by Kayley Mendenhall | Colorado Daily | November 22, 2000
What has four legs, makes cashmere and eats noxious weeds?
A goat, of course. And in the case of CU-Boulder, 1,003 goats to be exact. The university paid Lani Lamming’s business, Ewe4ic (pronounced “euphoric”) to bring more than 1,000 goats to graze on the east campus near Colorado Avenue and Foothills Parkway.
“This is a part of our noxious weed program,” said Ed Von Bleichert, environmental operations manager for the department of facilities at CU. “Overall, the campus has made a commitment to integrated pest management. We look for long-term solutions …spraying kills the particular plant, but it doesn’t solve the problem.”
Noxious weeds include species such as the diffuse knap weed, Scotch thistle, Canada thistle, poison hemlock and poison ivy among others. Lamming explained that a federal order signed by President Clinton mandates states to manage invasive plant species.
“Noxious is a legal term,” Lamming said. “A non-native, extremely invasive threat to our ecosystem …if you have these, you have to control them. They will, if left uncontrolled, will completely displace native vegetation.”
She said goats naturally choose to eat noxious weeds over native. “It’s a natural diet preference,” Lamming said. “They (goats) love weeds …poison hemlock, poison ivy, yucca plants …grass is their last choice. That’s natural, just like how Italians like tomato sauce all over everything and I don’t because I’m Swedish.”
A favorite dish of the goats is the poison hemlock. Lamming said that goats are the only animal able to eat the plant, because a special enzyme in their saliva helps neutralize the toxin before it is ingested.
“It hurts all other animals and humans too,” she said. “Socrates committed suicide with it …it looks like parsley or wild carrot. Anybody who would take a bite, it would kill them.”
The university is most concerned about the diffuse knap weed on its east campus property, and is hoping the goats will help control the spread of the invasive plant.
“Diffuse knap weed is not native, it has no enemies, nothing kills it and nothing eats it,” Lamming said.
The plant grows a couple feet off the ground and resembles a sticker tumbleweed that is still attached to its roots. It has a few hundred seed pods sprouting from each limb, and each pod contains 10 to 20 seeds. Lamming said the goats love to eat the seed pods because they grow right at nose level.
“You have to have the right conditions for weeds to take control,” Von Bleichert said, explaining that weeds are a symptom of a much larger land-health problem. “Spraying is reactive, it’s not doing anything to prevent them. We’re trying to improve the conditions with the goats.”
Pointing to the large mounds of dirt on the east campus property, Lamming explained that construction heightens the spread of weeds because it disturbs the land and moves seeds from one area to another.
“If you look at this land, it’s grossly disturbed,” she said. “Weeds are a sign of stress on the land.”
“When you spray chemicals, you go and kill the symptom,” Lamming said. “And you kill it again, and you kill it again, and then you go ahead and kill it one more time …you might eventually kill that one symptom and then you get another one. And you probably killed a lot of good things while you were at it.”
“When you spray, you haven’t addressed the reasons why the weeds are there,” Von Bleichert said. “Cockroaches are a good example. You can spray the cockroach and kill it, but you need to realize that it was there in the first place because it had food, water and a place to live.”
Spray herbicides and pesticides can easily enter water sources because it’s so difficult to control where they go. Goats, on the other hand, respond to Lamming and her sons’ voices along with their four shepherding dogs.
“Not all spraying is bad, but it is definitely over-used,” Lamming said. “And you can’t see it. If my goats get in the wrong spot, man, somebody is calling me.”
Using the natural grazing habits of goats to combat weeds is also beneficial because it doesn’t create waste or burn fossil fuels.
“Poop for fertilizer, cashmere sweaters and baby goats are our only three waste products,” Lamming said. “They are self-propelled, we’re not using any fossil fuels.” She said because of the shape of the goats’ mouths, 99 percent of seeds are crushed and do not survive the digestive process.
Lamming has operated Ewe4ic full time for four years, seldom even stopping for holidays. The goats don’t actually have a home base, as they travel from one weed-contaminated area to the next in horse trailers or semi-trucks. Lamming said she works for federal, state, city, county, local and private clients and her jobs range in size from hundreds-of-acre-plots to small backyards. The goats graze a particular location for as long as it takes to fulfill the weed- maintenance plans of the client.
“What we would like to do is graze this twice a year, in the spring and in the fall,” Lamming said of the CU property, explaining it will only take the goats two to three days to effectively de-weed the land. “At the end of three to five years, there’s no problems left.” The price of Lamming’s services vary with every job depending on its size, the condition of the land and transportation costs. Van Bleichert said CU is paying approximately 50 cents per day per goat, not including the transportation costs.
“It’s definitely competitive and definitely worth it,” Van Bleichert said of using goats rather than spray chemicals. “Integrated Pest Management spends more on the front end. It tends to be front-loaded, but over time the costs go down …over the long term it’s much more effective.”
Lani Lamming’s herd of Goats
A herd of 1,003 goats belonging to Lani Lamming of Ewe4ic graze the noxious weeds at Discovery Drive business complex on CU-Boulder’s east campus.