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Hired goats make quick work of weedy hillside

When land needs to be cleared in an environmentally friendly way, who should be called? The ruminant renter.

Tammy Dunakin, owner of Rent-A-Ruminant, LLC, travels throughout Western Washington with a herd of goats as a green land-clearing option.

The Congregational Church of Mercer Island was looking to clean up the hilly terrain located behind the church with plans to turn it into a park for the community. The church directors wanted an environmentally friendly way to get the job done. Prior to the goats, the land was filled with blackberry brambles, ivy and noxious weeds on steep and difficult terrain for people to trek through.

Seventy-two hours and 60 goats later, the majority of the brush was gone, eaten in a blur by goats hungry for their first big spring project.

“They’re like all-terrain vehicles,” said Dunakin. “It’s a really green way to go. The goats get where people can’t. They are designed to climb on the uneven surfaces. They eat a lot of the vegetation — not all, but most of it, and then there is less to contend with.”

Laura Gregg, the church’s office manager, said the church went with goats because it was an environmentally friendly option, even if it was a little more expensive than hiring humans to do the same work. Hiring Dunakin and the 60 goats for three days cost about $800 each day, said Gregg, but the church is offsetting some of the cost with an adopt-a-goat program so that church members can donate money specifically toward the project.

Rent-a-Ruminant, Dunakin’s company, is in its fifth year of existence and is based on Vashon Island. After 27 years in the health care field, Dunakin said she wanted to find a career she could run herself. One day, while watching the goats at her home on Vashon, she thought the animals looked bored.

“I thought, they are so much more talented than this,” she said.

Currently, Dunakin — who has always enjoyed working on her small farms — manages a total of 120 goats, many of which were rescued. With this set-up, Dunakin can meet just about any project’s clearing needs.

For projects over an acre, Dunakin said she usually brings the entire herd, but for projects under an acre she finds that 60 goats get the job done. Dunakin is also looking into offering packages designed for small projects in select areas with 15 or fewer goats.

Retirement packages at Rent-a-Ruminant are similar to many other companies; the goats get to spend their golden years leisurely as personal pets. Dunakin said it is very important to her to find the right home for a retiring herd member.

“That’s a big deal to me,” she said.

While the goats were on the Island, an apparent ‘kid’-napping took place, after a goat went missing from the pen on April Fool’s Day. Members of the Mercer Island Police Department said a goat was taken from the pen during the night, but was quickly found, unharmed, tied to a tree nearby.

For more information about Rent-a-Ruminant, visit www.rentaruminant.com or contact Tammy Dunakin at (206) 251-1051.

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