Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

Spring is here and the goats are out.

As nature flourishes during the warm months leading up to summer, brush-clearing goats have descended upon Santa Cruz as a form of eco-friendly landscape management. 

“By its nature, goat grazing is the environmentally friendly form of vegetation management,” said Terri Oyarzùn, co-owner of Goats ‘R’ Us, a local company that raises a herd of up to 6,500 goats. “My statistics show that about 300 goats can clear one acre in a day.”

Private property owners and city departments are enlisting the herbivores to clear brush and remove weeds that invade many fields throughout the community, eliminating huge amounts of growth that would potentially be susceptible to fires during the hotter season. 

A family-owned grazing company based in the Bay Area, Goats ‘R’ Us started in 1995 using their goats as a means of clearing brush from fields. 

However, company growth came when they incorporated specialized vegetation management programs, targeting invasive species otherwise difficult to remove.

“Using goats as a means of grazing is useful because they eat almost anything,” said Karen Holl, professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz. “Star thistle, for example, is a species found in ranch land in the western United States, but other grazers, like cows, don’t like it.”

In addition, goats eat other species such as poison oak, which can be hard to remove because it does not appeal to cows and is harmful to humans.

Open-space parks prefer goats to cows because they have less of a physical impact on the landscape, Oyarzùn said. 

Jim Gibbons, the field supervisor for the west zones of Santa Cruz, including Neary Lagoon, relies primarily upon Living Systems Land Management. The San 

Francisco-based goat-grazing company provides services in field management.

“They’ve done a pretty good job for us,” Gibbons said. “The cost is usually between $5,000 to $6,000 for three acres of land, but that varies between spring and fall grazing.” 

While many companies provide grazing services that use animals as alternate means of clearing fields, Goats ‘R’ Us is distinguished by the treatment and care they provide the goats that work for them.

Goats ‘R’ Us never sell or kill the goats that work for them, providing them a lifetime guarantee of healthcare and a retirement program, Oyarzùn said.

“The goat you see in the field this year will be the same one you see next year,” Oyarzùn said. “They’re not disposable to us. We’re really like a team.”

While business continues to grow along with a world that’s becoming more environmentally conscious, Oyarzùn hopes to keep the company in the family for it to be passed on to their children and grandchildren in the future. 

“Actually, I hope the company doesn’t expand,” Oyarzùn said. “But we’ve been doing this for almost 15 years now and we’ve started to gain more popularity as people have continued to become more aware about the environment, so I do hope we continue to be a part of that.”