WESTERLY — A packed school bus pulled into an Avondale neighborhood on Wednesday and Seth, Frankie, Enos and about 20 of their friends ambled off. Curious residents looked on.
A children's summer camp outing? No.
Seth, Frankie, Enos and friends are part of the Herd of Hope, goats who live on the Laurel Hills MicroFarm in, appropriately, Hope. The animals and their owners were hired by Deborah Stollenwerck to "goatscape" an overgrown lot she recently bought adjacent to her home.
"I wanted that lot ever since I bought this house five years ago and I now own it. I didn't want a house next to me and as you can see it is in sore need of being cleared. I also didn't want machinery, so the Herd of Hope is coming to do their thing and I've been told they'll eat anything green," Stollenwerck said as she waited for the goats to arrive.
As she worked on buying the lot, Stollenwerck learned, through reading, about the use of goats as an alternative to hiring human landscapers with large machines. "I didn't want the dust and the noise," sheh said, adding that her neighbors shared her belief that the goats would be less intrusive.
Workers from the farm set up an electric fence Tuesday to help keep the goats on the property. Wayne Pitman, who runs the farm with business partner Jackie Magnan, said some of the goats are capable of jumping over the fence but are unlikely to do so as long as a herder stays inside the fenced area with them. They were expected to work on Stollenwerck's property until Saturday afternoon.
Laurel Hills MicroFarm started out growing microgreens and then added a few goats. Over time the farm has become an unofficial goat sanctuary. Two of the farm's goats escaped slaughterhouses and were brought to the farm by a man who found them. Another one was turned over by a woman who was keeping goats as pets but couldn't feed them properly.
As a vegetarian farm, Laurel Hills uses its goats only for milk, cheese, soap and landscaping work, which the farm delved into about five years ago.
"Goatscaping came about because we needed a way to make money with the goats," Pitman said. He said the animals decide whether they will work specific jobs. "If they don't want to get on the bus we'll let them stay at home. There's always plenty who want to go," Pitman said.
The farm charges $550 per day for four days or less or $500 per day for 5 days or more for Goat Team 1. "If you can't get a machine in we're a lot cheaper than people," Pitman said.
Goats can work on land clearing jobs for about 12 years of their life.
"Some of them are retired but they have a full retirement package. Medical benefits and everything," Pitman said.
In total, the farm currently has about 70 goats. Pitman's Goat Team 1 is made up of larger goats who travel on the bus, which the farm calls its "goat tote," and tackle larger jobs. Smaller teams travel in a van for residential jobs. The goats are primarily of the Saanan breed. The farm also has Kikos, Nubians, and Nigerian Dwarfs. The farm has also rescued donkeys, mini-horses, and sheep.
Stollenwerck set up a table in her driveway and had coolers filled with cold beverages she planned to offer to visitors who come to see the goats.
"This is one of the best choices I've ever made in my life," Stollenwerck said as she watched the goats chew on vegetation in her overgrown lot.