Grazing

Goats are a great tool in the toolbox of land management. At Willowsford farm, and increasingly throughout the Willowsford Conservancy, Community, and around Loudoun County, our herd of goats manages unwanted vegetation naturally – by eating it.

If left alone, invasive plants can take over our woodlands, strangling valuable trees and threatening important biodiversity. Open grasslands and neighborhood backyards can become overrun, creating a loss of habitat for birds and other wildlife, interfering with agricultural activities, and limiting the enjoyment of outdoor space.

Why Goats

Goats are agile, light on their feet, gentler than machinery and chemical free! Their ability to climb allows them to reach vines and stems in otherwise hard-to-reach places. They will graze all day, going through very dense material at about a quarter acre per several days per 10-20 goats, fertilizing in the process.

Their narrow, triangular mouth allows them to crush what they eat, so seeds that might otherwise get passed through to fertilization are not viable. This is a true advantage, since machine cutting only encourages further growth in the next growth cycle and does little to eliminate next year's seed bank.

Special enzymes in the goats' guts allow them to eat plants that are poisonous to other animals and even consume poison ivy! Weeds our goats love to eat:

  • Mile-A-Minute
  • Japanese Honeysuckle
  • Kudzu
  • Autumn Olive
  • Pokeweed
  • Oriental Bittersweet
  • Japanese Knotweed
  • Poison Ivy
  • Canada Thistle
  • Tree of Heaven
  • Multiflora Rose
  • And Many More!

While prescribed grazing goats may be ideal for some properties, they aren't right for every property. Unlike sheep, goats are "top down" grazers and therefore are better suited for areas overrun by broadleaf vegetation rather than areas that are predominately grasses. Many of our targeted grazing jobs are on the margins of forests, along fence lines, and into vegetation so dense that it is nearly impassable to humans.

  • Estimated acreage of target vegetation
  • Estimated acreage of entire property
  • Type(s) of problem vegetation
  • Several images of the area in question
  • Reason(s) for clearing the site

If you think goats may be a good fit for your property, please email us.

Let's Talk Goats

How It Works

If an area of land is right for prescribed grazing goats, we will schedule a site visit and build an estimate for the grazing job. Once accepted, we will set a date for goat installation. On installation day, the shepherd will arrive with the goats in a trailer, set up and test electric fencing, and explain go over specifics of the job with you. The goats will remain on the job overnight and a handler will visit daily to provide water, any additional feed needs, and check on the goat’s shelter, fencing and health. The landowners’ only responsibility during the graze is to alert us in the case of any emergencies.

Please note that most grazing jobs are booked weeks or months in advance – with consideration of the lifecycles of the problem plants and any special permits required – so hiring the goats is not an immediate process.

 
Schedule a Visit

Build an estimate for the grazing job

Goat Installation

Set up and test electric fencing

Goats Start Grazing

Daily visits by handler to provide water and feed needs

Program Costs

The cost of a graze varies widely based on the size of the area to be cleared (and therefore the length of stay), distance between the farm and the grazing location, how much fencing is required, terrain conditions and density of vegetation. The average cost to set up is between $500 and $750 and the average herd per diem is between $100 and $200.

Education and Outreach

In addition to their weed-eating services, goats possess a keen ability to kick start conversations about conservation, engage students, and to attract volunteers to projects and places they visit. Since the summer of 2013, our goats have participated in farm-based summer camp at the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, where they offer children the opportunity to discuss the products and services provided by livestock, identify invasive vegetation, and spend time with the animals. In conjunction with DC Greens and the Growing Green Teachers programming, the goats also participate in educational visits to DC Public Schools during spring and fall months.

For more information on educational visits, please contact us.

Educational Visits

Meet the Herd

Our herd consists of LaMancha, Oberhasli and Nubian goats born at Blue Ridge Goat Dairy in Keedysville, Maryland in the spring of 2013. Because dairy goats are accustomed to human interaction and there is less of an outlet for the bucklings, we find them (wethers) to be a great fit for grazing.

They are a friendly bunch and happy to engage with visitors while out on the road or during farm tours. If you plan to visit, let us know in advance and please read our "Rules of Goat Engagement" for your safety as well as the safety of the herd.

Interactions with our goats must be scheduled in advance and given the mobile nature of their business, are difficult to accommodate during the main grazing season, April - Nov.

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Rules of Goat Engagement
Watch out for horns!

We choose to leave horns on our goats so that they can defend themselves against predators, which means those horns can be dangerous. Never grab a goat’s horns.

No human food

Do not feed goats any human food

Stay off the fence

Be mindful of the electric fence and do not attempt to traverse it. The fence may only be operated or moved by farm personnel or trained volunteers given advanced permission.

Give Us a Call

Daily visits by handler to provide water and feed needs

Keep calm around livestock

Please limit running, chasing, yelling or abrupt motions when in close proximity to animals.

Wash your hands

Always wash your hands after interacting with the goats

Do not feed the goats

Grain may be on site with the herd as a supplement for the goats but is off limits to visitors. Only trained handlers can give grain to the goats.

Willowsford Conservancy

41025 Willowsford Lane, Aldie, VA 20105

Phone: 571-440-2400

info@willowsfordconservancy.org

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Willowsford Farm Stand

23595 Founders Drive, Ashburn, VA 20148

Phone: 571-297-6900

farm@willowsfordfarm.com

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