Fairfax Station: Landscaping Business Uses Goats

Fairfax Station: Landscaping Business Uses Goats

Charlotte Del Duca’s landscaping goats practice removing invasive wineberry on Bob Pearson’s property in Fairfax Station.

Charlotte Del Duca’s landscaping goats practice removing invasive wineberry on Bob Pearson’s property in Fairfax Station. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Del Duca


Charlotte Del Duca of Oakton trains her landscaping goats to reach up for vegetation off the ground.

Their names are Alvin, Beau, Cyrano de Bergerac, Ivy, Chuck, Tippy and Valentino. Five of Oakton resident Charlotte Del Duca’s seven “children” are 15 months old. The other two are almost a year. And they weigh between 100 and 130 pounds.

Alvin, Beau and company are purebred American Nubians, goats that when fully grown can weigh up to 250 pounds. At 40 pounds, a goat can clear around eight pounds of brush a day. Del Duca is counting on their appetites growing proportionately -- she purchased them to start an environmentally friendly landscaping business called ’Scapegoats.

Del Duca remembers distinctly August 2013, when she saw a picture of a goat eating ivy on the cover of a newspaper. “It caught my eye, totally changed my life,” said Del Duca. “Someone’s got to do this.”

Using goats to keep foliage in check has traditionally been more popular on the West Coast and in the midwest, but Del Duca thought she could make it work as a business on the East Coast.

With no prior experience raising or managing animals, she visited Frying Pan Park in Herndon to see goats for the first time. They made a good impression.

“They’re trusting, loving funny and have personality,” Del Duca said. “They’re like the big cats of the barnyard world.”

Del Duca went to Sweet Valley Farm Dairy in Elkwood, Va., acquired five goats at first and added two more later.

Last year she began renting barn and pasture space in Fairfax Station. She visits them twice daily for feeding, playtime and training. Herding them on to her white company van is an ongoing challenge.

FAIRFAX STATION RESIDENT Bob Pearson met Del Duca at a networking and informational gathering organized by the Fairfax County-affiliated Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District called “Green Breakfast.”

After Del Duca described her business, they worked out an arrangement for her to “practice” with the goats on his property.

Of Pearson’s five acres, one-fifth is overgrown by invasive plants including wineberry, blackberry, honeysuckle, English ivy and Japanese stilt grass.

Pearson has tried using a powerful professional mower on the invasives, as well as chemicals to eradicate the plants. But the mower can’t get into some of the thicker, thornier areas of the property and he wants to minimize the amount of chemicals he’s putting into the environment.

“I can see her getting this down to a science in just the last week,” Pearson said. Working in an enclosure between 80 and 160 feet, “they just go to town on a defined area.”

Just as the goats are learning their role, Del Duca has had to educate herself on how to most effectively and legally operate with the goats.

Willie Woode, a senior conservation specialist at the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, has been advising her, making sure she knows best practices for preventing water quality pollution and damage to other natural resources besides the invasive plants.

Overall Woode is positive about Del Duca’s plans. “It is an innovative practice,” he said. “It helps reduce the use of machinery, sources of pollution.”

Woode also consulted with the Hollin Meadows homeowners association in Alexandria, which recently contracted the Maryland-based goat vegetation control company Eco-Goats to clear plants around its swim and tennis club grounds.

Though the goat herd grazed and razed more than 2,500 square feet of undesirable vegetation, Woode said it was also critical to have a new planting plan in place. The goats munch what’s on the surface, but rooted plants will return.

“When you replant, you’re creating competition for the invasives,” Woode said. “They’ll come back, but not with the same strength.” Especially if the new native plants come already established, from a nursery.

Woode has been similarly advising Del Duca to make replanting plans part of her business model. The holistic approach to land management is something Bob Pearson values.

“The thing I admire about Charlotte is she’s educating public about what’s going on with our local tree canopy, how it’s being threatened by invasive plants,” he said. “Goats are a way of attracting attention -- hey, what’s going on with these goats? She’s using that as an entrée to teach people that we have to take action.”

DEL DUCA has gone down to part time at her firm where she is still a part-time lawyer, because she spends around seven hours each day working with her goat family.

“Can a few goats make a difference?” she said.

Woode believes the idea will catch on. “Especially in this area,” he said, “with a lot of open-minded people who want to do the right thing, who are very environment-friendly in their thinking.”

More information about ’Scapegoats is available at www.scapegoats.farm. The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District website is www.fairfaxcounty.gov/nvswcd.