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Sunday, August 26, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Goats enrolled to solve UW maintenance problem

Seattle Times staff reporter

Bob Cent thought it was odd that it smelled like a farm as he biked onto the University of Washington campus earlier this week.

But that wasn't nearly as bizarre as when Cent, a UW computer programmer, discovered the smell's source: goats. Lots of goats on the west side of campus.

He found out why the 60 hoofed creatures had been munching on university land since Tuesday — they were hired by the UW Grounds Maintenance staff to gobble up weeds and pesky plants.

The UW needed to clear a 10,000-square-feet hillside overgrown with blackberry bushes and English ivy between the Burke-Gilman Trail and Stevens Way.

Because the area was so steep, it would have been difficult for gardeners to work in the area safely, said Rod White, UW grounds manager.

So the department contracted the work to Rent-A-Ruminant, a Vashon-based company that supplies goats to do heavy munching.

The goats' voracious appetite for anything and everything is what makes them so great for the job — but it's also their major downside.

"That's a drawback," said White. "You have to have landscape areas that are not too formal, because they would simply eat everything."

The grounds crew at Seattle had considered using goats about three years ago to contain invasive plants on the 640-acre campus. A recent goat success at the university's Bothell branch finally sold them on the idea.

The Bothell campus went pesticide-free last July, which led to the rampant spread of weeds and intrusive bushes. Goats provided an efficient and "green" solution, and they were ideal for working on the campus's hilly terrain, said Tony Guerrero, UW-Bothell director of facility services

"It seemed to be just a win-win situation to hire the goats," Guerrero said.

UW-Bothell used 60 Rent-A-Ruminant goats to clear a 24,000-square-foot area for five days in July. The project cost about $750 a day and, after the goats had finished, the weeds had been cleared to the ground, said Guerrero.

The Bothell team was so pleased with the results, they are hiring a 250-goat herd from a Spokane company for another five-day project this week.

"We intend to go ahead and use them until I have my blackberries under control," said Guerrero.

As for the students, faculty and staff on campus in Seattle, goats have been a conversation-starter for the past week.

"Everybody thinks that this is really clever," Cent said.

Christina Siderius: csiderius@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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