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Goats ready to work this summer at Memorial Park

Neighbors and friends were able to come visit the goats on-site at Meg and Joe Rheault's house. It opened the door for friendship and helped the Rheaults meet neighbors they didn't know though they've lived in the home for three years. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 7
It took 19 goats just two and a half days to ravage the weeds adjacent to Meg and Joe Rheault's home in Fridley, Minn. Maintaining the property line normally takes the family many weekend hours in the summer. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 7
Goats get up high to eat leaves and even push down young trees, which help clears troublesome landscapes. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 7
The goats were expected to take a week to clear these weeds, but they overachieved, completing the task in just two and a half days. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 7
The Munch Bunch installed an electric fence to help contain the 19-goat crew next to the Rheault family's home in Fridley, Minn. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 7
The Munch Bunch is made up of 110 goats-for-hire that can eat almost anything and eliminate major weed problems for at least one season. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia6 / 7
The Munch Bunch herd is made up of a mixture of breeds typically reared for meat and fiber. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia7 / 7

Meg and Joe Rheault became homeowners in 2015, and every year since, they've been battling weeds.

Their home in Fridley, Minn., is backed into a sloping hill that's covered with trees and vegetation, making the property line's maintenance an extra big challenge above normal mowing and weed whacking tasks.

"Three summers in a row we spent six weekends each summer working on pushing it back and it looked like we had done nothing," Joe Rheault said.

Enter, the goats

Meg Rheault saw a news piece about the Munch Bunch, a goat-for-hire company out of Saint Croix Falls, Wis., and made the call that will give she and her husband their first relaxing summer in four years.

"We wanted a better solution to taking care of a whole mass of the yard at one time," she said. "The goats will kill the root system so it'll help so that all the stuff doesn't grow back. It's not just for funsies."

Homeowners and municipalities around the region agree, and prescribed goat browsing seems to be on the rise.

Goats on Memorial Bluff

City Administrator Kay Kuhlmann announced in May that Red Wing will host goats from Diversity Landworks out of Brownsville, Minn., to tame approximately 19 acres on Memorial Park this summer.

The group of 60 goats will arrive mid-July and stay through the fall, restoring the native prairie and controlling invasive species like buckthorn and honeysuckle. The goats will be contained in fenced paddocks and moved around the property in two cycles. The total contract cost for the city on the project is $15,000 and it will be covered entirely by the Conservation Partners Legacy Grant awarded to the city by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Herd management

Sixty goats may sound like a large herd, but Munch Bunch co-owner Allysse Sorensen said an average operation is made up of 100-500 goats. An acre of land takes 30 goats one week to clear, so having an abundance can help with project fulfillment. Plus, she said, they're a lot of fun to work with.

"The goats are really the pros here and we pretty much work for them," Sorensen said.

She and her husband, Dan, are the sole employees of Munch Bunch, though they've taken on a few apprentice interns in the past. They also learned the trade firsthand from Swedish goat farmers while working in Sweden over a two-year period.

The Munch Bunch team is 110-goats strong today, but their operation began with just two goats in 2015. They plan to keep growing the herd, which is made up of fiber and meat breeds. Due to their heft and large appetite, these breeds are superior to dairy goats when it comes to clearing brush, Sorensen said.

The Munch Bunch operates from May until the snow flies in November. During the winter, they relax in barns and eat hay, but by about April they're itching to get back into the field.

"They're very excited to get back out on the job, tapping their toes and all that," Sorensen said. "They know they're supposed to be out there and that's where they want to be."