Prescribed goat grazing

Google goats
Goats at Google’s Mountain View headquarters. Instead of mowing, the company rents 200 of them for a week at a time to remove weeds in a field. Google photo.

Yes, that is a new term to me also — “prescribed goat grazing”. I am familiar with the concept, just not the name. Back in the 1980s the Laguna-Morena Demonstration Area east of San Diego tried it as a demonstration project. A goat herd was used in brush covered remote areas near Pine Valley, California, and they did a great job in a confined space of reducing the amount of fuel that would be available for vegetation fires. They will eat almost anything.

A paper has been published titled, Goat grazing as a wildfire prevention tool: a basic review, by  Raffella Lovreglio, Ouahiba Meddour-Sahar, Vittorio Leone. One thing the authors did not cover in detail was the cost of building goat pens, and fencing around areas that will become their pastures. On a relatively small scale or in a semi-urban area, that may not be a substantial consideration, but if you are attempting to treat thousands of acres and moving the goats every few weeks, you’re talking about a large investment in building and possibly moving fences. If it is possible to not fence their “pastures” (using dogs to keep them in the right place) and only provide a pen for when they are off duty at night, it would be less costly.

Below is the summary and conclusion of the paper, and after that their chart showing the strengths and weaknesses of using goats for fuel reduction.

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“Prescribed goat grazing has the potential to be an ecologically and economically sustainable management tool for the local reduction of fuel loads, mainly 1h and 10h fine dead fuels and smaller diameter live fuels. These fine dead fuels can greatly impact the rate of spread of a fire and flame height, both of which are responsible for fire propagation.

Far from being a simple technique, prescribed goat grazing is more complex than simply putting a goat out to eat a plant; it requires careful evaluation of the type of animals and planning of timing. The technique also requires further research, since information about grazing for fuel reduction is anecdotal and there is only limited scientific information currently available, mainly for the Mediterranean area ([64], [44]).

The economically sustainable use of prescribed herbivory could be used for:

  • Maintenance grazing of fuel breaks with mixed goat-sheep flocks;
  • High impact browsing where prescribed burns are not possible (high cost service);
  • Specialized impact browsing in timber plantations (medium/high cost service);
  • Follow-up on burned areas (short term).
  • Goats are the most cost-effective, non-toxic, non-polluting solution available; they are greatly appreciated by the general public and they are an environmentally friendly and effective method of nearly carbon-neutral weed control which deserve further attention and applied research.”

Goats, strengths and weaknsses for fuel management

 

 
via @FireScienceGOV

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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7 thoughts on “Prescribed goat grazing”

  1. Wonder what the effectiveness of invisible fence would be with them?

    Being herd critters, I’m thinking once you have the first generation trained the rest will simply learn you stop when you hear your collar start to beep. As long as the food supply is good and no predator is chasing them, they won’t have an incentive to challenge it.

    Thankfully, I will NEVER be the one who gets to run that experiment 😀

  2. Anyone truly familiar with goats knows that they are browsers, not grazers, are naturally inquisitive and hard to contain, do not fare well against natural predators, and are less herd oriented than sheep. I guess when the Los Padres Forest ended grazing way back when, around the Lake Cachuma watershed because of the concern about manure pollution in the forest, thus allowing the brush to take over, then lowering stream flows, they missed the boat on using these lesser polluting animals. I truly see this working only in urban interface areas, being costly due to transportation and containment issues, and just the thought of the stigma it would incur for the goat herder and his reputation in the community, the mere dollars spent for psychological rehabilitation would be horrific. Let alone the lawsuits from the SPCA and PETA for goats working for less than minimum wage. Tongue in cheek………

    1. Goats have a real knack for messing with electric fencing among other things. Getting elites to accept the byproducts of goats working through their hillside walking trails and such, not to mention the inevitable dog/goat and ADD child/goat interactions, could take some doing. But, they are cool animals and assuming it is cost-effective I personally would like the look. Very Hawaii-life.

  3. 1 have 1500 head of goats Spanish Boer X they need a job will work for less then mim wage, folks that think its just buy a herd of goat because they have $ its hard work and it takes determination , thank you for a good article (VIVA LAS CHIVAS) Have Goats Will Travel

  4. The city I live in, Middleton WI, used prescribed grazing as a means to control invasive brush (buckthorn, honeysuckle, black cherry) in a 10 acre oak woodland near my home. IIRC they paid around $4000 to have 80 goats for 2 or 3 weeks late last spring. I did a web search at the time to see if I could find hard information on the effectiveness of prescribed grazing and couldn’t really find any good sources.

    I was not impressed with the results. The impact on invasives were not significant. Those species that are unpalatable to the goats; bittersweet & black nightshade, burnweed, burdock and beggar’s ticks actually seemed to benefit from having their competition removed. The goats mainly stripped the vegetation (both invasive and natives) of leaves but as soon as the goats were removed the leaves grew back. I didn’t see any significant evidence of the removal of anything above the 1 hr fuel class. By autumn this woods could certainly have carried fire.

    I suppose that prescribed grazing might have better effects in different habitats/fuels that don’t regenerate so quickly. Perhaps hotter and drier climates would show greater returns but I doubt that prescribed grazing will be found to be the be-all-end-all in fuel reduction.

  5. Thanks for this informative article and the links to the research. I am aware of numerous communities in the West that have used goats and seem to be pleased with them, but it is very helpful to get some analysis on the costs and benefits. This technique is but one tool in the toolkit, and the more we know about what works and what doesn’t work for mitigation, the more we can help folks living with wildfire make informed decisions.

  6. Just saw an example of this on a small scale along the shoulder of a steep park in coastal suburban CA this weekend. So far, for that specific local vegetation, they seemed to be doing a good job. Apparently their selling point there was that they were carbon-neutral from a city-planning perspective.

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