by Phaedra Greenwood | The Taos News | May 23-29, 2002
Most of us have seen the cartoon goat eating an old shoe or a tin can. In real life, goats can and do eat noxious weeds, including hemlock, larkspur, death carnas and a number of other plant pests like salt cedar, sagebrush, thistle and even cactus. Bindweed is one of their delicacies.
For Lani Lamming, a goat’s tendency to eat the weeds and leave the grass to grow looked like a way to make a living, she said. When her family cattle ranch went belly up in 1985, she went back to Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colo., and earned a master’s degree in weed science.
She learned that goats eat weeds much better than sheep, horses or cattle because of their natural diet preference. She decided to recycle her knowledge of animal husbandry, buy some Cashmere goats and lease them out to farmers and ranchers to help revitalize their land.
“It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life -and very profitable to boot,” Lamming said. “The byproducts are Cashmere wool that sells for $15 an ounce, baby goats, and organic fertilizer that they scatter as they go.”
This tall blonde woman who calls herself “a cowboy” presented a workshop in Taos recently to show what she can accomplish with a herd of 600 goat “employees.”
“I want to heal the land and stabilize the soil so it’s fit, healthy and productive, and there’s diversity,” she said.
Farmers and ranchers from Wyoming and Colorado down into New Mexico have been hiring Lamming and her herd to rid their property of weeds. Even the highway department got in on the act. In Colorado, Lamming and her goats were hired to control thistle beside I-70 where cars are rushing along at 85 miles per hour.
Aided by three herd dogs and at least a couple of human helpers, Lamming keeps the herd in the designated areas with an electric fence, which the animals are trained to avoid.
The goats are vulnerable to predators, especially domestic dogs, so she often travels with a burro to protect the herd.
“If dogs go after the goats, the burro will kick ’em to death,” she said.
She has taken several dog owners to small-claims court to recover damages.
In her slide show, which was viewed by about 50 Taosefios, Lamming presented before and after photos of how effective the goats are: They devour the seed heads so the plant can’t reseed, break up the packed earth with their sharp hooves; create mulch; mix their organic fertilizer into the earth as they go; and water it the natural way.
Afterward, Lamming often helps the landowners reseed by hand to produce grassy meadows over the next few years. Of course, everything depends on rainfall.
“Taos is the driest place I’ve seen – even dryer than Santa Fe.” Lamming said.
Dan Rael, Resource Staff officer for the U.S. Forest Service, who attended the local workshop, said, “We are presently working on an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which includes goats as an alternative to chemical spraying of noxious weeds. Herding is in our culture and our traditions.”
In Cerrillos the goats have been helping with the willows that choke the banks of the Acequia.
Some of the ditch associations in Taos are considering hiring the herd for willow control.
During Lamming’s three-hour slide show, as questions were freely answered, the mood of the audience changed from cautious to enthusiastic. A tall,.Jean rancher in denim, Mike Delano from the Ute Lake area near Roy, said, “Man has a problem, so he come’s up with a plan and builds something. But Mother Nature doesn’t work that way. You can’t go against Mother Nature. You have to learn to work with her. I think I need some Cashmere goats.”
Lamming’s herd has been grazing at Wolf Spring Ranch three miles west of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The owner, Tony Benson, is hoping to bring back land that has been taken over by sagebrush. The project is sponsored by the Quivira Coalition, a non- profit group “sharing common-sense solutions to the rangeland conflict.”
Benson is interested in helping to set up a grass bank so cattle can be switched over to alternative fields, especially during dry years.
Courtney White, executive director of Quivira said,”We’re part of a larger range restoration land project, working with the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and Taos Soil and Water Conservation to turn sage country back into grassland. I think goats are going to be huge in New Mexico. We just need to figure out the economics of it.”