by Ted Nelson | Daily Times-Call | April 18, 1999
LOVELAND -Lani Lamming offers a weed control tool that is self-propelled, selective and effective and adds fertilizing, tilling, mulching and biodiversity as side benefits.
Lamming’s tool is one of the oldest weed control methods known to humans. Yet she is pioneering new ways of using it in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
Lamming manages goat grazing on farms, ranches, irrigation ditches, river corridors, roadways, state parks and city natural areas to control weeds.
Goats love weeds. They love them more than grass, forbs, sedges or trees. They don’t care if the weeds have burrs, thorns or spines. They even munch poison ivy and poison oak without problems.
Goats eventually eat weeds down to their roots. This saps the plants’ strength, prevents them from thriving until their next growth cycle and kills them if repeated enough times.
Unlike other weed-control tools, goats do more than kill unwanted plants. They also help the weeds’ more favorable competitors to sprout, grow and take back their territory from the opportunistic invaders.
Goat droppings fertilize the soil. Their hooves trample seeds and leftover plant material into the ground. They don’t kill microbes and other life in the soil like pesticides do.
Lamming said carefully directed goat grazing can play a valuable role in a holistic scheme for managing land to achieve a goal.
“We use life to nurture life,” she explained. “We work in all life cycles. When we pick a tool, we ask whether it’s making the land healthier. Goats help fill in the niches left when weeds die.”
The Alpine, Wyo., resident said she offers the only weed management service based on goats in the vicinity of northern Colorado. She explained weed- management grazing is more intensive but of shorter duration than traditional grazing.
Lamming doesn’t sell her goats for meat or their cashmere for spinning or knitting. Her goats have a job. Once one is trained to move from one fenced enclosure to another without bolting, she cannot afford to let it go.
“I need my goats alive and hungry,” she said, noting that goats can live 12 to 15 years.
Goats don’t do all the work. Lamming talks with each landowner and closely examines each site before bidding for contracts. She must know the density, type and mixture of weeds and other vegetation on the land. She listens to the land- owners’ goals and how they prefer to accomplish them.
This week Lamming managed 250 goats on a ranch near Grand Junction, 108 on Denver Parks and Recreation Department natural areas along the South Platte River and 300 on an organic farm east of Loveland.
Linda Rietz of Wheatland, Wyo., owns the Loveland herd and tends it under Lamming’s direction.
Lamming earned a master’s degree in weed management from Colorado State University in 1997. She said almost all the literature on how to manage goats for weed control is scientific articles on how the animals browse individual species.
Lamming became interested in grazing for weed management while working on a CSU project on using sheep to control leafy spurge in sensitive areas where chemicals are prohibited.
She decided goats would work better because weeds and brush make up about 90 percent of their diet, while sheep have to be trained to eat 50 percent weeds. While attending a small acreage management seminar in 1997, she met a woman who was selling her herd of 150 nannies, plus billies and kids.
Lamming bought the herd and has moved from place to place with her goats packed into a horse trailer during each of the past 12 months. She said she has far more service requests than she can ever hope to fill.
“There needs to be a thousand of me,” she said.
When she arrived at Lawrence Holmes’ Cressent Community Farms east of Loveland Thursday morning, she found Rietz just completing setting up orange-and-yellow, portable, battery-powered, electric fencing around an ungrazed area.
White, gray, brown and black goats were standing on a huge, downed cottonwood tree and munching on its dried leaves. The goats and several recently born kids had about finished cleaning up the cottonwood stand between Holmes’ house and a former barley field.
The goats have prepared the field for planting clover and alfalfa this year and eventually organic vegetables. They consumed Canada thistle, musk thistle volunteer barley, and sage brush while preparing the ground for no-till planting.
Lamming, Rietz and Rietz’s husband had little trouble herding the 300 goats about 100 yards from the trees to the ungrazed zone. Their baaah-baaah sounds the song of a red-winged blackbird as they settled in for a late breakfast of thistle, brome grass and cat-tails.
Lamming and Rietz agreed the intelligent, easy-going personality of cashmere goats makes them well-suited to weed control.
The electric fence protects the goats from coyotes, foxes and dogs. The time Lamming leaves 100 goats on an acre can vary from a few hours to three days, depending on its size, vegetation mix and the landowners’ goals.
“We’re really satisfied with the work they did,” Holmes said this week. “We want to have goats ourselves along with a cow and sheep for the best management. I know a lot more about cows than goats, so I’m learning a lot.”
Lamming’s own goats dined this week on diffuse knapweed, leafy spurge, Russian olive, salt cedar, white top, perennial pepper weed and Scotch, musk and Canada thistle along the South Platte River corridor in Denver.
Denver city naturalist Gayle Weinstein said she worked hard to get goat grazing approved for city parks because she believes in using a natural process to control plants not native to Colorado.
She said two weeks of limited grazing have not given her enough time to reach conclusions about how the program will work. But she said the biggest problems so far have been the logistics of moving a goat herd around a large city without disturbing the public.
Lamming’s goats live on the weeds they consume, except when they get hay and corn to raise their body heat in cold, wet weather -about the only conditions in which they don’t graze.
Lamming said her major costs are for labor and transportation. She charges an average of $100 per acre but notes that goat grazing can eliminate the need for up to five passes over a field with a tractor.
Lamming points out goats are one of many tools available for weed control, including mowing, hand pulling, burning, reseeding, insects and pesticides. But she said goats can go into a lot of places where other tools cannot be used. On the other hand goats can only be used in crop fields during the off season. If not watched carefully, goats will eat plants landowners may want to preserve -such as evergreens and wild roses.
Lamming said many landowners are considering getting their own goats for weed control.
“Goats are the only form of weed control you can make money on,” she said.