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Vol. 17, no. 4
August/September 2014


Living Lawnmowers 

Story by Rachel Davies

Photo by Megan Spelman

The use of goats — one of the world’s first domesticated animals—as environmentally friendly lawn mowers is growing in popularity worldwide: These days the hungry ruminants graze in parks, schools, airports, even cities, chewing their way through tinder-dry brush in fire-prone areas and countless acres of poison ivy and poison oak. Goats can clear land more economically and quickly than either man or machine in many terrains — rocks, nooks, crannies and mountainsides — devouring grass, weeds and shrubs, even (here in Hawai‘i) invasive strawberry guava.


Hence the arrival on the scene of Chris Willcox’s Big Island Goat Dozers, a band of thirty-three ravenous ruminants that travel Hawai‘i Island in a two-story trailer behind Chris’ huge red truck. They are accompanied by Patron, the guardian donkey who protects them from stray dogs, and two herder dogs, Nico and Hawk. Today, to the delight of the town’s children, Goat Dozers is dining on a craggy slope of land in Waimea. A week ago the kikuyu and elephant grass here was waist high, but now it is chewed to the root. The goats pose gracefully on the tips of rocks as they pause in their work, their curly horns silhouetted against the sky. Elvis, an African pygmy goat, attempts to climb a dead tree, jumping and bouncing on its trunk until it bends. Calm, as gentle as his name, approaches for a pat.


Chris surveys the team, performing his daily checkup, looking for shiny coats, erect ears and tails, and a nice pink on the inside of the eyes. He has been in business almost two years and hopes to grow his herd to seventy goats over the next year. “But not fence jumpers!” he laughs. “Otherwise there’ll be goats all over the place.” He also plans to supplement the herd with pigs that will dig up plant roots, making Goat Dozers’ land-clearing powers even more effective.


“I spend most of my day cruising around taking care of my animals,” he says. “When we all work together as a team and succeed at making something happen, it’s an awesome feeling.”