Summer Landscaping: Going Green & Trading The Mower for Goats & Sheep

Have you ever curled up on a porch, deck or in the yard with a book or newspaper and then been assaulted with a modern landscaping crew -- replete with un-muffled mowers, weed wackers and blowers? I guess we all have. It's one of the few curses of summer and often makes me think how much more quiet life was prior to mechanization. Economists call these annoyances negative externalities: -- a cost not transmitted through pricing that is incurred by one or more persons who did not agree to the action.

Can we turn the clock back and have efficient, cost effective and quiet landscapers? The answer for many involves hiring goats and sheep – and they're green too.
A recent article from the WSJ claims "As more homeowners, businesses and towns seek to maintain land with fewer chemicals or fossil-fuel-powered machinery, a growing number are trying goats to get rid of unwanted vegetation...[even] Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. hired herds to clear around their Northern California headquarters this year. So did the Vanderbilt Mansion, a national historic site in Hyde Park, N.Y. And this April, nannies and billies were deployed at the U.S. Naval Base Kitsap Bangor in Silverdale, Wash., to annihilate pesky scotch broom plants."

The Journal explains "Generally, companies truck goats to work sites (some gas required) where the animals munch inside portable fencing or electric netting, often powered by solar panels. Prices can range from $200 a day for a dozen goats to upward of $1,000 for larger herds of 100 or more. On bigger projects, animals may stay overnight supervised by the business owners or specially trained guardian dogs... [and] Some [providers] say business is so good, they're angling to license and expand with sheep, which do particularly well trimming grass."

Now whether or not livestock represents a savings over immigrant labor (legal or otherwise) will depend upon the job you need done. It's also impossible to train goats and sheep to use a port-a-pot, so there's that detail – but it might also provide organic fertilizer. If, on the other hand, you and/or your neighbors are wed to having a manicured lawn, this option might present a whole other round negative externalities.

William Busch

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