A goat looks at the camera in front of other goats
Kirill Kudryavtsev/Getty

The mystery behind a boisterous scene in Boise

Friday’s forecast for Boise, Idaho called for clouds with a hint of sunshine and a toasty high of 89 degrees Fahrenheit. It did not call for goats, but there they were.

Joe Parris, a local reporter, shared photos from the the bizarre scene on a residential street: dozens of goats—maybe as many as 100, Parris estimated—meandering across lawns and sidewalks. They munched on grass and climbed up moss-covered trees, bleating gently as they went. Baaaa.

For social-media observers, the confusion turned into delight—the internet loves footage of animals on the loose—and then back to confusion. Where did the goats come from?

The answer is less magical than the surreal scene suggests. About an hour and a half after the goats seemed to have parachuted from the sky, a truck pulled up and began shepherding the animals inside, Parris reported for KTVB.com. Video from the scene showed the goats climbing a metal ramp into the vehicle, tags hanging off their floppy ears like gaudy earrings.

These were hired goats.

The truck, according to KTVB.com, belongs to We Rent Goats, an Idaho based company that does exactly what its name suggests. Goats, it turns out, are like cute, furry lawnmowers. They love to eat common weeds (and the seeds that lead to more) that many homeowners don’t want on their lawns. “Thorns and plants that cows and sheep don’t like are a delicacy for goats,” the We Rent Goats website explains. Grasses remain mostly untouched. The result? A weed-free, verdant lawn.

We Rent Goats and other goat-renting companies—and there are others, many, many others—say this method of landscaping provides an environmentally friendly alternative to pesticides and bulldozers. But it’s unclear whether the Boise goats were grazing in the spot they were hired to eat, or if they strayed elsewhere. (We Rent Goats did not respond to a request for comment on the goats—who hired them, for how much, and whether they got the job done.)

When it comes to rental goats, the more the better. “You can’t just have one goat,” Kari Dodd, an employee at the Tehama County Farm Bureau in California, told Modern Farmer in 2013, for a story about the phenomenon. Goats are social animals and prefer to roam in groups. The We Rent Goats website says the company prefers to use at least 100 goats per job, who can collectively consume about a half-acre of vegetation per day.

We Rent Goats usually leaves the animals to feast with minimal supervision. “If your property is in a high traffic area or in the middle of town, we will have an employee on duty full time,” their website explains. “If the property is in a remote area, we’ll check the goats at least two times a day.” But the goats don’t come with a sign or other indication that explains to curious passersby, including Parris, why they’re there.

The idea of using livestock as landscapers has been around for decades. In 1918, Woodrow Wilson brought in a flock of sheep to trim the White House lawn.

Today, goats feed anywhere there’s a tangle of brush, including along busy roads. According to The Washington Post, at least seven states—California, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Washington—use the animals to trim medians and other strips of land near highways. “Right now one of the greatest unsung heroes on the American highway is the goat,” Doug Hecox, a spokesman with the Federal Highway Administration, told the Postlast year. “Goats have a special talent. They are really, really focused.”

I wish I could say the same for everyone who watched those videos from Boise with awe this morning, including me.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

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