I AM a big fan of uncomplicated, make-a-plan biotech-type ideas. They suit my simple-solutions-are-super approach to life. I like the notion of solving problems and creating opportunities by putting things that don’t need batteries, Eskom or petrol to work. We’ve done it for centuries by, for example, burning wood for fire, and using animals for transport, microscopic unicellular fungus (that is, yeast) to make bread and beer, and bacteria to turn milk into yoghurt.
More recent biotechnological discoveries include the use of dung beetles to reduce methane emissions, worms to turn waste into compost, and larvae to feed on excrement so it can be harvested and processed for animal or fish food or biodiesel. There’s also the use of Pseudomonas bacterium to break down crude oil when treating oil spills and zebrafish to decode the genetic mutation responsible for a hereditary muscle disease found in people native to North Carolina in the United States.
Also in North Carolina, entrepreneur Matt Richmond took biotechnology back to grassroots level in 2010 when he established a small business called Rent-A-Goat to – yes, you guessed it – rent out goats to people and organisations that wanted to clear their properties of unwanted grass, bush and weeds.
By 2011, the company, which Richmond promotes as an eco-friendly alternative to machinery or chemicals, had become so successful, he decided he’d help ensure others didn’t “miss the goat” and added to it “a worldwide listing for all goat-based brush clearing service providers”.
Rent-A-Goat was recently included in Entrepreneur magazine’s 100 Brilliant Companies. It has more than 82,000 followers on Twitter and has received almost 16,000 ‘likes’ on FaceBook.
Goats are not only useful for maintaining lawns and landscaped areas. They’re also considered the ideal weed control and bush clearing solution for sites undergoing new construction, and for removing invasive species and restoring indigenous plant and animal habitats. They’re also widely used to keep firebreaks clear of vegetation and to reduce undergrowth in forests.
The animals are excellent climbers, and can tackle steep and rocky terrain that’s difficult to clear with machinery. Land cleared by goats can safely be used for farming and gardening, and even children’s playgrounds. Each animal eats about three and a half kilograms of vegetation a day. They produce 13% of the methane emissions emitted by cattle, and goat droppings are considered easy to use and effective fertilizer for garden beds ¬
Herds signed up by Rent-A-Goat work from nine-to-five each day with no downtime and are supervised by authorised goat managers. The animals are transported to and from work in “roomy trailers” and are taken home every night. The company guarantees they’re up-to-date in terms of vaccinations and deworming. Prices, says Richmond, are competitive with commercial landscaping services.
And, if you think high-tech organisations don’t appreciate biotech solutions, you’re wrong. Goat-using clients include Amazon in Japan and Google in California, which employ herds of the ruminants to mow lawns around their premises each week. San Francisco International Airport, scene of the Asiana Airlines crash in July 2013, hire the services of about 250 goats. They were not, however, at the airport at the time of the incident, which means the landscaping livestock didn’t become scapegoats.
This article was first published in Business Day in 2013.