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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 6th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 13 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 13

Have goats, will travel

A Buellton couple is helping property owners fight fire with a horned herd

BY AMY ASMAN

Standing beneath a woody canopy of oak and olive trees in northern Montecito, Ian Newsam surveys the progress of his brush-clearing crewmembers as they systematically demolish shrubs, tall grasses, and leaves.

His crew works quickly and quietly, but they’ve still attracted the attention of some residents at the nearby retirement community and surrounding homes.


Tasty tidbits:
Some goats can stand as high as six feet on their hind legs to reach leaves and other brush. Others stay close to the ground and let the big ones do the work.
PHOTO BY AMY ASMAN

“Look at that one, Mommy!” squeals a little girl.

She tugs at her mother’s hand and points across the clearing to a surefooted worker with dark hair and long, curved horns that blinks at the little girl, lets out a soft bleat, and continues chomping on a cluster of oak leaves.

Firefighting goats

“They’re just like kids; they like to eat the candy first,” Newsam later said about his goats and their fondness for oak leaves. They also like olive leaves, hemlock, and—believe it or not—poison oak.

“They have the largest livers of all the ruminants, so they can process a lot of toxins,” he explained, adding that poison oak is actually a good source of protein.

Their ability to eat noxious plants is just one of the many benefits goats provide when it comes to land management.

Goats can easily traverse places that are difficult for human beings to access, such as steep hillsides and dangerous canyons, without causing much damage, said Lorraine Argo, Newsam’s wife and co-owner of Brush Goats 4 Hire.

“They walk laterally on a hillside, unlike a clearing crew, which comes tromping straight down the hillside,” Argo said. “It helps deter erosion.”


What’s for dinner?
Brush Goats 4 Hire’s Ian Newsam and Lorraine Argo can have as many as 500 goats at a time in their care, but for the job at Casa Dorinda, they used about 125.
PHOTO BY AMY ASMAN

Additionally, goats are quiet, unobtrusive animals, and their droppings are “low odor, decompose quickly, and are a fertilizer,” Argo said. “Plus, the nitrates in their urine encourage native plants to return and cut down on weeds, so you don’t need to use herbicides.”

 Newsam added: “And they don’t attract flies, unlike horses and cattle.”

The husband-and-wife team stumbled upon the practical uses of goats while managing cattle at a local ranch.

 “The ranch owner had 500 acres of brush he wanted cleared and asked us if we would run the goats, too,” Newsam said.

The two eventually agreed to take on the goats. They attended courses at the California Browsing Academy at UC Davis, and also learned from the school of “trial and error.”

For example, Argo said, “Not all goats can be brush goats. They have to be able to thrive on plants and move comfortably from site to site.”

Dairy goats don’t make good brush goats because their large udders can drag on the ground, which often leads to injury. However, dairy goats mixed with other breeds do just fine.


Teamwork:
Brush Goats 4 Hire owner Ian Newsam has a 12-year-old Anatolian herding dog.
PHOTO BY AMY ASMAN

Brush Goats 4 Hire uses several breeds: Boer, an African meat goat; Kiko from New Zealand; and LaMancha and Spanish breeds. Argo and Newsam train all of their goats to respect boundaries created with solar-powered electric fences, and they also use several dogs to move the goats and protect them from predators.

“At first we were asked by some friends to clear areas [with goats], and we did it because it was easy, it was fun, and it was helpful,” Argo said.

Six years ago, they decided to make it a full-time business.

“It’s such a great tool for Santa Barbara County,” Argo said, especially because of the area’s high instance of wildfires. “It’s also a nice alternative for clearance that’s eco-friendly.”

Brush Goats 4 Hire is a member of the Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council, and has even done some work with local fire departments. Argo and Newsam transport their goats throughout the county, from Tepusquet to Carpintera, to clear brush and help restore the land.

Newsam says the only limitations are “access and water.”

Tim Gallagher, associate director of operations at Casa Dorinda retirement community, called the goats a “godsend.”

“Even the fire department was excited to know when they come out. It’s a positive impact for the whole community—the staff, the residents, and the fire department,” he said.

“We have something called The Spectator, which is kind of a campus paper, and we write about [the goats] in there,” Gallagher said. “The residents love to watch them when they’re here.”

The concept of using goats for land management is relatively new to this area, but it’s been around for ages, Newsam said.

“If you talk to anyone in the Middle East, they’ll tell you they’ve been doing this for thousands of years. So it’s an old idea that’s also a wise idea,” he said. “It’s just another tool.”

Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at aasman@santamariasun.com.