Why Goats, Chickens And Bees Should Be Doing Your Yard Work

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PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- It's peak season for giant home giant home and garden centers such as Home Depot and Lowe's, but you're really doing it right if your best outdoor ideas don't come from a big box.

Goats, bees, chickens, manure fuel and homemade garden-care products have been rural staples, but have become urban and suburban fixtures in recent years as homeowners cut back and reassess household priorities. Suddenly, "renewable" and "sustainable" weren't just pinko leftist commie buzzwords, but key portions of the frugal homeowner's vocabulary.

Those homeowners and the grounds they occupy took a big hit after the housing crisis and ensuing economic collapse. According to the Census Bureau, home and garden retailers took in $86.3 billion from March through May 2006, but saw their take fall as low as $67.7 billion at the height of the recession in 2009. While the $77.5 billion worth of shovels, rakes, soil and saplings bought last spring aren't a complete recovery, they're at least a bit sunnier than the slump the industry experienced for the past five years or so.

Instead of riding mowers and power trimmers, however, the occasional goat has been pressed into yard maintenance duty as cheap, effective workers. A good goat not only turns your kitchen scraps into easily degraded compost, but will go after kudzu, blackberry vines, dandelions, thistle and other pesky weeds and invasive species that can otherwise ravage a yard or field. Google has used them to keep the grass down at its Mountain View, Calif., campus and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and the city of Seattle have all used goats to manage their property and keep grass, weeds and other plants at bay.

Goats are relatively inexpensive and require only a simple shelter and the greenery they eat as fuel. Companies such as  Eco-Goats and Rent A Goat will lend you their goats for as much time as you need and can provide as many as 30 at a time on their own or through farm subcontractors. How many do you need? It depends on the size of the plot, but the folks at Gizmodo and Movoto have come up with an app for that. Just feed your property's measurements to their calculator and you'll get a pretty good idea of how many goats, cows, pigs or guinea pigs it'll take to tame your land in a day.

Even better, it'll tell you how many chickens it will take to keep your grass down, which isn't such a bad thing considering they pay you back in eggs. They're a bit more high maintenance than the goats and get really involved if you're raising them as chicks. Coops, fencing, heat lamps and other investments need to be made first, but it gets easier from there. Rural areas tend to have farm stores such as  Rural King , Smith, Orscheln and Wilco that will not only give away chicks for free occasionally, but show new owners how to set up a coop, install heat lamps, feed chickens, fence them properly, scare off predators and get the most eggs for the money.