When all else fails, put a kiko goat on it
Goatscaping in Tama County
Hiring out a herd of goats for weed management has led to big business for one Tama County farmer.
Adam Ledvina, 30, of Chelsea owns and operates Iowa Kiko Goats and Blue Collar Goatscaping — respectively a commercial breeding and meat goat business combined with a prescribed goat grazing “goatscaping” business for clearing out brush without the use of herbicides or machinery.
On a recent “Iowa Farmers Union Lunch and Learn” episode titled “On the Farm with Adam Ledvina,” Ledvina explained how he got so tied up with all things goat.
It began almost a decade ago while he was working to remove brush and invasive species for the Iowa DNR and various other conservation organizations.
“I kind of got the idea — goats can do this! — instead of working on a hill and rolling an ankle, the goats can do that naturally. The goats can convert brush to meat.”
Using goats in his line of work led him to think about his own Tama County family farm — Ledvina’s grandfather passed away while he was a senior in high school.
“The pasture ground had gone feral, wasn’t being used for much — [my family and I] we rented out some of it — other parts were just too woolly, we just let go, and then of course they got worse over the course of five years or so.”
“I got a handful of goats to knock out some oak furrows, honeysuckles — to see how it goes … about that time, about 2013, that’s when the goat market started ticking up a little bit … Today, it’s kind of skyrocketed in the last ten years as far as the value of goats.”
Ledvina’s main business now is breeding and selling his kiko goats for meat — a type of goat originally bred in New Zealand and well suited to a variety of habitats.
Kikos grow well on forage and browse while also being resistant to parasites and they make excellent mothers, Ledvina said.
But as successful as his commercial meat goat business has become — he’s on track to have over 1,000 goats next season — Ledvina told the Iowa Farmers Union he would not be where he is today without the goatscaping.
“The vast majority [of my business] has become commercial farming,” Ledvina admitted. “But the brush management is what made me.”
“What originally was, ‘let’s clear this out, get the brush out of here, so we can raise cattle,’ has turned into, ‘I don’t want to have any cattle anymore’ because the goats do so well and you can have about … five to 10 goats to the acre including kids, versus, one cow-calf pair.”
On a recent late September day, Ledvina along with fellow farmer/goatscaper Lisa Kubik of rural Traer were tromping around in a small white pine grove in rural Reinbeck on the farm of Holly and Ben Robertson — about a dozen goats milling around them, chomping on brush and weeds.
Kubik’s goats had been at the Robertson’s Five R Farm for about a week on a goatscaping job.
“I had Google searched ‘rental goats near me,'” Holly said with a laugh when asked how she found Ledvina and Kubik.
Ledvina’s Blue Collar Goatscaping business popped up in Holly’s search but these days Ledvina’s goats mostly stick to larger jobs, he said — so he called on his friend Kubik — who bought most of her goats from him — to subcontract the job.
“The derecho made it hard to get in here and cut,” Holly explained of the pine grove that’s been in the Robertson family for five generations now.
“Ben remembers this whole area being needles on the ground where you can walk around,” Holly said. “Following a septic repair — plus the derecho — there was an explosion of seeds and growth of invasive species.”
For about $700, the Robertsons contracted with Ledvina and Kubik for 11 goats for three weeks to clear out the woods like Ben remembered.
Ledvina and Kubik set up solar-powered electric net fencing around the sides that weren’t fenced already — and then let the goats loose.
Kubik would stop by to check on the small herd every other day.
“I love it when it’s breezy out here,” Ben said as he watched the goats munch on some hemp that he believes might have been planted on the property by his late grandfather decades ago.
Kikos can graze a lot of different plants, Ledvina said, including reed canary grass, marestail, a variety of herbaceous weeds, wild parsnip, ragweed, honeysuckle, dogweed, and even sumac — knocking out brush up to six feet tall.
They’re also just fun to watch as evidenced by the amount of time both Robertsons spent visiting their pine grove just to watch the goats during the three week goatscaping stint.
But at the end of the day, it’s the low maintenance Ledvina really appreciates, he told the Iowa Farmers Union.
“You can raise these out in the middle of nowhere and they do well.”
Connect with Adam Ledvina by way of his Facebook page Iowa Kiko Goats and catch the full “Iowa Farmers Union Lunch and Learn” September 30, 2021 segment featuring Ledvina by visiting the Iowan Farmers Union’s Facebook page.