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Goats in the Garden

By: Julie Segerstrom

Weed control becomes a burden in any size yard, but especially on large parcels of land. Weed eating or mowing eventually becomes an exhausting and time consuming chore.

Perhaps you´re able to hire someone to do the work for you. This is one possibility, but a new method of weed control is winning some hearts over to the goat family. Goats will go “hard at work” to create a more usable, fire-safe and visually appealing landscape.

Goats are raised around the world to provide milk and meat, as well as for various uses for their hides. But goats are also very useful for their browsing habits. Goats have small mouths and are able to eat small leaves on shrubs and trees, as well as unwanted flowers and fruits in abandoned orchards. They can tolerate thorns and are able to clear away brambles and woody vines. Goats are not sensitive to bitter and high-tannin tastes such as unpalatable weeds and wild shrubs. They forage through vegetation that would otherwise be left entangled and are able to clear brush more effectively and rapidly than sheep. Even acorns, pine needles and dead leaves are not a problem for goats.

While goats can clear brush, they are systematic about how they do it. Goats are known as “top down grazers,” meaning they eat what is above before eating lower-growing plants. They eat leaves and branches to a height of three to four feet, creating a uniform effect as they go.

Goats also will eat along a fence line before turning inward toward the center of an area. This produces orderly clearing in brush that has grown into a thicket.

When grasses and clover are present, the goats will eat the grass first. Clover naturally enriches the soil; since it is left longer, it will add more nutrients naturally to the soil. Goats instinctively choose the more nutritious feed. Grass is only eaten when protein content and nutrition is high, and they will switch to browse when nutrition there is higher.

Goats are not able to digest plant cell walls as easily as cows do. Foods with low protein and high cell wall content (such as straw) are not good foods for goats. Goats also should not be given clippings from azaleas, yew, delphinium, lily of the valley and larkspur.

Goats have proven to be very successful on a larger scale—grazing right of way for power lines, along ditches for irrigation, and for eating underbrush in canyons and forested areas. The cost of renting a herd of goats is minimal versus the high cost of labor-intensive clearing or herbicides. Not only are chemicals expensive, but they also produce so many undesirable and destructive side effects on the environment. A more natural way cannot be found than to use animals who eat what is “in the way” of man.

Able Vegetation Management in Avery is one example of this growing trend in natural biological control. Alan Peightal and Jeanne Przekota have 200 goats available for rent for various jobs. Alan says his goats will even eat star thistle, a common noxious weed in Tuolumne County and throughout the foothills.

Once rented, the herds are moved in according to the size of the job and are contained by portable electric fences fueled by solar power. Portable water troughs are also provided for the animals. Llamas are included in the herd if protection from predators is necessary.

Alan initially got started with his goats because he needed to be able to maintain a seasonal creek choked with willow but was working away from home frequently. Once the goats cleared up his problem, his friends started asking for help. The business grew until now goats are his fulltime business. Able Vegetation Management can be reached at 795-3612, P.O. Box 302, Avery, CA 95224, or email them at Jeanne597@cs.com.

If you need help clearing brush and weeds, why not get a big hand with goats? That way you can spend more time enjoying what you´ve planted. See you in the garden.

Julie Segerstrom has two goats, Daisy and Lucky, who graze alongside her seven sheep in the fields. They graze on whatever grows naturally and are supplemented only in winter until new grass grows in the spring.