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.”