On a recent mid-morning at the Houston Arboretum’s savannah area, 191 goats were busy nibbling away on one of their favorite meals: an overgrown blackberry bush.
The goats — all of which have names — are there as part of an initiative to provide a more eco-friendly way of managing the land. Instead of using weed killer or power mowers, the goats are tasked with trimming down overgrowth and eating unwanted plants.
By the time they’re finished at the arboretum, they’ll have mowed about seven acres of savannah grassland.
“We go around the state and we clear out vegetation that’s been overgrown that can’t be maintained with machines, chemicals, people can’t go in there and take out the vegetation,” said Carolyn Carr, who along with her husband Kyle co-owns Rent-A-Ruminant Texas, the company loaning the animals.
The goats will also eat almost everything — and they’re constantly eating, both day and night. Unlike lawnmowers, goats’ stomachs actually kill weed seeds, rather than spreading them around, Carr said.
“The more that they use the goats, the less often that invasive species will come in to take over what they’re not wanting to grow here,” she said.
The goats can also traverse terrain that’s tough for humans to get to: “We like to call it four-hoof drive,” said Kyle Carr. “They can go up and down hillsides, steep slopes, rocky areas, no problems at all.”
This is the goats’ second time at the arboretum. Before, they chewed their way through about an acre and half of prairie grasses and invasive species along the slopes of two ponds.
In some areas, overgrown green space was chewed down to “almost nothing” as part of the initiative, said Christine Mansfield with the Houston Arboretum.
Now, the goats are focusing on the savannah section. The open area is a key part of the arboretum’s masterplan to restore the grounds with native plants, like billowing grasses and wildflowers. But invasive vines and plants threaten to take over.
“As a grassland, we do have to mow it pretty much every year to mimic the fire or grazers that would have happened historically to keep these ecosystems sort of in their native state,” Mansfield said.
In the past, bison would graze the land — though that’s no longer a feasible option.
“Obviously, we can’t get a herd of bison out here. It would be just crazy,” said Mansfield. “But goats are a manageable way to bring grazers back.”
Plus, they’re pretty adorable to watch. Though visitors are asked not to pet or feed the goats, they can watch them from closeby. And the Carrs are often nearby to talk about the goats and answer questions.
The goats will be at the Houston Arboretum eating away until about Thanksgiving — the exact timing depends on how long it takes to chomp through 7 acres. They’ll be at the northeast corner of the Arboretum, moving between the Outer Loop, Donor Boardwalk, Willow Oak Trail and Wildflower Trail over the course of their stay.