Herbicides kill the plants out, which then kills the root base. Then, when it rains, the dirt washes away. (Grazing) keeps the root base and doesn’t actually kill the grass, but we’re still preventing fires. —Clay Earl of UC Grazing
PARK CITY — As an alternative to pesticides and bulldozers, bleating creatures have a leg up as landscapers in terms of environmental impact.
From residential property owners to large-scale land managers, the environmentally conscious are using goats and sheep for weed control and fire prevention.
Nell Larson, director of conservation at the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, said placing a herd of goats on the preserve has proved ideal for the effort to manage its noxious weed infestation without causing landscape damage.
“We’re always looking for alternatives to herbicides and pesticides,” Larson said. “Those chemicals can have unintended consequences on not only plants and wildlife, but also on people. Goats are a great alternative.”
After a year of grazing certain preserve areas overrun with the weed dyer’s woad, the animals were an optimal land management tool, he said. Both the size of the noxious weeds reduced significantly as well as the number of plants that went to seed.
Larson said the goats are especially ideal for the preserve’s weed eradication project because their unique digestive systems are known to destroy the seeds so they aren’t spread in the manure, and their manure acts as rich fertilization. Additionally, the goats’ preferred taste for dyer’s woad in comparison to grass facilitated a selective eradication of the weed.
“That allows us to hit the weed first and hardest,” she said.
Sheep, too, are known as fitting landscapers.
As of today, Clay Earl of UC Grazing has a herd of sheep browsing in Camp Williams to help keep the land’s fire hazards in check. Just last year, a large fire was prevented from burning a subdivision near Camp Williams thanks to the grazers' work on a firebreak 100 feet wide and 3 miles long, he said.
As opposed to typical methods of creating firebreaks like bulldozing or poisoning, Earl said grazing the land prevents damaging erosion, which can often be a problem along steep slopes.
“Herbicides kill the plants out, which then kills the root base,” he said. “Then, when it rains, the dirt washes away. (Grazing) keeps the root base and doesn’t actually kill the grass, but we’re still preventing fires.”
Jason Garn of D’Goat Ranch also has herds of goats grazing Camp Williams to aid with weed control and fire prevention. Garn, however, has expanded his business beyond large-scale land management projects by also renting out his goats to residential homeowners.
“You could come get a goat, tether it out and just move it around,” Garn said. “It’ll eat your weeds and keep your yard clean. Some people will rent goats, and that’s just how they mow and fertilize their lawns.”
Garn assists landscapers by either letting them take a few goats for a couple of weeks to clean up their yards, or by transporting a whole herd to complete the chore within a few days. Beforehand, he inspects the land to decide the scale of the job.
His goats are available for rent at between $2 and $5 a goat per day depending on the supplements they may need, which is determined by what types of weeds they will be consuming. Larger jobs that need an entire herd may cost between $500 and $1,000, depending on acreage and the nature of the weed.
While using goats or sheep for the backyard might be a little pricier and require more time and attention than other weed control methods, the process is rewarding in other ways, according to Garn.
“This is a little more time-consuming, but I think it’s more fun,” he said. “I’ve had people who didn’t really care that the goats were there to take care of the weeds as much as the entertainment value.”
Goats and sheep should be supervised to ensure they don’t escape and they need access to water. Sometimes the animals also need daily grains and supplements.
Garn said residential jobs aren’t very common, but he expects the number will grow as more Utahns become more environmentally friendly. Earl said he also expects a residential job growth as more people learn about the beneficial services that goats and sheep have to offer.
“I think a lot of people are scared because they think the livestock is just going to be running around all over their lawn,” Earl said. “But we come in with a fence, everything’s controlled, and we keep them in a confined space.”
Goats and sheep are especially beneficial to people who have steep slopes or large, open areas on their property that can be difficult or expensive to mow, Garn said.
Sharon Foster, a homeowner from Sandy, has had firsthand experience with livestock landscapers. A few years ago, she borrowed a herd of goats to rid her half-acre pasture of weeds, and she plans to do it again this year.
“The results are beautiful and fun,” she said. “Why go and spend money on something that’s just going to poison everything around you?”
Foster said she prefers the grazers' work because poisons only kill the weeds and fill her yard with dry and “lumpy" brush, leaving a fire hazard in her backyard.
After a few weeks of enjoying the goats, she was pleased with the results and said she would recommend it to others.
“The goats did a great job,” she said. “It looked like it had just been mowed.”
Garn’s dgoats.com website offers contact information for those interested in his livestock and their services.