by Joan Waldoch | Farmer Stockman | November 1999
Lani Lamming, Alpine, Wyo., is often called a “gypsy goat lady.” She calls herself a traveling weed machine. She’s acquired those descriptions because of her business, which is actually a living weed machine. Loading her cashmere goats into a stock trailer, Lamming heads out to wherever there are weeds to be destroyed.
Noxious weeds pose a huge threat to landowners and the environment. It’s been estimated that the weeds are spreading at the rate of 4,600 acres each day -1.5 million acres a year. Cattle and horses won’t touch most of them. Sheep will eat some. But goats seem to be the most enthusiastic weed eaters.
Lamming, who received a master’s degree in weed science from Colorado State University, has formed two companies with her family, Land Whisperer and Ewe4ic Ecological Services. What they offer is an alternative approach to weed management.
Private and public landowners in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming have contracted with Lamming for her mobile weed-control service. She’s also worked with municipalities in the Denver area and the Jackson Hole Land Trust at Jackson Hole, Wyo. Leafy spurge, Russian knapweed, Russian olive and salt cedar are among the pesky weeds that the land-owners have sought to eradicate.
Since she often has contracts in several areas at the same time, her sons also manage some of the herds.
Better than sheep
Lamming started her weed control efforts using sheep in combination with biocontrol insects. Then she realized goats would be better suited.
“Goats eat weeds better than sheep, but a.1ot of people don’t want to mess with goats.” she says.
Many weeds are in riparian or sensitive areas where chemicals can’t be used, so goats are a good alternative.
“I’m not against herbicides. There is a place for them in the right setting,” Lamming says. “But the goats have so many benefits.”
Lamming lets the goats graze on the weeds for a given amount of time.
“I figure roughly 100 head per acre, per day, so if it was five acres we’d be there five days with 100 goats,” explains Lamming.
To be effective, grazing must be done in a very controlled manner, says Ron Broda, Weld County weed coordinator.” And Lani does that. She moves (the goats) around.”
Goats will seek out noxious weeds, says Lamming.
“It surprises me what they eat,” Lamming says. “One of their favorite foods is leafy spurge and they go after it before it blooms.”
The animals’ hoof activity is also good for the land. It tramples litter, conditions the soil surface, mulches old plant growth and incorporates organic fertilizer with minimal disturbance.
“It’s a simple, logical way to take care of the land and I like that” says Lamming.
Ron Broda, Weld County weed coordinator, says goats have many benefits but may not be the total solution for noxious weed control. Killing weeds requires getting at their root system and this calls for more than one tool.
According to Broda, grazing works best in combination with other treatment, including chemical use or re-seeding the area with grasses that compete with the weeds.
“Some weeds are deep-rooted perennials and they’re very competitive -they’ll overtake native plants” he says.”To deplete their root reserve it takes a lot of work.”