Fire eaters – Want to reduce your wildfire risk? Try renting goats
Think of them as environmentally conscious lawn mowers.
A herd of 32 goats will be spending the next two weeks at the Penn Valley Fire Protection District, munching on overgrown manzanita, willow, star thistle, tall grasses and blackberries encompassing two acres behind the district’s main fire station at Penn Valley Drive and Spenceville Road.
For the goats, the land represents an all-you-can-eat buffet. For the firefighters, these flora munchers represent a natural defense during a particularly volatile fire season.
The goats’ primary goal is to consume as much of the “ladder fuel” they can on the property for the next 15 days. Ladder fuel is made up of the tall grasses, bushes, blackberries, and ground-level shrubbery that, if ignited, can lead to fast-moving blazes.
The goats, provided free of charge from a Smartville-area farm, are hungrier and cheaper than their human counterparts.
Penn Valley fire engineer Dennis Bishop, who is helping care for the four-legged creatures, estimates it would cost $3,000 an acre to do with machinery what the goats can do with their mouths, for thousands less.
Goat Brushers Kikos, the goat rental business owned by Cherie Hall and Bill Perkins and being used by the fire department, usually loans out the animals for about $1 or $2 per goat per day. There can be extra costs if fences need to be built, Hall said.
Kikos are meat-producing goats native to New Zealand, known for their hardy nature and resistance to parasites, Cherie Hall said. While they prefer alfalfa and grain, Hall said, they can easily subsist on goat junk food common in Nevada County such as manzanita and poison oak that have little nutritional value, Cherie Hall said.
More importantly, goats inhale star thistle, which has a tendency to spread quickly over valuable pasture land.
With four stomachs, goats rarely go to bed full. Like cows, goats chew their cud when they’re not busy eating.
“If you see them lying down on the job, it’s not a coffee break. It’s a cud break,” joked Cherie Hall.
There’s no need to worry about overtime with these animals. A simple salt-protein tablet once a day and occasional feedings of dry lima beans keep them satisfied.
Three years ago, Hall and Perkins began renting their 60 goats to property owners in Big Oak Valley, Penn Valley and Alta Sierra.
Unlike mechanical approaches to creating fire-safe vegetation, goats tend to eat the leaves and branches, leaving root systems intact.
While using goats for fire suppression isn’t new, it’s a trend that’s growing, said Lynn Covington of Isleton, who has rented goats and referred customers to goat owners for the past five years.
“This is going to be huge,” said Covington, whose Web site, http://www.goatweedeaters.com, explains how goats can be used for fire suppression. In the past, Covington has supplied goats to Bay Area customers looking to find environmentally-conscious solutions to fire prevention.
“The biggest advantage is that (goats) consume a variety of green and brown vegetation and are excellent pruners,” Covington said. Unlike sheep, goats are gourmands, eating all manner of vegetation. Sheep primarily consume grass, she said.
If the goats prove to be as good as advertised, Bishop said he might bring them to his property.
“I’m pretty confident,” he said, “based on what I’ve seen elsewhere, that this is going to work.”
To reach Goat Brushers Kikos, visit http://www.goatbrusherskikos.com on the Web or call 639-2707.
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