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Posts Tagged ‘goats’

Goats to the Rescue

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Photo: Phil Klein
Goat farmer Bob Blanchard tends to his flock above Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Avila Beach, California.

Can you take another story about goats as lawnmowers? (Click for an example.) Today’s update shows how goats are not only a good way to cut your grass but are an important wildfire-fighting tool.

Susie Cagle writes at the Guardian, “As the western US braces for another wildfire season, following its most devastating on record, public officials and private landowners are turning to an unlikely, rustic tool to manage increasingly incendiary lands. Goats.

“They’re currently munching away at summer-dried, fire-ready grasses in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and across California. In some places that outlaw livestock within city limits, officials have even changed local ordinances. …

“In California, where wildfires have long been a threat, goats have worked for decades to protect coastal communities from creeping conflagrations. But worsening, deadly fire seasons across western US have inspired more communities to try managing their lands not with machines and chemicals, but with hungry animals.

“More extreme, climate-changed weather cycles could make fuel management a more important part of wildfire mitigation, as more intense rainy seasons lead to huge spring sprouts in grasslands, that are in turn dried out in the hotter, drier summer sun. …

“ ‘There’s a lot more awareness just because of the horrific fires we’ve had lately,’ said [Mike] Canaday, who runs a company called Living Systems Land Management. ‘If people want goats, the sooner they can get on somebody’s waiting list, the better.’

“He believes goats are a superior form of fuel management, more sustainable and less risky than herbicides or fuel-powered mowers. ‘And they’re a lot more fun to watch than people with weed eaters.’

“Grazing goats are far from the newest wildfire prevention tool, but they have a comparably tiny footprint. They’re efficient, clean eaters, nibbling away at weeds and grasses and leaving far less damage than an herbicide. They’re nimble climbers, able to scamper up steep flammable hillsides and into narrow canyons that humans would struggle to reach. They’re impervious to poison oak, and they don’t disrupt natural ecosystems or scare away indigenous animals. Where conspicuously carved fire breaks on verdant hillsides might upset homeowners, goats are welcome seasonal cuteness.

“In its 2019 wildfire safety report, released in July, [Laguna Beach] officials estimated a human crew costs roughly $28,000 to clear an acre, while a goat crew costs an average of $500. …

“The west cannot survive on goats alone, in part because of the limited labor pool, and in part because fuel management isn’t enough to abate wildfire impacts. Goats are effective, but they can’t do anything about flammable wood shingle roofs or cedar siding on ageing buildings that are not subject to new fire safety codes.

“ ‘We have a lot of tools in the toolbox,’ said [fire marshall Jim] Brown. And when it comes to clearing the fuel that could send flames rushing toward those old, flammable homes, ‘the goats are just the best tool we have in the toolbox to do that – there’s just nothing better.’ ”

More here.

Speaking of goats, I happened to run into one today at the library. The young lady with the leash told me that the goat’s name is Hermione.

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Photo: Matthew Perlman
“Pamplona has the running of the bulls; the Upper West Side has the running of the goats,” says New York’s West Side Rag.

I’m in need of a silly story today. The kind of silly that just makes a person feel better about things. This story concerns a nature-friendly initiative to get the grass cut in Riverside Park while entertaining the locals.

The West Side Rag reports, “Twenty-four goats from the Hudson Valley were released into the not-so-wild [recently] and ran from their truck onto a weed-choked hill in Riverside Park that will be their home for the summer.

“There were more than 1,000 people there to greet them.

“It was like the Fresh Air Fund in reverse (maybe the dirty air fund?). The goats immediately started snacking on weeds. …

“Mildred Alpern sent photos and the following account: ‘Cheering and clapping crowds and luminaries were on hand to [welcome] the 24 goats into Riverside Park at Riverside Drive and 120th Street this morning. Riverside Park Conservancy employees guided the goats as they strutted and galloped along the path to the grassy and hilly enclave where they will reside until the end of August. Beribboned and numbered, the goats behaved like New Yorkers – confident, casual, and cool.’ ” More here.

The Riverside Park goats even eat the poison ivy. I wouldn’t mind having friends who do that! You can search this blog on “goats” to find other examples of four-footed weed control. I also posted here about the Basilica of St. Patrick on New York’s Prince Street, which used sheep as lawn mowers last year. If you know of similar examples, do share the details.

Hat tip: Gloria K.

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Photo: Christy Sommers
People who raise goats in India, Bangladesh, and elsewhere, think it’s obvious you’d put sweaters on your goats in cold weather. It takes an outsider to be surprised — and make a calendar.

Got your 2019 calendar yet? We have way too many at our house because my husband donates to so many nature organizations. I wish that nonprofits would forget about free gifts and just spend donations where the money is most needed.

Today I have a story about a charity calendar that is not a giveaway. You have to buy it. But I hereby make an exception to my grumpiness about charity calendars.

Danielle Preiss writes at National Public Radio (NPR), “When we came across pictures of ‘Sweateredgoats‘ on Instagram, we wanted to know more. …

“The caprine fashionistas are featured on a calendar, the sales of which have benefited local organizations in Varanasi, India, where most of the images were taken.

“Christy Sommers, who takes the photos, first noticed the cuteness that is clothed goats in 2010, while living in a village in northwestern Bangladesh as a Fulbright scholar studying rural primary education. …

” ‘It blends my love of cute things with India and this desire that I have for people to understand the rest of the world better,’ Sommers says.

“Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, Sommers has spent much of the last five years working in northern India as an instructor and administrator for a high school and college travel abroad program called Where There Be Dragons. She started to notice goats, particularly in lower-income urban areas, decked out in winter gear. Varanasi doesn’t actually get too cold — typically not dropping below a January average of 60 degrees.

Sommers says when she asks families why the goats are clothed, they usually tell her it’s because they’re cold — and look surprised that she’s asking something so obvious.

“And it turns out to be a good idea. Jagdip Singh Sohal, assistant professor of microbiology and microbial genomics at Amity University in Jaipur and organizer of the Asian Regional Conference on Goats, confirmed that goats can get cold. …

“Extra insulation, whether from a sweater, a discarded track suit or a burlap sack, allows the goat to divert more energy to productive purposes, like getting meatier and birthing more kids. …

“[Sommers] gives about half the profits to Asha Deep, a school for underprivileged kids in Varanasi. (The rest of the money she views as compensation for her labor.) The $4,500 donation from 2018 calendar sales provided the funds the school needed to operate for one month. Asha Deep is a vetted charity on Global Giving, a U.S.-based nonprofit that crowd funds donations for local NGOs around the world. …

“Meanwhile, the goat owners aren’t that impressed. To them, dressing a goat in a sweater is no big deal. ‘They generally think I’m crazy,’ she says.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: WideOpenPets.com
The University of Maine used baby goats to calm student stress during finals. Valley Edge Farm, which specializes in Nigerian Dairy Goats, provided the rambunctious kids.

This is exactly the sort of offbeat story I love. (Feel free to send me other kooky stories.)

Emily Burnham writes at Bangor Daily News, “For the past few years, the University of Maine has brought in therapy dogs — mostly cuddly golden retrievers and adorable Pomeranians — to soothe the frazzled nerves of students during finals week.

“This spring, however, it decided to try something a little different: baby goats.

“Brittany Smith, a staffer with UMaine’s campus activities board, got the idea when a co-worker mentioned that her sister, Abby Skolfield, owned and operated a goat farm, Valley’s Edge Farm, in the western Maine town of Strong. …

“A few quick phone calls later, a truckload of baby goats was on its way to UMaine, bound for an afternoon visit with students — most of whom had no idea they were going to hang out with month-old Nigerian Dwarf goats. Once word got out, a line stretched all across the mall, full of students waiting for their chance to pet a goat.

“ ‘I thought maybe 30, 40 people would show up, but this is ridiculous,’ said Smith. …

“Skolfield’s goats are old hands at dealing with crowds. Her goats are mostly for show, and they visit daycares and walk in parades regularly.

“ ‘I get hit up for goat yoga more times than I can count,’ said Skolfield. ‘I don’t see how that’s relaxing, but hey, whatever works.’ …

” ‘They come when called. Their little tails wag,’ she said. ‘They are the most dog-like of all livestock.’ ” More here.

I had actually heard of goat yoga! The goats stand on yoga students’ backs.

Video: CBS News

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Goats are becoming increasingly popular for controlling invasive plant species.

Joanna Jolly writes at the BBC News Magazine, “Each country has its own invasive species and rampant plants with a tendency to take over. In most, the techniques for dealing with them are similar — a mixture of powerful chemicals and diggers. But in the US a new weapon has joined the toolbox in recent years — the goat.

“In a field just outside Washington, Andy, a tall goat with long, floppy ears, nuzzles up to his owner, Brian Knox. Standing with Andy are another 70 or so goats, some basking in the low winter sun, and others huddled together around bales of hay. …

” ‘We started using them around this property on some invasive species. It worked really well, and things grew organically from there.’

“They are now known as the Eco Goats — a herd much in demand for their ability to clear land of invasive species and other nuisance plants up and down America’s East Coast. …

“One of the reasons goats are so effective is that plant seeds rarely survive the grinding motion of their mouths and their multi-chambered stomachs — this is not always the case with other techniques which leave seeds in the soil to spring back.

“One of the more high profile jobs they have worked on was cleaning up the Congressional cemetery in Washington two years ago. Large crowds came to watch as the animals spent a week chomping the overgrowth of Honeysuckle, Ivy and Poison Ivy. …

“This is one of the things he likes about taking goats into urban areas — the response of the city-dwellers, who are ‘fascinated,’ he says, to see how efficiently the goats gobble up the vegetation. …

“Goats aren’t a silver bullet. Knox often combines the goat clearance with some manual root cutting and even with a chemical treatment if needed. But his goats have started to make an impact on the weeds choking America and, he says, they are having a lot of fun doing it.”

More of the story — and some great pictures —  here.

Photo: BBC News

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