Meals fit for a kid
Special to The Union
“They eat almost anything. They’ll even try to eat your pant leg,” said Alana Fowler as she and her daughter Macey, 2, stepped behind the temporary fencing where a group of weanlings, kids and pregnant does were busy munching.
Fowler and her husband Brad own Goat Works, a company that makes the most of a goat’s indifferent appetite. The 150 goats are put to work from now through fall and the result is land stripped of fire danger.
Nevada County is ripe with the threat of devastating forest fires. Every year more and more homes are built in rural areas choked with brush. The fire safe council recommends clearing a 100-foot perimeter around homes and many insurance companies refuse coverage for homes that don’t take this kind of prevention.
“I just think of the 49er Fire. If all those houses didn’t have brush around them, how many houses could have been saved?” asked Alana Fowler.
All the common pests are delicacies for a goat: blackberry, scotch broom, poison oak and star thistle to name a few. A full-grown male standing on his hind legs can reach as high as six feet, eliminating all the low lying fuels like oak leaves and pine needles on the lowest branches.
The Fowlers first stepped into the goat business two years ago as partners in the Loma Rica based Goat Works. Last summer they bought out their partners and this year marks the first time the business will be their primary source of income. Brad will continue to supplement their bills by keeping a part-time job in Marysville at an electric fencing company.
This life is a natural choice for the Fowlers who both have a life-long history in Nevada County close to livestock and the outdoors. “Alana is really in tune with the animals. I enjoy working outside. I like the physical aspects of labor and working,” said Brad Fowler who is a fifth generation native to Nevada County.
While Brad wrangles with numerous spools of electric fencing, Alana keeps the animals healthy with proper diet supplements and necessary vaccines and regular de-worming. Alana studied animal science in high school and college while Brad focused on the business side of things. Their two little girls can often be found alongside them. Molly, 18 months, is kept from getting underfoot by riding on mom’s back while young Macy plays with the babies.
The Fowlers visit potential customer’s property and survey the land during a free consultation. Price depends on the number of animals used, plant density, number of acres and steepness of terrain. The goats are then loaded into a trailer and driven to their retreat stocked with an abundant supply of fresh, new food. Coaxed with buckets of grain and given treats to reduce the stress during each transition, the goats are moved to a new patch of vegetation after they’ve reduced the first to stubble. On average it takes about a half-hour to set up a one-acre area with fencing. Concentrating the animals in a smaller area gets the job done quicker since goats tend to fight for food when there is less of it. The rough rule of thumb is 100 goats clear an acre per day.
Goats typically spend one to four days (and nights) on a job and the Fowlers return daily to check on them and reposition fencing.
Electric fencing is essential since goats are known for being escape artists.
“Masticators” or a rottotiller type machine with large teeth and men armed with chain saws, wood chippers, etc. are needed to remove large bushes and trees. Goats finish the job by pruning what remains and if used for a succession of years (2-3) will eventually kill pesky plants for good.
For people looking for an environmental alternative to fossil fuel dependent clearing, goats are the answer. Goats can go where machinery can’t.
When a cow rambles too close to the fence Maddie, a Great Pyrenees barks a warning. Maddie is one of three dogs that have grown up with the goats and never leaves the herd. Predators such as mountain lions and coyotes keep their distance with the dogs around. The dogs aren’t lavished with human affection and don’t come looking for it.
“They grow up with the goats and learn goats are more their friend than a human is,” said Alana Fowler.
The goats are a mix of New Zealand “Kiko” and South African “Boers” mixed with Spanish crosses. A healthy male can get up to 200 pounds as is proof with “Buzz” the Fowler’s four year old variegated Kiko Buck. He stares with those strange eyes, great curled horns and long goatee – a bell hangs from his neck. The mixture of breeds makes them strong and hardy.
Not only do the Fowlers use goats for brush clearing but they are also available for sale either as pets or meat. They make perfect companion animals to a horse or cow as they eat all the grasses the larger animals won’t touch making it a healthier field overall. Ethnic market for goat meat has exploded in U.S. with half of the demand being fed by Australian imports.
In the other pin, the young ones are playing “king of the mountain” perching on boulders stretching their necks for a hanging branch. Penn Valley’s pastoral backcountry basks in warm February sunshine.
While owning a cattle ranch has been a long-time dream, it’s a risky endeavor and the goats have made it possible to live that lifestyle. It’s fulfilling to the Fowlers to know their hard work is helping others.
“It’s incredibly satisfying knowing we’re making a place better,” said Brad Fowler.
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