EDGARTOWN, MARTHA’S VINEYARD, Massachusetts — You’ve heard of flash mobs and crowd sourcing. Ever heard of mob grazing?
Rebecca Brown, who lives here full-time, is a mob grazing expert, but the mob she grazes is not of people. She handles 75 goats, who have been working steadily throughout this past summer to rid the Vineyard of poison ivy, young trees, and other unwanted greenery of all kinds. Her company — Island Grazing (telephone 774-521-6100) — is a 12-year-old endeavor to use a green, earth-friendly way to improve land, remove weeds, turn scrubland into meadow and keep private homeowners’ views open. It makes the land better while eliminating the need for poisons.
Biologists have determined that putting livestock on land in tight groups for grazing is the greenest way to bring arid land back to health. It is a way to fight “desertification,” or the becoming of desert land, and to reverse climate change.
Brown’s idea of a good mob is 30 goats in a portable enclosure of 100 by 100 feet, which she moves every day so that the goats clean out the area and immediately start nibbling when she moves the enclosure the next day.
Goats aren’t her only grazing machines. Before this year, she used only sheep, which eat ticks by the thousands in addition to unwanted green stuff. “They’re a dead end for Lyme disease,” she points out, the latter a problem that has plagued Martha’s Vineyard for years and is getting worse each year.
But goats behave better than sheep, Brown contends, and that’s why she concentrated this summer on renting them out at between $6 to $8 per goat per day. Typically she moves her goat grazers every day and has them re-graze the same property from four to six times per season.
The Vineyard is, or has been, overrun with poison ivy, and the good news about removing it with the help of hungry goats, is that once they have nibbled it down to the earth, the roots die and it does not come back. Meanwhile, the soil has been enriched from the goat droppings as well as their chewing.
Brown was the first employee at the Vineyard’s Farm institute, which sponsors year-round educational programs in land preservation, history of Martha’s Vineyard farming, and nutritional awareness. As such she was asked by the state forest superintendent to look into using sheep to eat the disease-carrying deer ticks and to clear forestland on the island. At the time, goats were not allowed at the institute because, according to Brown, “they cause trouble.” Goats nibble on everything, she admits, although she never saw a goat eat an item of human clothing or a piece of metal or glass the way they are reputed to do.
She kept her sheep, but now considers her goats as “co-workers.”
Brown’s business is a 12-month one, although in winter she is able to work only on her meadow restoration projects rather than eliminating poison ivy. Grass is the only vegetation available to her goats after the leaves drop off of woody plants. All summer, the goats needed no more food than what they found at their grazing sites, but she expects she’ll need to feed them hay for the second half of winter (Brown may be the only businesswoman in Massachusetts whose co-workers literally eat into her profits.). She’ll rent them out for winter grazing at a greatly reduced fee, and will delay bringing the animals back to her family’s farm near the town of Edgartown until birthing time in early March.
Brown plans on adding 150 more “co-workers” to her staff next year. Meanwhile by trial and error, she has found that mob grazing, or impact grazing — putting more goats into the same sized area, and shorter grazing time — makes a remarkable difference in a shorter duration, fewer repeated grazings and quicker, longer lasting results. “I just visited a meadow restoration project of mine that received impact grazing one month ago,” she noted, “and there is virtually almost no regrowth of unwanted plants. It really is amazing.”