Meat of the Matter: Getting your goat on

According to anti-industry activists, there is virtually nothing that"s considered ‘acceptable use" when it comes to animals. But now, thanks to Amazon, an exception may have surfaced.

Goats are unique animals. As livestock, they"re remarkably hardy, self-reliant and disease-free. I know I owned a couple dairy goats, a Nubian cross and an Alpine mix, back in the good old days when I lived on a rented five-acre "farm" outside Eugene, Oregon, that was a parcel sectioned off from one of the original 1880s homesteading plots offered to settlers in the Willamette Valley. In fact, a man-made slough ran through the property that originally served as an irrigation ditch carrying water from the nearby McKenzie River to the actual farms that once blanketed the area.

I never pretended to be a livestock producer, although every morning when the goats were milked, I"d get a quart or so from each doe, which was quite a nutritional bonus. As anyone who"s sampled goat"s milk knows, it"s actually richer in butterfat then cow"s milk and is naturally homogenized. Even people who are normally allergic to dairy can often drink goat"s milk without a problem.

(By the way, did you know there are almost a billion goats in the world right now? That makes them one of the most prolific species of livestock other than poultry alive today).

Not to be channeling George Bush, but my two goats were practically pets. They were smart, responsive (they came running when you called their names) and "trainable." That is, I would open the gate to their pasture area, and they would follow me on walks along the rural roads in the neighborhood, tagging along like well-behaved dogs. When I"d stop, they would commence browsing on any available brush alongside the road. When I started walking again, they would hoof it right behind me.

But the real fun with goats wasn"t taking them for walks, although had I been younger and single at the time, I"m convinced it would have been a great way to meet women.

Not that there were any eligible females hiking along the roads back then.

No, the entertainment value in keeping goats was watching them eat. I mentioned that these two goats were housed in a pasture; that"s a misnomer. Maybe their paddock was once a working pasture, back when Nixon was in the White House as Vice President.

But when I put my pair of does out to "pasture," it was into a full acre of brush overgrown with thistles, blackberry vines and English ivy.

To a goat, that"s heaven on earth, because their preferred diet isn"t munching on grass, it"s peeling the bark off woody saplings, clipping the tops off otherwise noxious weeds and pulling lengths of blackberry vines from the banks of the slough when the fruit came ripe in June and July and then eating the entire thing!

Leaves, stems, thorns they"d chew up a five feet of spiky vines as calmly as you or I would consume a bag of potato chips.

Four-footed landscapers

That kind of talent can be put to productive use, and in fact Amazon now offers a new service: "Hire a Goat Grazer" for landowners who might like to do something other than raise goats on a piece of property covered in weeds and brush.

To access this service, you just email Amazon, describing the area"s size, condition and type of vegetation growing on the property, and the online retailer contacts a friendly neighborhood goat grazer in your ZIP code to come out and provide an estimate of how many goats for how many days would be needed to clear the land.

Goat grazing services are already in place commercially out here in Western Washington state (where Amazon is based), and believe me, it works. The goats I had could clear out a huge swath of blackberry vines in a matter of hours. And as Amazon"s promotional copy notes, "The goats will likely leave behind some droppings, and you"ll get to keep this fertilizer as a friendly parting gift."

The concept is a sensible, cost-effective, eco-friendly way to clear land of scrub tree seedlings, unwanted weeds and invasive plants that would otherwise require the operation of brush cutters, weed whackers and other power equipment that consumes fossil fuels and generates pollution.

Could "goat grazer for hire" at last be an animal application that"s PETA-approved? Knowing the extremist position they and their ilk have staked out for themselves, I doubt it.

But if it were up to the goats themselves to weigh in, they"d be happy to let their mouths do the talking.

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator


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