Herd of landscaping goats returns to South End

A curious goat takes break from clearing blackberry bushes to check out a Record reporter Monday. Goat owner Carol Osterman and property owner Julie Bean are in the background.

They’re baaaack.

Carol Osterman’s famous herd of landscape clearing goats returned to South Whidbey last week, and as usual they came ready to work… er eat. Arriving at the Inverness Inn Friday in one large trailer, they poured out the back gate with little urging and voracious appetites.

“They rushed over and started chewing,” laughed Julie Bean, the inn’s owner.

The only thing on the menu was blackberry bushes, but the prickly fare didn’t seem to bother the goats any; they spent several days munching away in obvious delight. As of Tuesday, the herd had decimated the small patch, and Bean was sending them to another nearby.

A real estate broker in Freeland, Bean has been beating back the blackberry bushes for years. Though she usually relies on heavy machinery, it’s expensive and the tenacious weeds always return. She’d heard about Osterman’s goats and decided it was time to try something new.

Also, they made extra sense this year because the blackberry bushes had overtaken septic system inspection lids, and uncovering them required a lighter touch than a backhoe.

“This is kind of an experiment,” she said. “I think it’s going to be fun.”

Osterman’s herd, now numbering 36 strong, has made headlines in regional newspapers for years. That includes The Record and Whidbey Examiner. Their home base is Akyla Farms in Birdsview, about five miles west of Concrete, but they make semi-regular forays to Whidbey. Several years ago, they were hired by Coupeville to clear ivy from Town Park, and they’ve been utilized by many private landowners on South Whidbey as well. In fact, they were at a Langley property just prior to coming to the inn. That landowner preferred to remain anonymous. Justin Burnett / The Record | The goats make their way towards their next meal, blackberry bushes at the Inverness Inn.

Osterman said the herd is a mix of a least six different breeds including: boer, cashmere, Lamancha, Anglo-Nubian, Kiko, and Saanen. The recipe she looks for is largely hardiness and self-sustainability, for they’re left alone overnight protected only by an electric fence. These are work goats, not pets, said Osterman, though about half have earned themselves names. They’re based on the impressions they leave, such as triplets named Bow, Luke and Daisy.

“But not all of them are positive,” Osterman laughed.

Bean said she had been hoping the goats would completely eradicate the pesky blackberry bushes — they strip leaves and most of the small branches but leave behind thicker stalks — but in no way was dissatisfied with the service. However, it’s comparable in cost to using heavy machinery without most of the clean up. It’s also much more sustainable.

“All in all, it’s been fun to have them here,” she said. “I’m not disappointed.”