Green Goats with Kim Hunter, Part I


I never expected a goat herd to draw so many fans at a golf course, especially on a Monday when closed.  As soon as we pulled up the trailer, an elderly golfer pulled up in a Cadillac, sad to see we were taking the goats.  He said he'd recently brought his wife to see them.  Kim Hunter gladly began explaining her brush-clearing goats and their rotatable pastures.

Seconds later two workers pulled up in a golfcart, asking if the goats were for sale.  I said yes, Kim wants $150-350 each.  She heard and, presuming (correctly) their motive for asking, she yelled over "not for meat!"  Kim may have butchered some herself in the past after they died for various reasons [listed in part II]; but she wouldn't sleep well knowing her faithful employees were working only to be slaughtered wholesale.  

Goats boarding the trailer, a bit fatter than before.
Green Goat handiwork: pruned and fertilized hilltops.
After a successful pickup from Poplar Creek Country Club it was time for dropoff at their next jobsite, another golf course nearby in Chicagoland.  (Apparently a satisfied manager at the former had spread the word to the others.) Three hours from her homebase near Monroe, Wisconsin, both jobs were out of Kim's preferred range. But the exposure gained from golf courses makes it worthwhile. In prior years publicity came piecemeal: local newscasts, articles from the Daily Herald [link], Chicago Tribune [link] and UMW News [link], and a series of informative interviews by All About Animals [link and link]


As for the company, Green Goats leases herds for vegetation removal. Mrs. Hunter is its founder and sole operator, except for the occasional intern such as myself. She began in 2008 with three—Ria, Tara and Miguel—Spanish goats, a dutiful breed also known as "brush" or "scrub" goats. [wiki]  The herd expanded to fifteen, then fifty.  With exponential growth in both client demand and breedable livestock, Kim now has over 160 goats.  Now she actually hopes to reduce this number, selling or bartering them off (to non-slaughter houses).  More manageable numbers are ideal, especially because each goat being fed on the farm as opposed to browsing at a job equals lost revenue.

Past gigs have included parks, airports, hospices, private residences and local businesses including Epic, the mass-employer of yuppies and pillar of Madison's economy. Another headline-grabber was a construction site on the UWM campus, run by building tycoon J.P. Cullins. Story goes, Kim was contacted by a young site manager who requested her services immediately. He was a fresh hiree with a fresh idea (goats clearing brush to reveal hazards for a bobcat crew), hoping to implement it before his superiors caught wind. A bold strategy. When bossman Cullins himself visited the site and asked “whose idea were these goats?”, the young manager nervously raised his hand. “Best idea I've ever heard,” said the boss.

***
Meanwhile, in La Grange, Kim was working to fill this niche market of golf courses...


Manager Jeff and his gang of groundskeepers helped setup the electric fencing while Kim demonstrated. In a few days the workers by themselves would move the goats to a fresh pasture; and they'd have do it properly to keep the goats in and predators out. With stakes sturdy and 6,000 volts flowing, everyone gathered around the trailer as Kim released the herd. The first wave stopped immediately and began to browse, forcing the others to squeeze around. The crowd of onlookers seemed mildly amused, the goats wholly content. Their new home was a dense clump of wildflowers, shrubs and grasses on a hill overlooking the greens. The concept was a restored prairie: a habitat for wildlife, an attractive patch of diversity in the center of an otherwise sterile, manicured golf course.




But like any ecosystem it needed disturbance to promote regeneration, and to remove invasive species in this case. Manager Jeff said goats were his best option. He had tried cutting and spraying herbicides, but that was a labor-intensive battle, one he surrendered to the explosive growth of a rainy period. He had also considered prescribed burns, but such companies charged $2,500 per day. Kim's estimate on other hand was around  $1,700.  This includes six or so days with forty goats ($3 per goat per day) and transportation fees on the 264-mile round trip ($2 per mile traveled plus tolls) made twice (dropoff and pickup). Even with the long distance more than doubling the bill, goats were still less expensive than fires. As an added bonus the Country Club was providing its patrons with a week of cuddly entertainment rather than a day of choking fumes.


Check out the following week in part II, after we collect the goats and inspect their handiwork; and learn a week-load of Kim's lessons on herd management.

Green Goat cell #1 (outlined in red) at La Grange Country Club.

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