Without a bleat, goats eat your weeds
By Sonja Bisbee | The Coloradoan | May 20, 1998
Weeds got your goat?
Call Ewe-4-ic Ecological Services Inc.
Lani Benz and her two teenage sons will bring their cashmere goats to eat the leafy spurge and Canada thistle off your lawn, lot or pasture.
Benz, a lifelong rancher and former Colorado State University weed scientist, bought 250 of the small, gentle animals last month.
She’s using them as a quick, chemical-free alternative for controlling noxious weeds -a meal of choice for the cute critters, now grazing on one of the city’s natural areas, a subdivision in southeast Fort Collins, and a piece of rural property west of Wellington.
Larimer County has 75,000 acres of Canada thistle and 5,000 acres of leafy spurge alone, with six other plants also listed as noxious weeds, said county agronomist Loyd Beny.
These plants, which left their natural enemies behind in Europe or Asia, can harm livestock and choke out native plants and the animals that depend on them, Beny said.
In the weed district, which includes most of the county east of the foothills, Beny can push property owners to treat these weeds -or treat them himself and bill the property owner.
General herbicide treatment costs $40 to $60 an acre, twice a year for three to five years, he said.
People also can buy insects that eat weeds -and now they can hire Benz and her goats, he said.
“I’m for having all the tools available,” said Benz, whose sons, ages 14 and 15, dipped into their savings accounts to partner with their mother in the project.
A non-toxic option is especially important in areas where chemicals would contaminate water supplies or damage fragile ecosystems, the Wyoming native said.
“There’s no herbicide you can use in those sensitive areas.”
But goats are safe -and mellow and sweet, to boot, she said, as bottle-fed Toadflax, Badger and Rawhide clamored for affection at her knees.
“This is perfect to suit the urbanite,” she said.
Benz works with her customers to design an individualized weed-management plan.
What do they want to get rid of? Just leafy spurge, leafy spurge and Russian olive, or all weeds, grass and decaying plant material?
Then she trucks in her goats, puts up temporary fencing as needed, and moves the whole set-up periodically for an even effect.
Changing the number of goats, the size of their fenced area and the length of time they graze controls what the finished plot looks like, she said.
Benz has permission from city zoning officials to keep the goats at a site for up to two days.
The cost varies greatly, depending on the customer’s needs, though a typical rate might be $75 flat fee plus $50 an acre, Benz said.
With leafy spurge, the goats chew off only the flowers, which prevents seeding, but they leave an often extensive root system that can produce new sprouts, she said.
Benz said she would probably have to bring the goats back a couple times a year until the roots starve, or work with a land owner on follow-up treatment, such as insects.
Beside weed control, the goats also drop small pellets of fertilizer, usually trampling them into the ground before they move on to the next plot, Benz said. Their nibbling stimulates grass growth, while their hoof action turns plant debris into mulch and aerates the soil, she said.
The county’s weed-control assistance program, which helps local residents deal with noxious weeds, recently added Benz and her goats to its list of recognized treatments.
Benz also will be able to sell her goats’ fine under-layer of cashmere for $12 an ounce. An adult animal yields about four ounces a year, she said.