Mar 28, 2001
With the push to be environmentally friendly, many landowners are looking for alternatives to chemicals in the quest to control noxious weeds.
A Chadron State College freshman from Alpine, Wyo., and his family are turning back the clock in their effort. Reggie Benz, his mother Lani Lamming, and brother Donny Benz take Cashmere goats from property to property in a mission to control noxious weeds. Their service, which goes by the business name of Ewe4ic, is an alternative to methods that are often more harmful to the environment, such as herbicides.
Goats are the ideal enemy for noxious weeds, said Reggie, a Chadron State College range management student. Goats are “natural browsers,” meaning that unlike cattle and horses they will opt for a weed such as Canada thistle or leafy spurge over valuable grasses. In addition, he said that goats are better than most animals for such grazing because their digestive tracts kill most of the seeds before they pass through their bodies.
The goats graze land with little harm to the environment. Lamming and her two sons are spreading the message that goats minimize chemical use, reduce labor requirements, eliminate garbage and recycle nutrient elements otherwise taken to landfills. In addition, the hoof action of the animals tramples litter, conditions soil surface, and mulches old plant growth, she said.
“We are getting back to the basics and using old-age methods. We are taking people back to the land,” Reggie said. “Most of the people we work for are opposed to spraying or have restrictions against spraying.”
And sometimes chemicals aren’t even enough to control weeds.
Chuck Butterfield, Chadron State College professor of agriculture, said he has long been a proponent of using goats, and other biological methods, to control noxious weeds.
Butterfield said some landowners have used goats to control weeds for 50 to 60 years. He said many landowners have raised goats on their ranches for this purpose alone, noting that the method has been particularly successful in states like Texas which stress coyote control.
The Ewe4ic goats have grazed land in many of the Great Plains states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, and Oklahoma. They have had inquiries from across the United States.
The family began experimenting in grazing for noxious weeds after Lani, a northwest Nebraska native, earned a master’s degree in weed science from Colorado State University. They first began grazing sheep but switched to goats after learning of their preference for noxious weeds. Now, with a collection of 1,500 head and five full-time herders, they are seeing positive results after four years of work. “We really notice the difference when looking at before-and-after photos of the land we’ve grazed,” Reggie said.
Intense methods are working the best, Reggie said. “We are getting the best results by putting a lot of goats on a small area for a short time.”
He said the goats are removed from the land before they begin eating grasses and other valuable plants. “You really have to watch them,” he said. They have found the goats prefer different forage based on their age and gender, which is taken into consideration during grazing.
Earlier this month, the family brought 500 goats to the ranch of Lani’s sister and brother-in-law, Cyd, and Jerry Janssen of Chadron. While in Chadron, they were observed by area college, high school, and elementary students. The family boasts that in addition to the environmental and economical benefits, the goats are also an educational tool. Another bonus to the goats is their hair — or Cashmere — which is harvested for clothing such as sweaters.
The Ewe4ic goats have gained much publicity. In addition to appearing in many local newspapers and magazines, they have been the topic of a segment on “CBS Sunday Morning,” and were featured by the New York Times, CNN, Newsweek, and People.