A group of 700 goats that eat weeds on ranches and lawns attracts more business than their owner can handle.
by Mary Elizabeth Geraci | Jackson Hole Guide | September 15, 1999
Out on a ranch near Teton VIllage last week a lawn was being weeded, but there were no chemicals in sight, no gardening tools being wielded or even work gloves in sight. Instead, 300 goats were having lunch.
The goats belong to valley resident Lani Lamming, who leases them out for up to six months at a time to solve the weed dilemmas of ranchers and residents across the country. Her goats -she has more than 700 in all -have been attracting some serious attention. They have been featured in The New York Times, People Magazine and on CBS news.
Lamming’s goats have recently finished up getting rid of weeds at the Snake River Ranch and last week were onto their next project on land adjacent to C-V Ranch.
Weeds are part of goats’ natural diets, and they can digest weeds that no other animals on earth can eat without dying -specifically, poison hemlock.
Lamming’s goats also are fond of spotted knapweed, Canada thistle, musk thistle and dalmation toad flax, all of which are invasive non-native weeds that grow locally.
The goats do eat grass, but only as a last resort. Therefore, at the end of the day when the weeds are gone, the grass remains.
The field that was serving them their food looked like a white, silver, black and apricot-colored blanket, so many goats were on the grounds. Lamming likes the apricot-colored goats best.
Besides the goats she has here in Teton County, Lamming has another 400 in Denver, where she goes once a month to check up on them.
Lamming presides over the goats with the help of her husband, Fred, who supervises the Teton County Weed and Pest District. The couple met at a weed conference.
“These are working goats and they know it,” Lamming said, leaning on a shepherd staff. “They have a purpose. They’re fun to be around. These guys love to work and they like to eat.”
For Lamming, the job is low-maintenance. All she really needs to do is check up on them because Scoot, the Lammings’ dutiful border collie, happily rushes to herd the goats that stray.
A “bah, bah” sound trumpeted over the property while goats wandered off to various comers of the yard. Two of them playfully locked horns and engaged in a game of what Lamming called “King of the Hill.” But when they heard Lamming whistle, the goats’ playing and gorging suddenly stopped.
Lamming whistled for Sarge, the oldest of the goats and their leader, to come to her. At first, Sarge hesitated, unusual for a goat who usually comes promptly when called from even a mile away.
As Lamming whistled, all of the other goats, who were busy eating, stopped their meal and watched Sarge, waiting to see what he would do. When Sarge finally ran to Lamming, all of the other goats followed in two single-file lines. If she can handle Sarge, Lamming said, “I can handle the whole herd.”
So, how does one get into the weed-eating goat business? For Lamming it was a gradual process that she started in graduate school at Colorado State University, where she received a master’s degree in weed science.
Aware of goats’ affinity for weeds, Lamming said, “I thought it would make a good service, but I had never seen a goat in my life.” Then, she met a woman who owned some goats and things began to click.
Since it was launched more than one year ago, Lamming’s business has taken off. After all, it is the only business in the country that offers the service. Based on the number of calls she has received for goat weeding in the last year, she should have 20,000 goats, she said, but for now, 700 will have to do.
Goats are friendly animals, who often rush to greet strangers happily; probably looking for a treat. The sense of camaraderie that exists between them is apparent simply in the calm way they allow each other space and in their playful nature.
Lamming, too, feels an inexplicable friendship between herself and the goats.
“There’s a mutual respect between us,” she said.
As evening lingered, the soft sound of goats shaking their ears resounded over the yard, even as an onslaught of traffic rushed past on the ‘Teton Village Road. Up above, a storm was brewing. The goats, who are afraid of storms, calmly took cover under a nearby trailer. The rain began to fall, but the sun still shined, resulting in a perfect rainbow.
When people learn of Lamming’s goats, “they think it’s the best thing they’ve ever heard,” Lamming said, and when they see them at work, they all have the same reaction -they marvel and smile.
“These goats bring people together,” Lamming said.