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Two girls, two goats

How do you clean up your yard? Gardening clippers? A lawn mower? If you live in Southwest Portland’s Hillsdale neighborhood, two local girls can offer you another method: goats.

For the last few months, best friends Ellie Asplund and Maddie McCarter, both 14, have been making arrangements to lend out two pigmy goats to local families. The goats are given free rein to graze in a yard and within a short time they will have eaten much of the unwanted invasive species and overgrowth around them.

Photo Credit: CONNECTION PHOTO: DREW DAKESSIAN - Ellie Asplund and Maddie McCarter, 14, with Chai and Felix, two goats who are grazing yards throughout Hillsdale.The goats, Chai and Felix, belong to Robert Gray Middle School eighth-grade science teacher Thom Powell.

“Mr. Powell was saying that they had goats and they didn’t really play with them anymore and they kind of just sat there, and he asked the people that ate lunch with him if they wanted them,” Ellie recalled.

“At my house, we had this big patch where there used to be a tree and then we cut it down. … It was just weeds,” Ellie said. “After a week and a half, they had cleared everything. … Then Maddie wanted them.”

Sure enough, the goats made short work of Madde’s yard too.

“In front of my house (we) have this huge ivy patch, and they cleared a good half of it in a week,” she said.

“We were like, ‘Well, we can just take turns with the goats,’ Maddie said, “and then … we were like, ‘Why don’t we just start a business where we rent goats around Hillsdale?’”

With Powell’s blessing, the girls put their idea into action.

“We kind of just started giving them to people. … My mom had a friend, and it kind of branched out from there,” Ellie said. “We just let them (stay and) be the family pet for however long they need them, because you get super attached to them; they become like a dog.Photo Credit: CONNECTION PHOTO: DREW DAKESSIAN - Chai, one of the two goats grazing in yards throughout Hillsdale.

“Their mouths are designed to eat stuff that’s upper prickly or anything really rough,” she added. “Even if they don’t eat it all, they’ll cut it off the ground.”

The girls charge $30 a week, which Ellie said is about $20 less than the rate for traditional — i.e., human — yard workers and far cheaper than some large-scale companies that rent out whole goat herds and charge thousands of dollars per acre.

The price, it seems, is right.

“There’s been a huge interest,” Maddie said. “I live on a busy street, so people stop their cars and roll down their windows and yell, ‘Where are the goats? Where’d the goats go?’”

The affection that Hillsdale neighbors feel for the goats is similar to the mutual affection the goats share.

“They cannot be separated. They love each other,” Maddie said.

Beyond sheer novelty, there is an environmental aspect to employing goats for yard work. An article published in the Journal of Pesticide Reform in 2003 noted that goats have been used for blackberry control in Australia and New Zealand since the 1920s and are an excellent nonchemical alternative to foliage-applied herbicide treatments.

And, Ellie noted, “It’s better than just a lawnmower — it’s more entertaining — but I guess it’s also better for the environment than gasses that power electricals.

Her former teacher and owner of the goats, Thom Powell, has a similar perspective. “It’s definitely environmentally friendly … it encourages people to take care of their lawns without so much use of fossil fuels,” he said.

More than that, though, “The goats have been a big hit because they’re so popular with local kids,” Powell said. “Wherever they seem to go in that neighborhood, the kids show up and want to interact with them.”

In Powell’s opinion, that is a good thing. “You want (kids) interacting with nature — barnyard animals or anything but the TV,” he said. “I think as much as anything, that’s what people like.”

And these particular barnyard animals seem to be uniquely suited for the job. Ellie, Maddie and Powell all have the same thing to say about Chai and Felix: they are exceptionally friendly.


By Drew Dakessian
Editor
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