Riverside goats reach celebrity status

GOAT LABOR

• Weekly pay: $1,200

• Hours: 40 hours a week

• Workforce: 20 to 30 goats

• Hourly pay: $1.50

• Workload: Each can eat 10 to 15 pounds of roughage daily, or about 800 pounds a week on a four-day work week.

Bleating and feasting, a herd of 20 goats at Riverside Park is making a dent in the brush and overgrowth at Grover's Bend now 15 years in the making.

Over the past two months as the cloven-hoofed creatures chowed their way through to the riverbanks, they gained national attention among municipal governments from Corpus Christi to Portland, Maine, looking for sustainable and cost-effective ways to manage brush and curtail fire hazards.

Now that the eight-week trial is up, Victoria City Council is looking to renew the contract with GoatScapers into one that may span year-round. Currently, the city pays $1,200 weekly for 40 hours of work a week by 20 to 30 goats but will likely get a lower rate for a longer-term contract.

Susan Hatfield, 62, who co-owns GoatScapers with her husband, Terry Hatfield, 63, said since their herd has received so much attention, they are receiving requests to help other entrepreneurs start their own goat-centric businesses across the state.

For the Port Lavaca-based couple, it's more than letting the goats have at it. The animals are under constant supervision, arranged in a specific order and placed in areas according to how aggressive each eats.

"It looks real simple," Terry Hatfield said. "And it is, if you know animals. But it's work like anything else."

During the April 1 City Council meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Colby Van Gundy said his staff could not do the amount of work the goats could.

Although there are places his staff will go in and mow, there are many areas they cannot reach with a mower because of steep riverbanks. He supported continuing the program.

Already, Terry Hatfield said he is noticing a change in visitors at Grover's Bend.

"Families feel safe walking through here now," he said.

His wife agreed.

"I can't believe it," she said. "It's the difference between a jungle and an open space you can walk through."

From munching on poison ivy and poison oak to weeds reaching 14 feet tall, the goats are able to tackle the large job, Terry Hatfield said.

The goats could also see projects in culverts and drainage ditches across the city or even go to work for oil companies looking to keep pumping stations clear of brush, he said.

Councilman Tom Halepaska championed the plan to revitalize Grover's Bend, which had been closed since the 1998 flood. He supports expanding the goats' duties.

While people might have laughed when he first came up with the idea, he's getting the last laugh now.

His intent is to keep the goats in the park as a tourist attraction and expand the work south to Fox's Bend.

"They've got a tall order to clean all that up," Halepaska said.

He envisions the beach at Grover's Bend with a clear view of the river, parking and picnic tables.

"I've said this from day one: We have a natural asset in the Guadalupe River, and we don't utilize it to the extent we could," Halepaska said.

The key is opening it to the public, so the river is used for recreation, family gatherings and even as a place to relax, he said.

"I've got delusions of grandeur, but you've got to start somewhere," he said. "By opening this up and getting people to the river, maybe they'll start caring about it."