50 Better Ways To Take Care Of Your Yard: Goats!

The soil is so very important to all life. . . Amanita Thorp, Founder, Horned Locust Remediation.

They marched off the trailer determined. They went right to work. By work, I mean eating. By eating, I mean everything that was green or brown — everything that came out of the ground.

Forty-eight goats and two sheep.

Wow.

Of course there were humans there — David Thorp and his daughter Amanita. They together run their goat business, Horned Locust Remediation. Amanita ran the show. She was a young woman of few words, but she clearly loved her work and her animals.

This all began when I was given the directive to reduce the amount of weeds and underbrush around our house. After all the summer rains, we had a rat’s nest of tangle. It was also embarrassing, as a firefighter, to have all those flammable weeds so close to our home. I could’ve gone out and hacked stuff or weed-wacked. But that sounded like work.

It was about then I heard via my brother about the goats . . . and within seconds I knew that was the solution I was looking for: Fifty goats at our house and me not having to do any work. My entire life has been dedicated to finding solutions like this!

Actually, much of my life had been spent mowing grass and cutting weeds in pastures in Minnesota. So I was also interested — you know, professional to professional — about how goats stacked up to me driving a John Deere tractor.

It was a humbling experience.

I grew up in a slash and burn culture. We mowed grass, raked it up and burned it. We’d burn out pastures and use herbicides. I don’t recall thinking about the long term effects to the soil. Of course, we had almost six feet of topsoil.

Here in New Mexico we measure soil in inches not feet. It’s also rocky and it dries and compresses into an impermeable surface that doesn’t capture the infrequent rain. Of course once it does rain all sorts of nasty weeds sprout. And by the way, mowing or hacking those weeds essentially just re-seeds them.

What’s missing in the cycle is grazing. Enter the goats. First, the way goats graze is that they eat the grass and weeds down to the surface level. There’s nothing left to re-seed. They voraciously eat bushes, trimming them back. Next, fifty goats in a small area leave a lot of hoof prints, creating divots in the soil. The divots not only break up the soil, but they hold moisture. Finally, the goat manure fertilizes and helps grow and nurture the topsoil. Do I hear the “Circle of Life” theme from Lion King?

This is remediation, adding to the soil and the landscape rather than pounding it into submission.

But enough about the goats. They’re like the actors. They’re the stars. And typically (like actors) they just eat, while the heavy lifting is being done backstage. In this case, by dogs.

Four dogs did a lot of “backstage” work. There were three Australian Shepherds; Bucky, Guppy and Zuli. Their role was to direct the goats to the selected field, keep the herd inside the portable fence, and then direct the goats back to the trailer. Bucky had a special role of keeping the goats away from selected trees. Rocky was the fourth dog, a big Maremma Sheep dog (a relative of the Pyrenees Mountain Dog). His role was to to protect the goats just by his presence. He was big, calm and gentle, but with a deep and resonating bark if he sensed approaching danger. (or kids and neighbors: fifty goats will attract a lot of attention!)

The Australian Shepherds ran around all day, making sure every thing was on the up and up. Rocky and I mostly sat in the sun.

About 4:30, Amanita looked over the work. She knelt down and felt the soil. “Good,” she said. “Might have to come back after the snows.”

She signaled to the dogs and they worked the herd back into the trailer. The Shepherds jumped into the back seat of the truck, and Rocky, as he was raised, rode in the trailer with the goats.

A few days later we got our first big snow. In the front it laid flat on the ground, with no weeds or anything for that matter for it to catch on. Some of that snow will sink into the divots and soften the ground. Who knows what might grow in the spring?