Minnesota subsidiary of Goats on the Go provides customers with weed control and entertainment – Agweek

AUSTIN, Minn – Like most of their clients, Gus and Ann Maxfield love goats.

The Austins run a goat grazing business that is a subsidiary of Goats on the Go, a national network of independent goat grazing businesses offering goat weed and brush control.

The couple has 120 goats, which they divide into herds of 40. Gus Maxfield said they bought goats to clean up their own land a year before retiring from the boiler business he owned.

“I started this goat thing to try and control all the sea buckthorn on the 50 acres I have in Brownsville, which was the worst infestation of sea buckthorn I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.

After seeing goats successfully clearing the buckthorn, Maxfield said they discovered Goats on the Go and decided to expand their herd and join as partners.

He said electric fences are used to keep out coyotes, dogs and other predators while the goats are grazing, and all they have to do while goats are at work is check them once a day to make sure the fence still works and they have enough water.

“We don’t have any problems with them as long as they have food and water and everything is fine, but when their food source within their paddock runs low, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and that can be a problem,” he said.

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A herd of goats, belonging to Gus and Ann Maxfield’s subsidiary Goats on the Go, graze October 17 at the Austin Country Club in Austin, Minnesota.

Noah Fish / Agweek

On the morning of October 17, Maxfield drove his truck onto the Austin Country Club golf course, where for the second day a herd of goats were grazing on an overgrown section of the course.

“There’s no harm in grazing this late for sea buckthorn control,” Maxfield said. “Because that’s the only thing that has green leaves, and pretty much everything else comes off.”

He said sea buckthorn is usually the first thing goats look for.

“They’re not grazers,” he said. “I mean they will eat grass, but they must be pretty hungry.”

Some of the benefits of grazing goats include cleared patches of woodland with low scrub and irritating plants, open hiking trails, reduced nuisance from mosquitoes and other pests by thinning out dense cover, improved sightlines from home windows and outdoor living areas, and more .

Maxfield said the only limitation the goats have is that they can only reach about six feet, but he said they get creative at times.

“They’re going to get on each other’s backs or climb bigger trees and get whatever they can get their hands on,” he said.

He said they only use meat goats because they are “bigger, bulkier, and eat more brush.” He said the goats will eat pretty much anything that doesn’t eat anything else.

“They eat thistles, wild parsnips, garlic mustard, sea buckthorn — all kinds of invasive species,” he said.

The best formula the Maxfields have with their herd is to put 40 goats on an acre for about a week, which is enough time for them to clear it.

He said probably about 80% of their business is based in Rochester, which is about 40 minutes from Austin.

“There’s a lot of really nice houses in Rochester with big lots, and it’s really pretty because it’s built into the hills, but they don’t have a way of preserving it,” he said. “So that’s where the goats come in, no matter how rough the terrain.”

But Gus Maxfield said there are some customers who are there purely for entertainment.

“We had a guy who said after we dropped the goats that he would get a pack of beers and watch them,” he said. “People will throw parties where they hang out and watch the goats.”

Ann Maxfield said renting the goats was a learning curve for her, but it was a pleasant one.

“There’s so much behind it that we didn’t understand and it was fun to learn,” she said.

She said the most difficult part of the experience so far has been dealing with issues related to tricking the goats, which she described as “overwhelming”.

The business has only started for them since they rent out the goats.

“This year is the busiest we’ve ever had,” she said. “People are understanding how good a chemical-free approach to brush control can really be for them.”

Now that it’s winter, the goats are basically being put in a feedlot situation, Gus Maxfield said. And everyone has a job for next year.

“What we do with our goats is just rent them out,” said Gus Maxfield, who said that’s why some goats feel like pets to them. “We don’t sell them to the meat market or anything.”


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