by Fred Baerkircher | Colorado Daily | June 24, 2002
Rather than letting weeds get their goat, University of Colorado groundskeepers have tried a new tactic: letting goats get their weeds. The CU research park is currently host to some 800 goats. They will be held in a temporary pen through this week.
“They are used as a biological control for noxious weeds,” explained John Bruning, director of CU’s facilities management.He said this is the third year the university has played host to the goats, brought in from Jackson Wyo., by owner Lani Lamming.
Lamming said their natural diet preferences make goats a wonderful choice for controlling weeds. “They actually prefer them to grass,” she said.
Lamming, who is staying near her herd in a trailer at the research park, explained that she began using goats as weed management about five years ago. After earning a master’s degree in weed science, she said, she became discouraged by her employment options – mostly involving hawking chemicals, which she didn’t want to do.
Having grown up on a ranch, Lamming combined her knowledge of weeds with her knowledge of animals to create a new business. She started out with just 100 goats.
Now that herd is up to some 2,000 head. She stays busy 365 days of the year, she said, taking her goats to clients across the country.
Goats, she noted, consume roughly 3 percent of their body weight in dry matter every day. At between 30 to 165 pounds each, the 800 goats at the research park represent a weed-eating force to be reckoned with.
“It’s a different paradigm,” Lamming said of biological weed-control. “When you are killing weeds with a chemical you are trying to kill a symptom. A weed is a symptom that there is a problem in the land.”
Lamming said weeds run rampant in land that is under stress. That stress can come from a variety of causes, including drought, fire, over-grazing, or over-rest, she said.
She noted use by people as another source of stress for land. The area of the park the goats were busy feasting on last Friday was crisscrossed with bike trails.
Chemicals are another source of stress, she explained, since they can easily kill helpful and natural fungi and bacteria as well as the weeds.
“We’re trying to address the problem and attend to the health of the whole ecosystem, ” Lamming said.
Bruning said university staff follow the goats, and plant grass seed in the soil, which is tilled by the goats’ hooves. The animals also fertilize the land, he added.
Lamming said many people use chemicals to control weeds because they present a short-term solution to the problem. She conceded that chemicals do offer immediate gratification, since people can simply spray weeds and watch them die.
“That appears to be success to people because we are limited by our eyesight,” she said. “We can’t see the soil.”
Lamming said that photographs kept by CU staff documenting the site’s progress over the three years her goats have worked on it show progress. Three years ago, she said, the site was nearly all bare land and knapweed. Now, she said, there is quite a bit of grass and also some wildflowers.
“There’s been a tremendous difference in three years.” she said.
The current operation has not been without setbacks, however. Lamming said she was awakened at around 3:30 Friday morning by the sound of screaming goats. Three malamute dogs, loose from their home in a nearby neighborhood, had attacked the penned animals.
According to CU police spokesman Lt. Tim McGraw, by the time officers arrived Lamming had managed to chase two of the dogs away. The third lay in a patch of grass nearby, suffering from what appeared to be injuries inflicted by a goat.
He said the dogs killed one goat and injured another so badly that CUPD officers responding to the scene euthanized it. A third goat was injured but survived.
The injured dog also survived.
Lamming said that, while her goats have been attacked by animals in the past, it has never happened in Boulder, which has laws against permitting dogs to run at-large.
According to CU police, Lamming told officers she did not wish to pursue charges against the owners of the dogs so long as they compensated her for the goats. The dog-owners have reportedly been cooperative with that request.
“I think it’s very unfortunate,” Bruning said of the attack. He noted that the most serious incidents involving the project in the past have been a handful of reports of goats hopping the portable electric fence used to pen them.
“It’s been a very, very positive program overall,” Bruning said.