When news broke Friday morning, via a local television reporter on Twitter, that about 100 goats were roaming around a residential neighborhood outside of Boise, Idaho, suffice it to say we had questions. Then the Washington Post reported that these were professional goats, owned by a company called We Rent Goats, and we had even more questions. Are there such a thing as amateur goats? So Slate called up Mike Canaday, the director of operations at a company called Rent a Goat (which once appeared on TV’s Shark Tank), to talk about the funny, but also lucrative and environmentally friendly, business of goat rental.
Slate: What is the purpose of goat rental? Why would anyone want to rent goats?
Mike Canaday: In our business, we just use them strictly for the removal of brush and weed. It’s a more sustainable way than weed-eaters and bulldozers, noisy and smelly machines. It’s usually a pretty popular endeavor. When we bring goats into a neighborhood, kids love to watch the goats. Grandparents have a reason to invite the kids over to their homes, if it’s a homeowner’s association.
What are the types of organizations that tend to rent goats?
We only do large areas. We use about 450 to 500 goats at a time. We usually will work for government agencies, parks, water departments, drainage areas. We do some environmental work, where [certain places do] not allow any mechanical means of clearing an area. … The fire dangers are in the news every day. We do a lot of work with fire departments and cities and counties.
How much does it cost to rent goats?
Again, we don’t do anything small, so it’s all priced by the job. It could be anywhere from $400 an acre to $1,000 an acre.
Where are your goats based?
I’m in California. We have about 7,000 animals. They’re in groups of 400 from Southern California all the way up to Northern California. When they get done with one job, they go to another job. The ones that are in Southern California stay in Southern California, the ones that are in the San Francisco area, they stay in that area, and the ones that are up by Santa Rosa stay in that area. They usually go in their own semitrailers. About 450 to 500 [can fit in one trailer].
Have you ever had the experience of goats getting loose or wandering away from the job site?
That’s a pretty scary thing for anybody to have happen. Those goats unsupervised can cause quite a bit of damage, on landscaping and stuff. So have I had it happen? We use people that are on the site that are with them 24/7, so I’m not going to say it never happened, but it was never any kind of huge incident. When that happens, that’s a huge failure and you need to get to the bottom of it to find out what happened. Usually it’s a lack of supervision. Again, our people are with them 24/7. They’re kept in an electric fence always. So unless a deer knocked down a fence or the fence was vandalized, they’re not going to get out.
What would you do if it did happen?
In our case, there’s somebody there with them 24/7, and the person that’s there has a herding dog, a border collie.
How do you count the goats and make sure you haven’t lost any?
You never get a 100 percent accurate count. When you have 450 goats, it’s hard. We have one of those little clicker things that counts when they go on the truck, so we count them on and we count them off.
You said the goats could cause damage, but are they safe to be around people?
Oh yeah. They’re not going to hurt people. The worst thing I ever heard of was some getting out on the I-5 freeway years ago. I think that company went out of business after that happened.
Where do you get the goats from?
We started renting goats for hire in 2003. We started with about maybe 150 goats. Then we’ve been breeding those same goats. Now we’re up to about 4,000 goats and 3,000 sheep. Same thing with sheep: We started with 33 of them. We just run a closed herd. All our goats are born inside those electric fences. They don’t know anything else. That’s really good because they’re constantly moving, they’re not just on one farm or one yard all the time. They get to go places all over and have different kinds of vegetation to eat and different scenery. Pretty good deal for the goats.
How do professional goats differ from other goats?
They’re trained to do things like load the trailer. When they see one of those trailers and the ramp that gets them into the trailer, they run in there because they know that the next place they’re going to go to there is going to be fresh food. They’re trained to stay in the fences. They are not pets. They do interact with people and kids try to feed them, but the problem is that some flowers are highly poisonous, so you have to be careful what people are feeding them.
Do people ever try to rent the goats for other purposes, like just for fun?
Yeah, constantly, but we don’t do that. We only rent them in bunches of 450. They come with a herder that stays with them. We don’t do any other kind of rentals. We don’t do parties, we don’t do people that want to ask a member of the opposite sex to a prom or that kind of stuff, which is the kind of things we get. You know, “I want to ask my girlfriend to the prom, and I want to use a goat.” We don’t do that.
For more about renting goats, check out an episode of Slate’s Working podcast about a similar Seattle-area business.