Updated on August 4 at 11:18 a.m. ET
Friday’s forecast for Boise, Idaho, called for clouds with a hint of sunshine and a toasty high of 89 degrees Fahrenheit. It did not call for goats, but there they were.
Joe Parris, a local reporter, shared photos from the the bizarre scene on a residential street: dozens of goats—maybe as many as 100, Parris estimated—meandering across lawns and sidewalks. They munched on grass and climbed up moss-covered trees, bleating gently as they went. Baaaa.
#Breaking - About 100 goats are on the loose right now in a #Boise neighborhood. They are going house to house eating everything in sight. Nobody has a clue where they came from...updates to follow pic.twitter.com/K0ghUwQEfk— Joe Parris (@KTVBJoe) August 3, 2018
For social-media observers, the confusion turned into delight—the internet loves footage of animals on the loose—and then back to confusion. Where did the goats come from?
The answer is less magical than the surreal scene suggests. About an hour and a half after the goats seemed to have parachuted from the sky, a truck pulled up and began shepherding the animals inside, Parris reported for KTVB.com. Video from the scene showed the goats climbing a metal ramp into the vehicle, tags hanging off their floppy ears like gaudy earrings.
These were hired goats.
The truck, according to KTVB.com, belongs to We Rent Goats, an Idaho-based company that does exactly what its name suggests. Goats, it turns out, are like cute, furry lawn mowers. They love to eat common weeds (and the seeds that lead to more) that many homeowners don’t want on their lawns. “Thorns and plants that cows and sheep don’t like are a delicacy for goats,” the We Rent Goats website explains. Grasses remain mostly untouched. The result? A weed-free, verdant lawn.
We Rent Goats and other goat-renting companies—and there are others, many, many others—say this method of landscaping provides an environmentally friendly alternative to pesticides and bulldozers. The company usually leaves the animals to feast with minimal supervision. “If your property is in a high traffic area or in the middle of town, we will have an employee on duty full time,” their website explains. “If the property is in a remote area, we’ll check the goats at least two times a day.” But the goats don’t come with a sign or other indication that explains to curious passersby, including Parris, why they’re there.
We Rent Goats responded to a request for comment Friday night, after the photos and videos had been widely circulated online.
“I definitely did not think that goats, certainly not my goats, would ever be the talk of the internet,” said Matt Gabica, who runs the company with his wife, Kim. “I don’t really do the whole social media thing, plus I was pretty busy today making sure all the goats were safe and sound and fielding phone calls from all over the country, so I don’t honestly know what all is happening on the internet. But I’m getting a lot of messages from people saying our goats went viral. Whatever that means.”
Gabica said the goats—118 of them—went rogue from their assignment on Friday. The goats were dispatched to a storm-water retention pond, about two blocks from where the local news reporter found them, to munch on noxious weeds. But they apparently escaped through a couple wood boards that worked loose as they leaned against the boards to stand up on their back feet and eat the tops of some tall weeds,” Gabica said. “Once they escaped they began wondering through the neighborhood that the pond is in the middle of, and they were found by the community of folks that live in that neighborhood.”
When Gabica learned of their escape, the company rounded up the goats and took them to their next job, “where the fence is much stronger,” he said.
The idea of using livestock as landscapers has been around for decades. In 1918, Woodrow Wilson brought in a flock of sheep to trim the White House lawn.
When it comes to rental goats, the more the better. “You can’t just have one goat,” Kari Dodd, an employee at the Tehama County Farm Bureau in California, told Modern Farmer in 2013, for a story about the phenomenon. Goats are social animals and prefer to roam in groups. The We Rent Goats website says the company prefers to use at least 100 goats per job, who can collectively consume about a half acre of vegetation per day.
Today, goats feed anywhere there’s a tangle of brush, including along busy roads. According to The Washington Post, at least seven states—California, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Washington—use the animals to trim medians and other strips of land near highways. “Right now one of the greatest unsung heroes on the American highway is the goat,” Doug Hecox, a spokesman with the Federal Highway Administration, told the Post last year. “Goats have a special talent. They are really, really focused.”
I wish I could say the same for everyone who watched those videos from Boise with awe this morning, including me.