4 Legged Weed Killers
by Pam Mellskog | Daily Times-Call
| June 23, 2002
BOULDER -It's not exactly a circus. There's no big top, no acrobats and no cotton candy.
But when Lani Lamming pulls into town in a triple-decker semi packed with hundreds of goats, she's definitely got a show stopper.
On Wednesday, she cordoned off 13 acres on the University of Colorado's east campus -a weedy patch of excavated land between Arapahoe and Colorado just west of Foothills Parkway in Boulder - and let them run.
More than 700 male goats will be munching weeds there until the end of next week.
Lamming said CU first contracted her for the use of the goats three years ago as part of its integrated pest management plan. So far, so good.
The area she started the grazing project on is now in bloom with clover's yellow flower.
The goats work hard to knock down noxious weeds like diffuse knapweed, field bindweed, musk and Scotch thistle, salt cedar, sage brush and Russian olive tree sprouts. To them -animals that prefer browsing for 90 percent of their diet versus eating grasses - it's a gourmet salad with a zingy vinaigrette drizzled on top.
The goats' organized action can be entertaining.
When Lamming calls for the only named goat, Sarge -a white, horned critter from her original herd -he scrambles up a steep, rocky slope on pencil-thin legs for some baby carrots. All the goats soon tag after the leader and suddenly look like waves of a multi-colored tide rolling onto shore.
Another display of tight group choreography happens when Lamming's top border collie, Bru, punches in for work. At her command, the black-and-white dog can circle the pack of goats clockwise, counter clockwise or straight ahead. When Lamming says, "Look back! " he stops, turns and searches for stragglers.
"Lots of times -when they're in the dark or fog -Bru just goes out and finds them for me," she said.
The goats -some horned, some not -move in loops and sweep the same area like slightly defective lawn mowers that can't fell every blade cleanly the first time around. The hum of hundreds of goat chops grinding weeds is quietly deafening.
Lamming said that goat grazing kills weeds beyond just eliminating their above-ground presence. Besides eating the weeds, the goats eat the seeds, stunting next year's crop as well.
Armed with a master's degree in weed science from Colorado State University, Lamming said she strategizes grazes around times when noxious weeds are weak and native plants are hearty to give the best results.
And in the meantime, they create by-products perceived as positive by land managers -evenly spread fertilizer and hydration. "When 800 goats take a drink, they all go separate directions and deposit an ounce," Lamming explained.
Since she launched her business in 1998 with 100 head of goats, it has grown into a year-round endeavor with her two sons and about 15 full and part-time staff.
But the best benefit beyond providing an environmentally-friendly option in the weed war is the accompanying lifestyle.
"I'm a gypsy," Lamming said. "I own 2,000 goats and no land,"
Instead, she tightly organizes her grazing gigs across eight states and lives out of a trailer.
In Colorado, her jobs -about 60 percent for private land owners -range from those along the Front Range to the Interstate 70 corridor through the mountains.