One of mankind’s oldest domesticated herd animals is being used in a new effort to control noxious weeds on federal land.
More than 100 adult goats and a score of kids are browsing on tall whitetop and other weeds on a U.S. Forest Service parcel east of Mud Lake.
Weedwarrior’s Gloria Montero said the goats love the whitetop, also known as perennial pepperweed.
“When the goats go into a new section, the first thing they go for is the whitetop flowers, they just go right after it,” Montero said. “The whitetop flowers are like an addiction to them. Even if there is lots of feed in the area, they want to go to the next area for the whitetop.”
Montero and her goats previously browsed in the meadow below Kings Canyon as sheep grazed the hillside above.
“We’ve kind of been everywhere,” she said.
Montero keeps the goats in check with a portable electric fence which she sets up around the area where she wants them to feed. When they’re done, she’ll move the goats to another area.
Despite their reputation for eating anything, Montero said goats are picky eaters, and are easier on meadows.
“Sheep and cows are grazers, they prefer grasses,” she said. “They have a bad reputation, but goats prefer to pick and choose what they eat, including shrubs, forbs.”
U.S. Forest Service District Wildlife Biologist Maureen Easton said this is the third year the goats have been used on the site.
“We’re in a restoration project,” she said. “This is a really special wetland ecosystem that has been inundated with tall whitetop, Canada and bull thistle.”
She said over the past five years the forest service has been using a variety of methods to fight the noxious weeds pulling the weeds by hand.
She said the goats have helped minimize the amount of herbicide they’ve had to apply to the site.
“They are extremely effective at knocking down the whitetop,” she said. “Gloria has trained the goats to eat the weeds. She corrals them into areas that need to be treated. During some stages, they’ll even eat the thistle.
“They are stressing the weed population, and they’ll continue to do that over the next couple of years. It’s a long-term project, and like any restoration project involving noxious weeds, it’s going to be many, many years before it’s done.”
But Easton said the site is worth it, providing a valuable habitat for wildlife.
“We’ve seen huge bucks out there hiding in the willows, lots of birds and coyotes,” she said. “It is a very special place that we really want to maintain.”