Goats for Rent: Ruminant Rental Service Helps Seattle Remove Unruly Weeds & Brush
Weeds, brush, and invasive plants don't stand a chance against Tammy Dunakin's brigade of browsing goats. Her business - Rent-A-Ruminant, is a goat rental company. They offer vegetation removal services of the four-hooved variety across the Seattle-area and beyond.
A former paramedic and first responder, Dunakin got her start in the goat grazing biz back in 2004 with a handful of goats, no experience, and little clue what went into starting or operating a business. At the time though, she was hungry for a career change and renting out her goats seemed like a good idea.
"One day I came home from work and jokingly said to my two pet goats, 'You guys need some work, you look bored! You need a job," says Dunakin. "Then it came to me. I said to them, 'I'm going to start a business called Rent-A-Ruminant and hire your little butts out so you're not bored! That'll give you a career."
Fast forward 14 years and Dunakin admits she couldn't imagine doing anything else. While the learning curve was initially steep, she stuck it out, learning a lot along the way, and now has a vibrant, thriving business. Additionally, in 2016, Dunakin took her company one step further creating a goat rental franchise to expand and grow Rent-A-Ruminant. To date, she has 5 franchises operating under her brand.
Based out of her Vashon Island farm just west of Seattle, Dunakin hauls her goats to jobs across the Greater Seattle-area from May to October to clear invasive weeds and brush everywhere from highway underpasses to airports and schools.
"I only had about 6 goats when I started," says Dunakin. "Over time, I built my herd up to about 60 goats and then started grazing off of Vashon Island. Once I did that it just started to snowball."
Today Dunakin's maximum working herd size is about 120 goats and she has more work than her project schedule has openings. Comprised of a hodge-podge of various breeds, her herd is made up of nearly all rescue animals which she's adopted over the years. "I had people coming to me with goats that they didn't want or that were in a bad situation, so I started rescuing them," says Dunakin. "I'd rather do that than breed my own. There are already a lot of animals in need of a home."
Dunakin's clientele consists mostly of local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as corporate entities like Costco and Fred Meyer stores. In the past year, her goats have kept brush at bay around retention ponds for Sound Transit's light rail system. They've grazed green vegetation under the Alaskan Way Viaduct for Seattle City Department of Transportation. And, they've even helped prevent crime by eliminating overgrown brush in inner-city areas around Seattle.
"The bulk of what we do is grazing spaces that have a lot of invasive species of brush like Himalayan blackberries, Japanese knotweed, ivy, holly, that kind of stuff," says Dunakin. "These are areas that tend to not be manicured. The terrain is harder to navigate and might be steeper or have a lot of debris."
Before arriving at a site, Dunakin checks job sites for toxic weeds to ensure her goats' safety. If all is well, the Rent-A-Ruminant goats will stay on the site for a minimum of three days. However, generally, Dunakin says most of her projects last at least ten days to two weeks, sometimes up to a month.
"The longer I do this, the longer and larger the nature of the jobs I'm getting are which is kind of nice," says Dunakin. "It's harder when you get lots of tiny jobs because the setup, takedown, and logistics are a lot. I like being somewhere for a little longer so we can relax a little bit."
On larger project areas, Dunakin moves her goats every few days taking down and putting up fencing with each move. For smaller jobs, such as a 6-acre lot, she usually just fences the perimeter and lets the goats get to work. In instances where it's appropriate, she utilizes existing fencing, but more times than naught relies on her own equipment to fence in an area. Her go-to fencing gear includes Gallagher's ElectroNet electric netting and a battery-powered energizer equipped with a marine battery.
"The ElectroNet is the best fencing for the job when it comes to goats," says Dunakin. So why goats?
Dunakin gives the following three reasons her four-legged foragers excel at vegetation removal:
1. Goats can go safely where people and machines cannot. Steep hillsides, low overhangs, and the like are easy work for goats which are naturally designed to tackle such terrain.
2. Goats are green. No herbicides or gas-guzzling machinery is required when goats are used to clear an area. A side perk, Dunakin explains goats also sterilize weeds in their digestive process, eliminating the spread of pesky weeds on a site and to new areas.
3. Goats are cost-effective and efficient. Along with stripping and cutting biomass off the landscape, goats are also eating it. This organic elimination of biomass means it doesn't need to be hauled away and/or become a fire hazard. Instead, it's returned to the land as a beneficial fertilizer in the form of manure. In addition, goats are fast. According to Dunakin, 60 goats can eat about a quarter acre (10,000 square feet) in about 3-5 days.
"My larger customers that have done comparisons have found that there is up to a 4:1 savings using goats over people when you factor in things like terrain (steep slopes, debris, etc.), biomass removal, fire prevention, seed sterilization, and the fact we're not using toxic chemicals," says Dunakin. "Across the board, it's pretty clear goats are the way to go!"
Whether commercial grazing or just purchasing a few goats to help with weed and brush control around the farm, Dunakin's experience shows goat grazing offers an environmentally-friendly and efficient tool to manage and eliminate unruly vegetation. Visit Rent-A-Ruminant's website to learn more about the Dunakin's goat grazing business and the services she offers.