Goats nosh on noxious weeds
Wyo. herd goes to town at southeast Denver's Babi-Yar Park
By Michael Booth | Denver Post | April 1, 1999
It took a nasty bunch of weeds to bring the family farm back inside Denver city limits.
But Lani Benz-Lamming wasn't complaining about the plight of American agriculture on Wednesday. With her husband and two boys willing to camp with her indefinitely behind the Havana Street car dealerships, she can run her goats through the city parks as happily as if she were back home on her Wyoming ranch.
Benz-Lamming's goats started munching as soon as they were released into southeast Denver's Babi-Yar Park, part of an innovative weed-control program aimed at safely restoring natural habitat in the city. While her sons and husband rode herd on Yale Street traffic, Benz-Lamming directed 115 Kashmir goats across the street and into their new careers as urban role models.
Parks employees dubbed it the "running of the goats," and dared each other to sprint in front of the 230 horns like the running of the bulls in Pamplona.
Benz-Lamming hugged her husband, Fred Lamming, when the goats were safely inside their portable grazing pen, then got back to the list of worries that gave her no more than an hour of sleep Tuesday night.
Vandals, hot dry winds and stray dogs were just a few of the things on her mind as she tossed and turned inside the camper near Babi-Yar that will be her family's headquarters during the goat-grazing program.
"It's a big adventure," said Benz-Lamming. "Nobody knows how to do this. including us. But we'll figure it out."
Denver's Parks and Recreation Department hired Benz-Lamming and her goats to help control rampant invaders like knapweed, Russian thistle and cheatgrass. Goat palates are the opposite of horses and cows - they eat weeds first, and grass only as a last resort.
Goat grazing avoids use of herbicides, while covering acre upon acre at low cost, said Denver parks naturalist Gayle Weinstein, who wrote the grants to pay for most of the initial $50,000 goat program.
"It would take an unbelievable number of employees to cover the area the goats will cover," Weinstein said. "This is one of the healthiest ways to keep parks in shape."
It's also the best way for the Lamming and Benz family to keep working together. Lani came across the goat idea while researching noxious weeds in graduate school, and her sons were so enthused they pulled money out of their college funds to help buy the first herd. Fred runs the weed control program for Teton County, Wyoming.
Now they run up and down the Rocky Mountains with campers and trailers in tow. Reggie, 16, and Donnie, 15, had just roared over the divide from a grazing program in Grand Junction.
"They know weeds," said Lani proudly. "And Reggie can drive through Denver traffic with a loaded horse trailer."
The goats will be moved constantly to avoid overgrazing. Their portable fences will be shifted along 10.5 miles of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, with the goats returning to each area in spring, summer and fall to keep the weeds down.
The family hasn't yet decided if the goats will sleep under the city stars at night. They will be watched constantly by goatherds, whether in the parks or back in their trailers.
Some neighbors wandered by Wednesday to warn Benz-Lamming about recent crimes in the area, but from the goats' initial reception, the family may have to worry more about crowd control. A half-dozen neighborhood children fed corn to the herd, while their parents jostled for a chance to hold an abandoned kid brought along for the ride.
Parks employees on their lunch break leaned over the fence and sized up their new colleagues. "All these years they made us mow this?" one said.