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story.lead_photo.caption Zoe Allen, 9, of Fayetteville feeds leaves to a goat in Wilson Park on Wednesday. - Photo by Bill Bowden

FAYETTEVILLE -- Goats are clearing brush from a wooded hillside at Wilson Park this week.

They work in the park three times a year, eating poison ivy and invasive species of plants.

The four-legged gardeners are somewhat of a tourist attraction for one week in the fall, spring and summer.

The goats will attract an extra 800 people to the city park this week, said Connie Rieper-Estes, head goatherd/owner of Greedy Goats of NWA, which is based at a farm on the outskirts of Fayetteville.

"We have goat groupies," she said.

They follow Greedy Goats' Facebook page and sometimes show up to see the goats when they're working in public places. Rieper-Estes said people have driven from Little Rock to Fayetteville to goat watch.

Gallery: Goats in Northwest Arkansas park

[Gallery not showing up? Click here for more photos » https://www.arkansasonline.com/galleries/26736/album/]

"We're lawn mowers for bushes," Jason Estes, Connie's husband, said of Greedy Goats.

Kristina Jones, volunteer coordinator for Fayetteville's Parks Department, said watching the goats being loaded into or unloaded from the Greedy Goats van is her favorite part.

"It's kind of like seeing the ducks at the Peabody in Memphis," she said.

The goats will be out every day through Saturday from about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., unless it rains or gets too hot around noon. They will remove most of the greenery in a fenced-in area next to Louise Street, said Rieper-Estes.

"This is our fifth year of business and our 14th time at the park," she said. "One of our goals is for children to see the goats in an outdoor setting."

The goats drew a crowd of kids Wednesday morning.

Zoe Allen, 9, of Fayetteville, said a goat named Thor was her favorite.

"He's sweet, and he's a really good goat," she said.

"I like their horns," said Ezra Allen, 7, who is Zoe's brother. "And they're eating everything!"

Seven of Rieper-Estes' 20 goats were at Wilson Park on Tuesday, then another seven on Wednesday. The goats decide whether they want to go to the park. Rieper-Estes said she opens the van's rear hatch and takes the goats that jump in for that day's trip to the park.

"It's like the best buffet," she said of the plants.

This summer, the goats are clearing a rocky, wooded hillside that could be problematic for less sure-footed animals. On Tuesday, the queen of the herd, a Nubian-Oberhasli named Sweet Thing, looked like she was trying to climb a tree to reach green leaves.

"It's like a goat amusement park," Jones said. "The goats definitely are a source of humor and amusement that makes our day lighter, too."

Greedy Goats adopted Wilson Park after learning the Parks Department was looking for someone to help workers remove invasive plants, including bush honeysuckle and privet.

Greedy Goats provides the animals for free at the park. The city put a sign in the park thanking the business for the goat gardeners.

Jones said it's sometimes a combined effort between goats and humans. The goats clear an area of viney vegetation, then people can go in and remove the woody stuff, she said.

"These are spots that are difficult to get in with people," said Jones. "They're kind of treacherous. And they do have poison ivy. Goats love poison ivy."

On Wednesday, as children approached the fence, Rieper-Estes told them not to pet the goats because they had been eating poison ivy. She said a couple of goats may be sequestered from the poison ivy on Saturday so kids can pet them.

Normally, people rent the goats. The cost is about $500 for nine of them to clear a small lot, which can take 24 to 30 hours over four or five days, Rieper-Estes said.

When asked why people would pay that much instead of using a weed whacker to clear an overgrown lot, she said "cause goats are fun."

Rieper-Estes and her husband Jason act as park interpreters when the goats are there, answering questions from kids and adults. Rieper-Estes said she had no idea she would be dealing so much with the public when she got into the goat business.

Rieper-Estes said people sometimes ask how they can help. So, on its Facebook page, Greedy Goats has a link to a GoFundMe.com account to raise $800 for winter hay.

According to hiregoats.com, there's only one other professional goat gardening business in Arkansas: Stafford Goat Rental of Vilonia.

Mary Stafford said she has 15 goats. She had 50 until January 2018, when she broke an ankle and decided to cut back on goat-herding.

Stafford said she and her husband, Doug, have spent months in a recreational vehicle while their goats cleared brush for a client. The goats were camped nearby in makeshift shelters.

"They eat the leaves," she said. "They eat everything on the ground and they chase away the snakes."

Stafford said her goats do a lot of work for Hot Springs. As a result, they have fans in the Spa City.

One Hot Springs client hired Stafford Goat Rental to clear a brushy hillside next to a fence.

"I don't think people wanted to do it," Stafford said. "It's hot. It was very steep. There's poison ivy. The goats eat all that. Once the goats are through, you can go through and trim out your scrub trees and not worry about that."

Stafford goats cleared the foliage from an old cemetery in Hot Springs.

"It's beautiful now," she said.

Stafford said they charge a minimum of $350 for a one-day goat gardening job, which requires two days of setup. She said the operation requires clients to have a maintenance plan because weeds and invasive species will just grow back otherwise.

Goats won't eat everything, she said. They won't eat vinca. Or tin cans. But they will eat the paper labels off the cans.

Back at Wilson Park on Wednesday morning, when asked what she thought of the goats, Donna Hekhuis, 88, of Fayetteville, broke into song -- a song she learned 75 years ago.

Bill Grogan's goat,

was feeling fine.

Ate three red shirts,

right off the line.

Metro on 07/11/2019

Print Headline: PHOTOS: Goats gobble brush in Northwest Arkansas park, attract 'goat groupies'

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