”

Most of her jobs are in ur­ban ar­eas like Seat­tle and in the greater Puget Sound re­gion, so Tammy loads her goats into a trailer and, when time

al­lows, takes them to job sites via the Wash­ing­ton State Ferry. She de­pends on herd­ing and live­stock guardian dogs to round up the goats and keep them from es­cap­ing, and the kids’ work area is sur­rounded by sturdy tem­po­rary fenc­ing.

She refers to this lifestyle—of trav­el­ing with goats and blend­ing with the com­mu­ni­ties in which they work—as that of an ur­ban no­mad. When jobs call for sev­eral days of graz­ing (as most do), Tammy camps along­side the goats in a travel trailer. While it wouldn’t be un­heard-of to drop off the an­i­mals at a job site, Tammy stays there, along with her dogs, to keep watch over the herd. “I need to be able to hear them,” she says, “es­pe­cially at night. Goats are usu­ally very quiet un­less they’re hun­gry or there is a prob­lem.”

Wher­ever they go, the crew at­tracts the at­ten­tion of cu­ri­ous on­look­ers. “Peo­ple in nearby of­fice build­ings love watch­ing them from their win­dows,” Tammy says, “and schools have brought classes out to see the goats in ac­tion.”

With the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of all things green, Tammy has ex­panded her busi­ness, first with an af­fil­i­ate pro­gram and, since 2016, through fran­chis­ing. Tammy of­fers novice goatherds train­ing, hands-on men­tor­ing, mar­ket­ing sup­port and use of the Rent-A-Ru­mi­nant name. She has fran­chisees as far away as Texas and Ten­nessee, and her goal is to go na­tion­wide.

“We want to be in ev­ery state,” she says. Be­cause of her on­line pres­ence, Tammy gets in­quiries from po­ten­tial clients all over the coun­try. “We des­per­ately need peo­ple in Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton—we have more work here than we can han­dle.”

As aware­ness of her work has grown, Tammy has got­ten more in­ter­est from the south­east­ern

U.S. (where the in­va­sive kudzu vine presents a grow­ing prob­lem) and the Mid­west. “Hope­fully we can spread along the coasts and even­tu­ally into ev­ery cor­ner of the coun­try,” she says.

It gen­er­ally takes a min­i­mum of 30 goats to start a fran­chise, and herds range in size—up to 120 or so. But once the busi­ness gets go­ing, Tammy says, about 75 per­cent of jobs come from re­peat cus­tomers.

“This busi­ness can be a great fit for mod­est farms, to bring this in as an al­ter­na­tive for mak­ing money,” she says. “Some dairy farm­ers are in­ter­ested in branch­ing out and get­ting an­other source of in­come. It can pro­vide a cash in­fu­sion, pro­vided there are tax-de­ductible costs as­so­ci­ated with car­ing for the an­i­mals.”

Tammy notes that, as an in­come source, veg­e­ta­tion man­age­ment may be the most ef­fec­tive way to earn money from own­ing goats. “You’d have to sell a lot of goat milk to match what we make on a job.”

While start­ing a fran­chise may be eas­ier for farms that al­ready own much of the nec­es­sary equip­ment, Tammy cau­tions, “It takes the right per­son. You have to have a lot of heart for these an­i­mals.”

Tammy prides her­self on the fact that many of her work­force of vary­ing breeds, sizes and col­ors are res­cue an­i­mals. “Cer­tain breeds are hardier than oth­ers,” she says, “but they all do the job well.” She en­cour­ages fran­chisees to em­ploy res­cue goats, as she does, but how they build their herd is largely up to them. One thing she doesn’t com­pro­mise on, though, is the re­tire­ment pro­gram.

“Our mis­sion is to give goats, par­tic­u­larly un­wanted goats, a pur­pose and a re­ally good life— for their whole life.” To that end, Tammy re­tires her work­ing goats to pas­ture on her prop­erty when their pro­fes­sional chew­ing days are over. They live out their days at what she calls the Old Goats Home.

Rent-A-Ru­mi­nant re­quires that fran­chisees also re­tire their goats rather than slaugh­ter them. While the ages of the an­i­mals at re­tire­ment

can vary be­cause of health is­sues or the har­di­ness of their breed, Tammy says, “They all get pam­pered.” Her own farm is an idyl­lic set­ting on Puget Sound, stocked with toys and playpens, plus boul­ders and hills for climb­ing. She’s cur­rently aim­ing to achieve non­profit sta­tus for the Old Goats Home.

The re­wards of the work are far more than mon­e­tary. “You won’t find a lawn mower, leaf blower or bull­dozer that’s as much fun to work with as goats are,” she says. “Also, we’re do­ing some­thing pos­i­tive for the planet.” One bite at a time.

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