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May 12, 2021 – People spending time near the Dowells Peninsula on Mercer Lake have experienced the curious joy of a group of children playing for the past two weeks. In fact, the 17 goats in Justin Austen’s herd made their way through the bloom and spring greenery in an eco-conscious effort to clear the land.

“Not only are the goats doing a good job, but they’re also a bit of a community builder,” Austen said.

The three owners of the property, Steve and Meredith Swenson and Becky Goehring, reached out to Austen for help after hearing about her goats through a mutual friend. They recently bought the land, which was covered with berries, ivy and salal, as well as other woody greenery.

“The goats really found out what’s out there,” Goehring said. “It’s a natural way to clean up the property.”

For landowners, it was important to clear the property without using heavy machinery. Not only is the land near the lake, there are residences nearby and even vacation rentals. These neighbors came to watch the goats at work.

“It’s just happy and fun every day to go out and hear them bleat or watch them jump,” Goehring said.

Austen has had goats for five years and the current herd for three years on his own estate in Glenada.

“People love goats. I love goats, ”he said.

At present, his herd has 17 goats, including nine children from this year. The herd is matriarchal, with two half-sisters leading the other three adult females, two adult males, one adult (one castrated male), five males and four females.

“In the herd, I have six generations now,” said Austen. “When they run together they establish that family hierarchy, and everyone kind of learns the Ps and Qs. People think the males are more aggressive and the like, but really within the herd they are held in. line by the hinds.

This year’s children are four months old and weigh 40 pounds. They gain around 10 pounds per month.

“From May to August, the next three months, they’re going to more than double in size,” Austen said. “Right now they’re miniature goats. They have a little more energy and are a little more nervous, but they are fully functional goats. You will see them find their own food and run around in their own small groups.

The goats will spend the next few months eating. It’s one of the things they do best.

“Goats are great because they eat everything in a way, but they’re also more picky than people think. They are really selective. But over time, they’ll eat pretty much everything right down to the ground, ”Austen said.

Unlike grazers like cows or sheep, goats graze on shrubs, bushes and trees.

“Goats are well adapted to our region. They like to move from bush to bush, grazing selectively, ”he said.

In August, the goats will breed and the dams will spend most of the winter in gestation.

“A goat’s life is very energy intensive because most of it is either breastfeeding a baby or pregnant with a baby. It’s kind of half a year spent breastfeeding a baby and the next half spent getting pregnant with the next set, ”Austen said.

Goats often have twins or triplets, which means the number can double relatively quickly.

Austen’s goal would be to move the herd throughout the year. Not only will this help provide for the nutritional needs of the herd, but it may also benefit people like Goehring and the Swensons.

“I loved the idea of ​​having goats on the property,” Goehring said. “They’ve been out for two weeks so far and it’s phenomenal what they’ve erased.”

Austen installed an electric fence on the property to enclose the goats. They cleared a quarter of an acre in the first two weeks.

“Becky says people love it, that she has six to 12 neighbors standing around the perimeter of the property at night watching the goats nibble,” said Austen.

The herd was brought back to the property yesterday for the next round of clearing.

“Using goats has been a great way to control nature,” Goehring said. “They quickly cleared out an old stump and climbed everywhere. It’s just fun to see and hear.

Austen lined up pastures for the herd after completing work on the Dowells Peninsula.

“For me, goats are obviously joys and I love them, but they are an integral part of a larger process that I am developing towards holistic land management,” he said.

Austen owns EverWild LLC, which focuses in part on restoring landscapes, forests and habitats.

“The basic objective has always been land management,” he said. “Using livestock to do ecological restoration and then manage it. The first five years were really spent learning about the goats and the herd, and now is the time to do something about them.

He hopes people consider looking for goats to maintain their land.

For more information, contact Austen at [email protected]

Goats eat the greenery of shrubs and bushes, which makes them well suited for coastal land management. Justin Austen (background) takes care of the new children of his goats in January. A child climbs onto a property near Mercer Lake, joining the rest of the herd to make their way through the undergrowth.

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