Goat vs. mower: UW-Bothell tries experiment

BOTHELL – The brown, black and white goats didn’t notice their audience Thursday as they munched the thorny blackberry bushes on the hill behind the library at the University of Washington’s Bothell campus.

Human visitors wandered up to the orange electric fence for a closer look at the unusual gardeners, brought in by the university and Cascadia Community College to control the pesky bushes.

The headstrong herd was up to the challenge.

“They’re tough little guys,” said Joe Marchand, a gardener at the campus. “We’re getting a lot of attention. A lot of people are coming up to check them out.”

The university and the community college teamed up to bring in the goats to control the blackberry bushes growing mainly behind the library.

If it works, they hope to use the goats for other lawn care projects.

“We’re experimenting to see how well they perform,” Marchand said. “It seems like they’re really knocking it back quickly.”

The 60 goats are from a Vashon-based business called Rent-a-Ruminant. They arrived in Bothell on Wednesday evening and are scheduled to keep munching until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Rent-A-Ruminant charges $750 a day plus a $200 fee for traveling and setting up the goats.

While munching, the goats are corralled in a portable fence, which has a low-voltage charge.

If the experiment is successful, the university and community college will consider using the goats for controlling weeds and lawn maintenance, Marchand said.

The idea of using the goats was to reduce the amount of fuel-burning equipment used on the campus and fits in with the university’s efforts to be easier on the environment.

The campus has been herbicide-free since July 2006 and practices organic methods of weed removal. The campus also creates and uses its own compost.

Before the goats, workers with weed trimmers hacked away at the blackberry bushes, Marchand said. The work was intense and very time consuming.

Working on an uneven slope with the trimmers also was a safety issue. And the stinging nettles and prickly blackberry bushes weren’t a treat for workers either, he added. Many were thankful the goats took over the job.

“We were like ‘Yippee, we don’t have to do it!’” Marchand said. “They’re just continuous eating machines.”

The herd’s owner, Tammy Dunakin, started with 10 goats 21/2 years ago. Today, she has 100. Each goat has a name and a distinct personality, she said.

Dunakin is even trying her hand at breeding goats specifically for vegetation management. Goats are well suited for the work because they can continuously eat a variety of weeds.

“I like to say they’re just eatin’, poopin’ machines,” she said.

The invasive Himalayan blackberry growing on campus is a favorite among Dunakin’s herd.

“How they eat thorny stuff like blackberry is a mystery to me,” Dunakin said. “Their mouths never get hurt. They literally suck down the blackberry cane like it’s spaghetti.”

Reporter Jasa Santos: 425-339-3465 or jsantos@heraldnet.com.

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