Sometimes the old ways really are best
(Don't sell those multipurpose goats short!)
The Cheyenne Edition | November 26,1999
In this high tech age, when there's a problem we tend to look to the scientists and researchers for a way out. After all, there's nothing research can't solve, right?
Then again, sometimes the new ways cause as many problems as they cure. And that's exactly what Lani Lamming, the lady whose goats are getting rid of some noxious weeds around our town, is preaching.
Lamming's goats have been "hired"to get rid of those noxious weeds that are crowding out the native plants, right along with the grass. And it's not only a good way to ban the weeds, it's good for the soil.
It's not goat ranching
Lamming says she's a cattle rancher, born and raised in western Nebraska, transplanted to Wyoming before coming to Colorado where she was a rancher for 15 years. Then she went to Colorado State University in Fort Collins where she obtained three degrees, ending up with a Masters in "Weed Science." She also obtained an associates degree in Applied Science in Environmental Restoration and a Bachelors in Biology, emphasis Botany. Quite a pedigree.
"I'm not a goat rancher," she explains. "I'm a weed scientist and manager and goats are my tools." And her business...
"The more work I do, the more business I gather and the more goats I need. So I'm breeding the nannies and getting kids, but it's all on the job. I don't ranch in any traditional sense. Everything they do (including their love life) is while they're on the job..." eating the bad weeds that have taken over literally millions of acres of farmland in the West, especially in Montana.
In other words, these are "homeless" goats. They live, eat, work and breed right on the acres they're also cleaning up. "So," Lani said with a laugh, "whatever they do, they do it while they're working. These goats work all the time. They move from contract to contract and whatever they do is a sideline to eating weeds."
Lamming has about 1,000 goats right now and 700 of them are on the job in Bear Creek Park in the southwest part of the Springs. The others are "working" ~about 60 miles northeast of here. Actually, they are the nannies that are in the process of adding kids to the growing goat herd.
Lamming uses all cashmere goats because of their size, their personality and the fact that they are easy to handle. "They're also beautiful and so additionally, I have that crop of cashmere coming off, should I choose to harvest it. (Like, for knitting sweaters, etc.) I don't have to, because they shed naturally if I don't get around to shearing, which is another benefit to this breed. But, if I do harvest the cashmere, it's $15 to $20 an ounce."
Goats as weed eaters almost an accident
Lamming didn't attend CSU with the idea of raising weed-eating goats. "When I was in graduate school in Fort Collins, I was working on a project to revegetate areas that had been affected by Russian knapweed. That's a serious problem in Western Colorado. Here, you have diffuse knapweed, while in Wyoming and Montana, they have Russian and spotted knapweed.
"But anyway, I did my thesis work in my Masters program on Russian knapweed. But there was another project going on regarding leafy spurge weed, which is a huge problem in Colorado. That used sheep grazing in combination with biocontrol insects. I volunteered to take over that project, managing it for four years. That's where I got the offering to use sheep grazing as a service to people who didn't want to use pesticides."
However, she knew what the job entailed: fencing, taking care of the animals, moving them to new pastures as needed. "I would have to provide everything as a service or people wouldn't use it. "Now, I'm a cattle rancher, remember, so sheep are kind of outside the loop. But goats were completely out of my thinking. However, much of the literature I read in grad school, had been well-researched showing that goats eat weeds very well, especially noxious weeds. And much better than sheep.
"Well, I read the studies about how goats were being used around the country to rid areas of noxious weeds. Then,one day I stumbled across a for sale ad for a whole herd of goats. A gentleman in Kiowa, Colorado, was retiring and wanted $10,000 for the herd.
"I went to the bank and asked for a loan. They took the title to my pickup to secure the loan and my two sons, 13 and 14, offered their college savings money to help finance the
venture. The three of us started the business in October of 1988. They've also become my best help, even though they're still in high school in Jackson Hole, Wyoming."
Demonstration leads to thriving business
Lamming said the whole thing really got rolling when she was doing a half-acre demonstration right in the middle of Fort Collins for CSU. "People saw the goats there eating the weeds and my phone started ringing off the hook." Since that October day, starting with 120 goats, she's now expanded to several areas in Colorado.
"The first few jobs were with subdivisions in Fort Collins. Then I took the goats to a farm on the Poudre River. And from there to a large area south of Greeley."
Now, in 1999, Lamming has had several federal government contracts, including the Department of Defense at the Pueblo Army Depot -although there, it's not the weeds. It's a "mowing" job. "Rather than using machines, they use my goats to keep the grass down to under six inches," Lamming explained.
Why goats and not sheep or chemicals?
"It's all management. Goats are selective in what they eat, what they like to eat first. In fact, goats like grass last, whereas sheep will eat the grass first. Horses and cows eat 90% grass and 10% weeds while goats are just the opposite. Grass is their last choice of delicacies.
"So it's up to my management once I know the goal of the landowner. Then I pasture the goats to make sure we're stressing the weeds that we want to get rid of. I do that through time and numbers of animals. For instance, I may bring in 2,000 head for two days and then get out of there after we've taken off all the noxious weeds and removed the flowers and seed heads so the weeds can't go to seed next spring.
"Meantime, (with the goats) the grasses remaining have been tilled, mulched and fertilized- and lightly grazed which stimulates them for growth. So it's the selectivity of the goats' diet that makes them easy to work with. My grazing scheme is holistic resource management, which simply means using a lot of animals for a short time. It's the most effective way to re-invigorate the land and the soil."
And then there's the goats' own digestive system that makes them even more effective. Lamming said the goats naturally have lots of additional enzymes that other animals don't have. Those enzymes enable the goats to naturally digest and break down the plant structure while a natural detoxification takes place so that the more noxious plants do not harm the goats.
Plus that, the goats' mouths are shaped differently than a cow, horse or sheep. "They're smaller and triangular and things are crushed and destroyed (by chewing) before they even go into the goat's intestines. So, for instance, with the leafy spurge seed, 82% of that seed is crushed just by the goat's chewing action."
What does that accomplish? Goat fertilizer is virtually weed-free, Lamming said, compared to horse or cow manure.
The goat system is also economical, Lamming pointed out. In the recent past, most weed control has been through chemical spraying. However chemicals aren't smart bombs and sometimes destroy plants we'd like to keep around. Goats, on the other hand, don't destroy, but actually nurture the native plant life.
The culprit weeds have been brought to this country from all parts of the world, but one of the most rapid spreads has been through the importation of seed grains' from places such as Europe and Asia. Once the seeds get here, "They have no enemies, no competitors, nothing eats them and they just take over," Lamming said. "For instance, in Montana in 1930, there were five spotted knapweed plants. Right now, there are five million acres of spotted knapweed as a result of imported wheat from Asia. Now, 600,000 acres have been taken off the tax roles there because it's worthless land."
By the way, goats just love spotted knapweed; Lamming says. "I'd like to buy Montana and clean it up myself," she said with a laugh. But, let's hope, not before her goats are satiated with El Paso County "unnatural" weeds. And that's at least through December, which Lamming projects will pretty much do the job.