Updated: Oct 28, 2020
It's no secret that the use of herbicides can be harmful to the environment, as well as the animals and humans that come in contact with them. Although herbicides are designed to target unwanted plants, they have been shown to also have negative effects on land workers, consumers, and the environment. On top of that, they simply aren't as effective as they should be. Public and private landowners spend a lot of time and money battling noxious weeds every year - and yet weeds continue to thrive. If herbicides really worked well there shouldn't be any weeds left on the planet at this point. Which is clearly not the case. Goats, on the other hand, have been eradicating noxious weeds for thousands of years without harming anything along the way. In fact, not only do they help get rid of the weeds - they also help regenerate the land back to its natural ecosystem as they deposit manure, aerate the soil, and add mulch for moisture retention by trampling plants if they are well managed. Goats can be used to reduce fire fuel loads, control the spread of invasive plants, restore water holding capacity of land, and maintain open grasslands.
As small browsing ruminants, goats prefer to eat the developing seed heads and flowers of a variety of brush and weed species at specific times of year, choosing for palatability and reduced toxicity levels. This selective browsing reduces the ability of a weed to “set seed” thereby reducing the future soil “seed bank” while enhancing the soil for native plants to compete with the weed.
Furthermore, the natural agility of goats allows them to access difficult, steep terrain that other livestock and equipment cannot - and their small hoof size and light weight reduce the potential for soil compaction and erosion. And because goats are herded and managed they don’t compete with or harm the ecosystem for native animal species. This method mimics large herds of herbivores moving through a landscape as in days of old and can improve wildlife habitats for a variety of species at risk.
Finally, it's more cost effective! Utilizing a detailed grazing plan to redistribute nutrients on a landscape allows land managers to enhance the soil and regenerate the land, effectively eliminating most noxious weeds within 3-5 years. From that point on the annual budget for weeds drops dramatically, saving landowners a lot of money in the long run.