For an illustrated version, see pages 14-16 in The Environmentor, vol. 4 no. 3.
Goats as Brush Hogs
The folktale: THREE SILLY GOATS GRUFF
I enjoyed playing Three Billy Goats Gruff with my siblings when we were little. A low coffee table served as our bridge, and we took turns being the Troll. But I always felt bad that the goats were going to get across and overgraze another hill the way they had destroyed their home. So now I propose this ecologically more sensible version.
Once there were three goats of the Gruff family: a Great Big billy goat, a Medium Sized billy goat, and a Little Baby billy goat. They came to live on a hill covered with lush vegetation. They loved to browse on the flowers and the leaves, the bushes and the twigs, even the bark of trees! When all that was gone, they ate the grass--not their favorite--until there was nothing left but roots, dirt, and rocks. They were hungry!
Great Big billy goat said, "No problem! We'll go to that big green leafy hill on the other side of the river."
Medium Size billy goat said, "But how will we cross the river?"
Great Big billy goat said, "No problem! There's a bridge."
Baby billy goat said, "But I heard there's a Mean Green Troll under it!"
Great Big billy goat said, "No problem! I don't believe in trolls. You go right ahead, baby brother."
So Baby billy goat Gruff went trip trap, trip trap onto the bridge.
Suddenly he heard a scary voice from under the bridge. "Who goes trip trap over my bridge?"
"Uh... it's just the littlest billy goat Gruff. I'm going to eat leaves on the other side..."
"No you won't! I'm going to come up and eat you!"
Baby billy goat screamed and ran back to his brothers. "There IS a troll! It's going to eat us!"
Great Big billy goat said, "Nonsense! I don't believe in trolls. You go ahead, middle brother."
So Middle Size billy goat Gruff went trot trot, trot trot onto the bridge.
The scary voice from under the bridge said, "Who goes trot trot over my bridge?"
"Yow, it's just the Middle Size billy goat Gruff. I want to go eat on the other side..."
The Park Ranger who was under the bridge stepped out, putting on her ranger hat to look bigger. "No you won't! I'm going to come up and eat you!" she growled, although she was really a vegetarian.
Middle Size billy goat Gruff ran screaming back to his brothers, "There IS a troll! A big, Mean, Green Troll!"
Great Big billy goat said, "Boys, I'll take care of this myself. Watch me!" and he went tromp tromp tromp onto the bridge.
"Who goes tromp tromp on my bridge?" came the scary voice.
"The Biggest billy goat Gruff," he replied, "and I aim to eat those green leaves over there."
"Well, I aim to stop you," said the Park Ranger, and she came out with a tranquilizer dart gun. She shot that Big billy goat Gruff, who passed out on the bridge. Then she tranquilized the two smaller brothers.
She put radio collars on them, loaded them into her pickup truck, and took them to the rocky steep hill under the park's utility towers, where poison ivy and thorny vines grew in a tangle. She put the goats inside an electric fence and left them to eat the brush. When that was cleared, she moved them on to another patch.
And the three billy goats Gruff lived happily ever after, clearing brush for the park.
Goats really can destroy a pasture by overgrazing if they are cooped up on it for too long. But if they are carefully managed, their hearty appetite for tree seedlings, vines, invasive species and noxious weeds lets them serve as brush hogs. Ranchers, public utilities, parks and home owners don't need heavy machinery or toxic herbicide sprays. You can even rent a herd of goats --along with the right kind of fence to keep the animals from straying, and to protect them from predators.
In Oklahoma, researchers at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation wrote, "we first turned 200 goats out into a 30-acre 'pasture' that was 25 percent impenetrable because of thick scrub oak and briars. The remaining 75 percent was overgrazed and had an alarming amount of weeds (forbs). The goats hit that wall of brush at a dead run and stripped every leaf off of every stem and branch. It amazed me. We had estimated that it would take three months for the herd to eat all of the brush, briars, and weeds. Six weeks later, those 30 acres looked like a golf course with a few sticks where the short brush used to be, and not a weed in sight."
The National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service have used goats to clear brush. Weeds and invasive species are controlled by goats for state, county and city governments such as Seattle WA and Mesa AZ. And city commuters find that the goats are fun to watch!
Animals that could be an ecosystem menace, can be a nonpolluting alternative to toxic chemicals and diesel machinery. You just have to handle them right.
- "Three Billy Goats Gruff" was collected in Norway by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in the 1840s. Many English versions have been published for children.
- Using Goats for Vegetation Management
- Using Goats to Control Brush Regrowth on Fuelbreaks
- Brush Control with Goats