Three Baaa-chelor Goats Adopted as ‘Herbivore Stewards’ for 1,000-acre Farm

June 27, 2024


In the bucolic setting of New England’s Appleton Farms — 1,000 acres of rolling grasslands, stone walls, vegetable crops and historic farm buildings — poison ivy is everywhere.

“It’s an invasive species that cattle aren’t cut out to target, and in areas they can’t navigate,” says Zoe MacKay, Appleton’s livestock and pasture manager. “Our stewardship team would have to get in with machinery or herbicides, but we want a non-mechanical, non-chemical way to maintain the land.”

The solution?

Zoe adopted three Billy goats — Allen, Elliot and Earl — who the ASPCA helped rescue from neglect in Tioga Couty, New York, in January. Zoe adopted the goats in April from the MSPCA at Nevins Farm.

Zoe and Earl on the Appleton Farms property.

“We're hoping these boys keep churning away at this,” Zoe says. “They’re functional herbivore stewards and are doing a great job so far.”

A Herd of Three

Zoe also hopes that the trio, who range in age from two to six years, will serve as a companion flock for the farm’s off-season rams.

Sheep and goats are herd animals; you want at least three,” she says. “I wanted a crew that wasn’t aggressive or standoffish, or averse to my presence.”

When she met the goats, she offered alfalfa pellets. “Elliott came right up to me, Earl was curious but wary and Allen had an adorable waddle,” she recalls. “They’re sweet boys.”


The goats — and other livestock, including cattle and sheep — maintain the farm’s open grasslands and have been solidly grazing since their arrival. Over the winter, they will eat hay grown and harvested on the property, one of the oldest continuously operating farms in the country.

Road to Recovery

While Elliott, Earl and Allen are now living their best lives, getting there wasn’t easy. Before their rescue, investigators had discovered them, along with 14 other goats and 100 other animals, living in poor conditions with limited access to food, water or medical care.

Their owner pled guilty on January 30 in Tioga County Town Court to misdemeanor animal cruelty and failure to provide proper shelter and was sentenced to a three-year ban on owning or caring for animals.

On February 15, we transported the goats from a temporary shelter to the MSPCA. Responders and staff worked diligently to prepare them for interstate transport, outfit the trailer to make sure goats would fit safely and securely, plan and execute a smooth loading process, and even crate-trained six bucks to ensure they would travel peacefully together.


The medical processes were overseen by Dr. Maggie Joel, a veterinarian at the ASPCA Cruelty Recovery Center, and performed with the help of a local veterinarian.

“Medically, the goats required ear tags, testing for brucellosis and lentivirus, fecal tests and health certificates,” says Katherine Good, ASPCA Senior Manager of Placement Partnerships. “Because the trailer only had three sections, we had to assess how to safely combine the groups behaviorally and crate-train any goats who couldn’t safely be housed together during transport.”


Dr. Crista Coppola, ASPCA Senior Director of Animal Behavior, led the housing and crate training efforts — a process that took two days — using food to create a positive association with entering the crates.

At Nevins Farm, the goats were fed an appropriate diet, and their overgrown hooves were trimmed.

“Crushing It”

Appleton Farms, home to more than 160 cattle, sheep, sows, piglets — even a boar who rototills to break up and loosen soil — uses husbandry practices that protect animals’ welfare while preserving biodiversity and native species habitats, mitigating climate change, building healthy soils and ensuring the land stays healthy for future generations.

“The animals only eat what’s grown here and what they’re designed to eat,” says Zoe, who grew up on a small family farm with goats and majored in animal science at the University of Maine in Orono. “The coursework touched on more sustainable methods of farming, like rotational grazing and grass-feeding, which piqued my interest,” she says.


At Appleton, Zoe and her team implement creative, rotational grazing systems for goats, sheep and cattle. And when it comes to dealing with the thriving, thick poison ivy, Zoe says the goats are doing an impressive job of “goat-scaping.”

“Our human volunteers can’t deal with this concentration of it,” she says. “But the goats take these detrimental species that get in the way of using the land productively, and they turn it into protein. They clear out spaces that get overgrown. They take out the undergrowth that’s a fire hazard. It’s impressive.”


Zoe says she had no expectations when she adopted Elliott, Earl and Allen, and no one is butting heads.

Instead, she says, “They’re crushing it!”

Rescued Goats Still Looking for Homes!


Six goats from this case, pictured above, are still available for adoption. MSPCA at Nevins Farm is holding a fee-waived Open House Adoption Event for goats this Saturday, June 29. See more information on their website!