We recently moved across Roswell to a new home that will be our last home. We’re never moving again, but that’s another story. Now, we love our new home, but the backyard is mostly covered in English Ivy. Ivy is beautiful and low maintenance for the most part, but it does 3 things that we’re not real fond of. It climbs and kills trees, makes great homes for mosquitos, and is a nice cool dwelling place for copperhead snakes. We can handle cutting the vines away from our trees, but we prefer fewer mosquitos around the pool in the summer, and I don’t know anyone who likes copperheads. So we decided to clear it out, and we had heard you can rent goats to clear ivy. Interesting. I would have loved to hear this idea pitched at Pitch Practice.

Options to Remove English Ivy

This ivy was probably planted by the original owners sometime in the 80s. It’s over the ankle and, in some spots, up to your knees. There are several ways to get rid of large growths of English Ivy, and ours is definitely considered a large growth:

  1. Hire a landscaper to use a Bobcat
  2. Spray chemicals to kill the ivy
  3. Hire goats to eat the ivy
  4. Rip it out by hand, vine by vine

If you know me at all, or just read the title of this article, you know I chose option #3. We love animals and we thought this exercise would be a fun and effective way to clear our backyard of English Ivy. I’m not yet sure about “effective” (they’re still there as of this writing), and I’m not ready to say “fun” yet. I will use the word “entertaining” to describe this process so far.

Ordering the Goats

There are several companies in Atlanta who rent their goats for your ivy. We had seen a former neighbor use them in their yard to clear the ivy, so we started calling. We’re out of the service area for most of the companies we called. We found one, but they said it would be a month or two wait. We were in no great hurry – the ivy isn’t going anywhere – so we asked them to put us on the schedule.

A few days later, they emailed and said they’d had a cancellation and a job got done earlier than expected, so they have goats for us the next day. Bring ’em! They said they’d be there on Friday morning. They emailed at 9AM to say, “He’s on his way with the boys!”

We have since come to know that this isn’t Uber. They’re carrying 20+ goats on a trailer. There really is no telling what might go wrong. Just use your imagination. Our goats arrived at 130PM on Friday afternoon, immediately after which my wife called me: “Uh, we have 20 goats and 2 sheep! When are you coming home?!?!?”

I left early.

The First 20 Goats (and 2 sheep)

I’ve never had a goat. I have petted the goats at a petting zoo or town fair. I love the goats on one of my favorite cartoons, Shaun the Sheep (highly recommended for solid British humor). But, I figured it would be a fun adventure for the family. My kids were very excited. What the heck. Have you ever had a goat? I have a friend who has little goats. He says, “These guys are my buddies! They’re like my dogs!” and he texted me a nice pic of him cuddling with one of his buddies. Aww.

But Bobby McGee is not anyone’s “cuddly buddy.” Bobby is a 150lb bull. He is the alpha of these goats. But I didn’t know that.

When I got home from leaving early that day, I met the goats. I gently budged one of them off of one of our shrubs (the ones we did not want to go away like a swarm of locusts had attacked), which she had climbed and started eating. Right after that, Bobby came up and nuzzled my leg. “Hey, good boy!”, I said as he went around and nuzzled under my other leg. With his large horn.

Next thing I know I’m tossed on the ground like a sack of beans. He flipped me like a skinny Krystal burger. I never saw it coming. I’ll be ok, and he didn’t do anything else. I had touched one of his ladies. He was having none of that. Warning received.

Boys and Girls will be Boys and Girls

There were lots of boys and lots of girls. These were big, mature goats. Several of the girls were in heat. Two were pregnant. REALLY pregnant, to the point of “yeah, she might have her baby while she’s here” pregnant. Many of the boys were very aggressive towards the girls in season.

The two sheep did exactly what you’d think sheep would do: nothing. That’s Baahb Marley in the picture below.

The thing with goats is that they eat what is at eye level and above first, and then move on to stuff on the ground or lower than eye level. There are a few exceptions, such as azaleas. For that, we are very glad, since we have 20 mature azaleas in our backyard. They just slept under those bushes.

But they completely devastated every other bush in our backyard, while barely making a dent in the ivy.

The Second Herd of Goats (sheep and donkey)

On Sunday, after 48 hours with the first goats and just one more “incident” with the overly aggressive and protective and territorial Bobby McGee (got that song stuck in your head yet? I can’t stop it), the second crew arrived, just 3 hours after they said they’d be there. Again, this ain’t Uber. It’s goats.

To the first crew of 2 sheep and 22 goats, we added another sheep (his name is actually Shaun!!) and a donkey (Guinevere), and exchanged all the boys out for 14 very nice, small female goats. I reiterate “small” here, because now the ivy is at eye level to these dwarf goats, and they are just stinkin’ cute! These goats are actually cuddle-able.

That was Sunday afternoon. So far, they have been wonderful, docile, friendly, and are already making some progress on the actual ivy, though they still won’t leave what’s left of the tall bushes alone.

Things you need to know before renting Goats

Thanks for reading our ongoing story of renting goats to clear ivy from our yard. There are many more details, some humorous and some painful to read, but here are some pertinent points that you must know or ask before renting your goats.

  • They eat almost everything, except what they don’t eat. We had (past tense) liriope (aka ‘monkey grass’). It’s gone. It’ll come back. We still have azaleas and iris bulbs and boxwoods. We no longer have any holly bushes. They’ll come back eventually, but it looks like a swarm of locusts hit Egypt land.
  • Plan and protect. We got the call (email) that they’d be there the next day, so we didn’t have any time to plan. We also didn’t know that goats eat “up” first until they arrived, literally climbing on chairs, temporary fencing, gates, fire pits, grills, tables, whatever they could do to get up to that very special leaf that they must eat even thought there is half an acre of beautiful green ivy literally at their feet. Finally, we went to Home Depot and got some 4′ high orange temporary fencing and put it up with zip ties to try to protect what’s left of the holly bushes. A goat got his foot caught in it at 4:30AM trying to climb to that elusive leaf.
  • They poop everywhere all the time always constantly all over the place. Should have expected this, and our yard isn’t exactly a pasture. We have walkways and a pool with decking around it. They don’t care. They’re animals! They eat, sleep, bleat, and poop. All day long everyday. It’s what they do. So, we anointed our “goat boots” and made sure we change every time we go out and every time we come back in. Keep a hose handy.
  • Male goats are aggressive, especially when there are female goats in season anywhere near them. I mean really aggressive, like “get out of my freaking way she’s hot” aggressive.
  • Sheep are scared. And not real bright. The number of analogies I can take from this short experience with these 3 sheep (Baahb Marley, Shaun, and Frank) to compare us to Jesus’ followers is literally endless. The look they give you when you approach them is as close to “empty” as I have ever seen.
  • Goats are scared of water, so that’s the easy way to get them to move or stop eating your favorite shrub. Just keep the hose out and nearby. We’re to the point that all I have to do is pick the hose up and they stop and trot away. Until they forget what the hose is about and come back to eat that perfect leaf seven feet high.
  • This ain’t Uber. You’re not going to get a firm time of arrival or departure. You probably won’t know who/what you’re getting until they arrive. We now have a donkey as the “leader” of these lady goats. Who knew? We were expecting a sheep dog or something similar.

Final Results Coming Soon

We’re in day 3 of our goat rental adventure. Confidence was pretty low on Sunday afternoon, but when the girls and the donkey arrived, we started feeling a little better about our ivy actually going away. I’ll update this post when it’s all said and done.

PS – The cat. Just to add a little more adventure to this weekend, when the goats showed up, a stray cat who was previously lounging in the middle of our street sunning himself joined as well. Great cat, not scared of anything – goat, blower, water, loud noises – and really nice. We’ve been known to take in a stray or two (ok, 15 cats and 1 dog over the years), so we welcomed him with food and water outside. You can see him in the picture on the right, curled up sleeping peacefully in the midst of the goats and ivy.

He slept on our back screened porch both nights as I slept out there on the futon, just to make sure these goats stayed in line and didn’t try to break into the pool equipment (again). Well, about 430AM on the second night, the cat had settled in to sleep on top of me, but all of a sudden shrieked and jumped off onto the floor. He then went into a seizure for about 30 seconds of severe, violent thrashing and screaming. He drooled and sprayed everywhere until the seizure stopped.

Then he became very aggressive, though still obviously shaken by the seizure, towards me, my wife (the event woke her up), and towards the goats! We didn’t know what to do, but we knew he couldn’t be around us or our kids or our cats and someone else’s goats in this condition. I actually thought he was rabid, and seeing that seizure was disturbing, to say the least.

We’ve since learned that he is safe again, and is owned by a neighbor who has informed us all (via Nextdoor) that the cat actually has epilepsy, hence the seizures.

Rant: Folks, if you have outdoor pets, put a collar on them. Claim them. If they have special circumstances – you know, like EPILEPSY!!! – put a very special collar on them that says so. If I did not find out that information as soon as I did, I would have had to move forward with animal control to put this potentially rapid cat down. I would have hated it, but I would have done it, because I didn’t know any different.

Update: Here’s the glorious ending to our adventure with Goats (sheep and a donkey).


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