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Reduce Animal Unemployment: Hire a Goat

Gas-powered mowers are loud, cumbersome, and useless against weeds. There is, however, a natural solution...

Kate Folk

Kate Folk is a writer for Movoto. She's from Iowa and now lives in San Francisco. She also writes fiction.

11 articles, 1 comments

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Five Awesome Animal Landscapers

U.S. National Archives

While a large, lush backyard is one of homeownership’s biggest draws, lawn maintenance can quickly become a major drag. In some parts of the country, you might even get slapped with a fine if your lawn-care duties lapse!

Whether you take on the job yourself or pay a professional landscaper to do it, keeping a lawn neatly trimmed and free of weeds is a daunting prospect. Gas-powered mowers are loud, cumbersome, and useless against weeds. There is, however, a natural solution that is gaining traction, particularly thanks to growing interest in the homesteading movement.

The >homesteading movement hearkens back to a self-sufficient, sustainable lifestyle that includes growing one’s own food, reusing greywater, and keeping livestock. Allowing animals to maintain the lawn makes a lot of sense. Instead of spending money on gas that pollutes the air and pesticides that poison the ground, homeowners can keep the grass trimmed while also feeding their animals.

Of course, keeping any animal requires a commitment of time and money, so this is not a good option for those who are merely too lazy to mow their own lawns. With the right research, animal lawnmowers can add value to your life beyond keeping the grass short. Which animal is best suited to your needs? We break it down below.

Goats

Photo from the National Archives

Goats are the classic choice for lawn maintenance. Though they’re renowned as some of nature’s most extreme omnivores, goats don’t really eat tin cans (the myth began because goats like to lick the glue behind the paper labels). They do, however, love to eat weeds such as poison ivy, kudzu and wisteria, at a rate of about eight pounds a day. If you don’t want to commit to goat ownership, you might consider renting one.

Pros:

  • Superior weed-whacking capabilities
  • In addition to grass, they’ll eat brush, leaves, and twigs
  • Independent, inquisitive personalities

Cons:

  • Ability to climb makes them more of a flight risk
  • Can stand on hind legs to feed, posing greater risk to trees
  • “Browsing” habits may lead to wildly uneven grass lengths

Sheep

Photo from the State Library of Queensland, Australia

Sheep are another popular choice for lawn maintenance. They’re good grazers, but are pickier than goats about which grasses they’ll eat. If you have a lot of weeds to clear, sheep probably aren’t the best bet. However, if you have a large area of grass, sheep will do an excellent job. They have a strong herd mentality, and lack the goat’s subversive spunk.

Pros:

  • Incapable of climbing, reducing risk of escape
  • Can be used for wool and milk
  • Docile creatures that pose little threat to other animals

Cons:

  • Because they’re social animals, you’ll need at least two
  • Will strip tree trunks of their bark
  • Extremely dull personalities

Cows

Photo from The Royal Library, Denmark

A single cow can eat over 25 pounds of grass per day. Cows are easier to contain than goats or sheep. However, even one cow will overwhelm the average American yard. Zoning laws are also an issue. To consider using cows, you’ll need a minimum of two acres worth of pasture.

Pros:

  • Easy to keep fenced in
  • Grass-fed cows produce excellent milk

Cons:

  • Much too large for most properties
  • Produce an overwhelming quantity of manure
  • Harm the environment with methane emissions

Chickens

Photo from the UW Digital Collections

These birds are enjoying a surge of popularity in the urban homesteading community. Not only can chickens be kept as egg layers or used for meat; they are also excellent lawn mowers. “Chicken tractors” are a time-tested method for keeping a lawn short, as well as providing the chickens with exercise. The “tractors” are A-frame chicken coops with an open floor that allows chickens to graze. The chicken tractors are moved once chickens have finished with a patch of grass, providing for a complete lawn trimming every 10-14 days.

Pros:

  • Egg quality is improved by grass diet
  • Will eat bugs in addition to grass
  • Also provide fertilizer

Cons:

  • Excess manure is difficult to wash away
  • May dig holes in lawn for dustbathing

Guinea Pigs

Source: Flickr user David Masters

Guinea pigs may seem too small to make a dent in your yard, but get this: each of these critters can eat five times its body weight in grass every day! They’re small, cute, and make excellent pets. Their tiny, sharp teeth clip grass to a neat, uniform length.

Pros:

  • Small and portable
  • Easy to keep indoors during winter months
  • Ideal for small lawns

Cons:

  • Worthless against weeds
  • Require other food in addition to grass
  • Vulnerable to predators

Of course, there’s no rule saying you have to commit to one animal. Use our calculator to discover how many animals it would take to keep your lawn in order.

The Math Behind the Mowers

In order to find out how many of a specific animal it would take to mow a lawn we had to find out:

  • The volume of grass in a square foot;
  • The volume of grass an animal could eat in a day; and
  • The number of times you would mow your lawn per year (30).

We used square footage as a basis, so all other area metrics were converted from a square foot calculation (Just in case you notice any rounding errors in metric units). Here are the sources for how much each animal can eat:

  • http://www.goatwisdom.com/feeding.html
  • http://www.shaltzfarm.com/shfaq.html
  • http://rmcginnis.wrytestuff.com/swa412058.htm
  • http://www.guineapigcages.com/forum/diet-nutrition/73226-food-will-two-guinea-pigs-eat.html
  • http://www.livestockexpo.org/docs/shoolTours/Dairy09.pdf

Math provided by mechanical engineer and Product Manager Chris Bernardo.

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posted on: July 25, 2012
4,089 views, 16 comments

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16 Comments

  1. Ian Silverthorne

    Could you add calculations for sulcata tortoises?

  2. Angela

    What about horses?

    • Chris Kolmar in response to Angela

      Per the best yahoo answer, a horse can eat abut 3 lbs of food per day for every 100 lbs it weighs.

      So a 1000 lb horse could eat 30 lbs of food per day. So it would take 15 horses to mow a 1 acre lawn in 1 day.

      • Charlie Parsons in response to Chris Kolmar

        1000 lb horse is pretty small just past pony. My two are only about 14.1 hands and weigh between 1200 – 1400. Average full sized horse would be larger.
        Goats work well for kudzu.
        There are different breeds of sheep, some, Jacobs for instance are anything but docile. Careful there.
        Thx,
        Charlie

  3. Dawn

    Seconding horses, but–instead of average horses, calculate with miniature horses. Miniature cattle should also be checked.

    • Chris Kolmar in response to Dawn

      See above. I’d assume miniature horses eat the same amount of lbs per body weight as regular horses.

  4. tsr

    your area conversion isn’t working correctly.

    1200sq feet = 111 sq meters but the number of animals changes pretty dramatically depending on which one you use.

    • Chris Kolmar in response to tsr

      Oh damn, you are absolutely right, we put the decimal in the wrong place. Fixed now

      Here is the math we used:
      1 sqft has .01 lbs of grass

      *Sqft*
      sqft * .01 / animal

      *m²*
      m² * .1076 / animal (Was 10.76)

      *Acre*
      < # of acres> * 435.60 / animal

      *Hectare* (metric)
      < # of hectares> * 1076.39 / animal

      How many pounds of grass an animal could eat in a day:
      Goat – 13
      Sheep – 6
      Chicken – 0.375
      Guinea Pig – 0.25
      Cow – 75

      *Example*
      1 acre results:
      Goat – 34
      Sheep – 73
      Chicken – 1162
      Guinea Pig – 1742
      Cow – 6

  5. Chris Kolmar

    Check out the comments on Fark.com for some great commentary.

  6. Lola

    You wouldn’t want a horse, they’re pullers instead of biters. While a goat will bite through the grass, a horse will grab and yank, leaving a nice bald spot on the lawn. Even though they may cover more ground in 1 day, your lawn would 15 kids wearing cleats ran through it. You’d be much better off with goats or sheep!

    • Nick in response to Lola

      Wow, thanks Lola. I never would have thought that this would generate so much deep thinking about animal landscaping, but glad to hear so much feedback!

  7. Carine

    Hello, I live in Germany and have to mew about 5000 qm (don´t know the american measure) behind my home. Since I can ever think, there were sheep ( at the moment 7, but there have also been 12 already. In good years, those eat all the grass in summer while I have to feed them in winter, that is quite normal in my region. Anyhow, it is just pleasure an fun to have them, although it is hard and often dirty work. So what? Sorry for not being able to post a photo of my new lamb (3 weeks now) If interested, leave your adress at “Carine@t-online.de”. And think about sheep those are worth while, if you are not afraid of work

  8. Kellie

    This takes me back to a time, when I was a child, where we would put out our four guinea pigs to graze on the lawn. They did an excellent job of mowing our grass!

  9. Timothy

    nice math you got going! Awesome stuff here!

 

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