By Jeff Slate, contributor
When traversing beautiful Piedmont Park this month take note. There is substantially less kudzu, overgrown shrubs and invasive species. You may want to thank Mrs. Claus, a tough 6-year old Alpha goat and her 46-eating machine posse. They partied two weeks in the park in late June and early July. The Piedmont Park Conservancy paid GetYourGoatRentals $200 a day for them. As stated on the Conservancy website, the “goats were free to eat as much grass as their four stomachs could take…it was a more organic sustainable option”. The majority of the caprines (having beards and horns) under Mrs. Claus’ command were either Boars or Kikos, two of the more than 300 breeds of goats.
The Conservancy calculates one ruminant goat (animal with a four-compartment stomach) ate about 5-7 pounds per day. No surprise. Goats have been used to clear land for centuries. According to Mental Floss magazine “goat domestication took place about 11,000 years ago in the Near East. The event was a pivotal moment in human history that represented a key shift of mankind from hunter-gatherers to agriculture-based societies.”
In addition to Mrs. Claus’ herd, thanks is due a brother and sister act, the incomparable Bowie and Trudy, two workaholic Great Pyrenees dogs. The dynamic duo ensured that all the herbivore browsers were never bothered by unwelcomed visitors – coyotes, other dogs or, heaven forbid, humans – that for some insane reason would jump an electric fence enclosure.
At the park the rectangular-pupil eye foragers were at three specific locations – the North Woods, Lake Clara Meer and the Orchard Area. At each locale park enthusiasts were surprised and delighted to see them. The usual reaction was “wow Goats! How cool. What are they doing here?” They were hard to ignore. They are naturally curious and intelligent creatures. Everyone appeared to love them. Abraham Lincoln loved goats. During his tenure at the White House he had two, Nanny and Nanko. His son Tad used them for chariot rides.
The lead shepherd, Mike Swanson, the owner of GetYourGoatRentals, supervised the entire goat jamboree at the park. You may have seen Mike. He, along with his wife Kristen and the herd, appeared in a Head and Shoulders’ commercial in this year’s Super Bowl telecast. They were “looking for companies that were Head Strong”, Mike says, “I think I’m the only bald guy that’s ever done a commercial for Head and Shoulders… It’s amazing; it’s really pumped up our business.”
So how does one end up starring in a Super Bowl ad with goats? Mike explains: “We started with chickens. They were getting eaten by hawks. So we bought a couple of milking goats. Goats are stout-bodied; they kept the hawks away.” Then one day “we were milking our goats and some neighbors asked us to come over and clear up their property, they had ivy. We had four goats at the time and we put them to work. They made a fine meal of the ivy. Our friends posted some pictures on Facebook and the business was born.” Six years later, Swanson runs a 365 days-a-year family business out of McRae, GA providing a beautiful home for his wife, three kids, 200 + goats, 13 dogs, but no chickens. And Piedmont Park has never looked lovelier.