Munching mammals keep pesky plants in check without pesticide
Originally posted by Robert Weller August 28, 2001 / Rocky Mountain News
VAIL-When Lani Lamming puts her “goats at work” signs along this resort’s bike path, she isn’t kidding.”
Lamming’s herd of more than 600 goats eat noxious weeds that have proved resistant to herbicides. She also is seeding the area with natural plants that will compete with the alien weeds, and her goats take care of the fertilization and watering.
“In terms of environmental stewardship, this is a far better approach than using pesticides,” Town Manager Bob McLaurin said. “We’ve decided to extend her stay by eight days and bring her back next year.”
While some residents and guests have complained about the use of pesticides, they think the goats are “kind of neat,” he added.
“They’re cool,” said Ann-Brit Hawkansson, 10, of Truckee, Calif., as she tried to persuade the shy goats to nibble on a carrot across the electric fence Lamming set up to keep them from wandering. It only carries a small charge, but it’s enough to keep the goats in check.
Lamming, who has a master’s degree in weed science from Colorado State University, says her cashmere goats do a far better job than pesticides. She points to yellow toadflax that survived pesticide spraying.
“Humans depend on eyesight. By the time they see weeds, it is two years too late. The goats can sense them. They eat alien weeds and never touch the native elk thistle,” she said.
“Goats are very intelligent. And they’re better at vegetation management because there is no politics.
Her Alpine, Wyo.-based company, Ewe4ic Ecological Services, has been in business for four years.
She just completed a job in neighboring Summit County, and has done work in Denver, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah. She gets $1 a day per goat, plus the cost of shipping. In Vail, she was paid for 500 goats but had a herd of 600.
A company based near Sacramento, Calif., Goatweedeaters.com, has been in business for three years, renting South African Boer crossbreeds to governments or individuals who want to get rid of weeds and reduce fire risk. “We train our customers and they have to move the fences themselves,” said Lynn Covington, one of the owners.
Lamming lives in a trailer near the goats, helped by two dogs and occasionally her son, Reggie. A cellphone and laptop help her stay in touch and chronicle her work. With the Agriculture Department estimating that weeds cost the economy $30 billion, there is plenty of room for companies like Lamming’s to grow.
“There is a role for pesticides – and there also are places where they shouldn’t be used,” said George Beck, associate professor of pest management at Colorado State University.
“We are not protecting people’s lives by trying to eliminate noxious weeds, and it is safer to use biological controls. When it comes to protecting lives, then the risk benefit justifies using pesticides.”
Beck said Lamming, who sometimes brings a graduate student along to document her work, does a good job. He cautions that no solution is perfect and the weeds likely will come back unless areas are reseeded with competitive plants.
“We’re doing that right now,” Lamming said.
For Vail, it’s a page from the past. Forty years ago, before the nation’s busiest ski resort was developed, sheep grazed on the hillsides.