May 12, 2021 — People spending time near Dowells Peninsula on Mercer Lake have experienced the curious joy of a bunch of kids playing around over the past two weeks. In fact, the 17 goats from Justin Austen’s herd have been eating their way through overgrowth and spring greenery in an eco-conscious effort to clear the land.
“Not only are the goats are doing a good job, but they're a bit of a community builder as well,” Austen said.
The three owners of the property, Steve and Meredith Swenson and Becky Goehring, contacted Austen for his help after hearing about his goats through a mutual friend. They recently purchased the land, which was covered in berries, ivy and salal, as well as other woody greenery.
“The goats have really uncovered what’s there,” Goehring said. “It’s a natural way to clear property.”
For the landowners, it was important to clear the property without the use of heavy machinery. Not only is the land near the lake, but there are residences nearby and even vacation rentals. Those neighbors have come out to watch the goats at work.
“It’s just joyful and fun every day to walk out and hear them bleating or watch them jumping,” Goehring said.
Austen has had goats for the past five years, and the current herd for three years at his own property in Glenada.
“People love goats. I certainly love goats,” he said.
Right now, his herd has 17 goats, with nine of those this year’s kids. The herd is matriarchal, with two half-sisters leading the other three adult does, two adult bucks, one adult wether (a castrated male), five male kids and four female kids.
“Within the herd, I now have six generations,” Austen said. “When they run together, they establish this family hierarchy, and everybody kind of learns the Ps and Qs. People think of bucks as more aggressive and such, but really within the herd, they are kept in line by the does.”
This year’s kids are four months old and weigh 40 pounds. They gain about 10 pounds a month.
“From May to August, the next three months, they’ll more than double in size,” Austen said. “Right now, they are miniature goats. They have a little more energy and are a little more skittish, but they are fully functioning goats. You'll see them finding their own food and running in their own little groups.”
The goats will spend the next months eating. It’s one of the things they do best.
“Goats are neat because they eat everything, in a way, but they're also pickier than people think. They're real selective. But given time, they will eat just about everything down to the ground,” Austen said.
Unlike grazers like cows or sheep, goats will browse shrubs, bushes and trees.
“Goats are well suited for our region. They like to move from bush to bush, selectively browsing,” he said.
In August, the goats will breed and the dams will spend most of the winter pregnant.
“The life of a female goat is super energy intensive because, for the most part, they're either nursing a baby or they're pregnant with a baby. It’s kind of half a year spent nursing one baby and the next half is spent being pregnant with the next set,” Austen said.
The goats often have twins or triplets, which means that numbers can double relatively quickly.
Austen’s goal would be to move the herd throughout the year. Not only will this help provide for the herd’s nutritional needs, but it can also benefit people like Goehring and the Swensons.
“I loved the idea of having goats on the property,” Goehring said. “They’ve been out two weeks so far and it’s phenomenal what they’ve cleared.”
Austen installed an electric fence on the property to pen in the goats. They cleared a quarter acre in the first two weeks.
“Becky says people love it, that she gets six to 12 neighbors standing around the perimeter of the property at night watching goats munch,” Austen said.
The herd was brought back to the property yesterday for the next round of property clearing.
“Utilizing the goats have been a great way to control the nature,” Goehring said. “They quickly cleared an old stump and climbed all over it. It’s just fun to see and hear.”
Austen has pasture lined up for the herd after they complete work on Dowells Peninsula.
“For me, the goats are obviously joys and I love them, but they're this integral piece of a larger process that I'm developing towards holistic land management,” he said.
Austen owns EverWild LLC, which partly focuses on landscape, forest and habitat restoration.
“The background goal has always been land management,” he said. “Using livestock to do ecological restoration and then manage it. The first five years was really about learning the goats and the herd, and now it's time to do something with them.”
He hopes people consider looking into goats to maintain their land.
For more information, contact Austen at [email protected]