By Glenda Price: New Mexico columnist
Remember that old song, “Bill Grogan’s Goat?” After the goat ate three red shirts off the clothesline Bill “gave him a whack” and tied him to the railroad track. When the whistle blew and the train drew nigh the goat “gave three groans of awful pain, coughed up those shirts and flagged the train.”
There’s a truism tucked into that song: Goats will eat almost anything. Land management specialists’ research has proven once again that, like grandfather said, sometimes the “old” ways are best. Goats — and sheep — provide effective weed control without any environmentally problematic side effects.
The invasive plant, leafy spurge, is a great example. It was first found in Massachusetts in 1827 and by 1979 it had spread to 30 states. It can reduce rangeland cattle carrying capacity by 50 to 75 percent. About half this loss is from decreased grass production. Also, cattle won’t graze in dense leafy spurge stands so those areas are a 100 percent loss to producers.
Goats, however, thrive on leafy spurge along with many other noxious weeds. Also, goats (and sheep) can help prevent forest wildfires by grazing the undergrowth before it builds up into fuel for the fires. Plus the trees can utilize the fertilizer from their manure, which supplies nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur.
This environmentally friendly weed control knowledge has spawned several businesses, especially in the western United States.
A goat or sheep owner rents out the animals to ranchers or other landowning entities for weed control. The animal owner doesn’t need to own any land because everybody is out “working” all the time. After their work is done the animals can be sold for meat. Also, if the weed killing worker is a sheep it can be sheared and the wool sold before the animal is harvested. Cashmere goats produce a valuable fiber.
It’s probably a good idea, though, to remember Bill Grogan’s goat when considering where to place these guys. I, personally, have had several run-ins with goats. Our family photo album has a picture of me, age 2, with the goat my dad gave me. They tell me the goat was sold after he knocked me down five or six times.
One of my daughters had a nanny goat. She was a fun animal, but she escaped her pen one day and climbed on top of my car in the driveway, leaving little hoofmarks etched into the hood. I never figured out how she did that. Also, one of my grandchildren’s goats became the title story of my first column collection when it drug me through the barnyard gravel — face first.
Still, I’m thinking this might be a good business. Not only would I not need to purchase feed for my animals (a huge plus), but they would be paid for enjoying the weeds in my clients’ pastures or woodlands — even city parks.
If you see an ad for grazing goats for hire, that’ll be me. I’ll just park my car beyond the fence line for its protection.
Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org