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Sacramento County Ditches Lawn Mowers For Goats

Annie Chernich / Capital Public Radio
 

Annie Chernich / Capital Public Radio

Living in an urban setting you wouldn’t expect to see a herd of goats grazing a couple lots over. But, as summer progresses, municipalities like Sacramento County are ditching lawn mowers and hiring goat herders to clear county-owned basins with overgrown brush.

A few dozen goats moved into a vacant lot on American River Drive called the Wilhaggin basin.  They’re there to eat the vegetation, but some neighbors have become fascinated with them. The herd of goats quickly became a community attraction.

Elizabeth Springett even named a few of them during her morning walks.

“That one right over there is Bailey and there’s a little tiny one, a brown one, with these white kind of speckles on it called Poki,” said Springett.

Dale Fletter, who lives next door to the basin, said he's familiar with the goats' daily routine.

“They sleep by the water at this end of the field," said Fletter. " And then, as it gets hot they all go out and start grazing.  But then as it gets hot again, they come back midday and then they have a siesta and then they go back out again and then as the sun sets, they all come back.”

Goats may seem like an unlikely candidate for clearing out a 10-acre basin, but Associate Engineer at the Sacramento County Department of Water Resources, Kevin Siu, said this is part of a pilot program started this summer to explore alternatives for removing brush. 

“We kind of took a look at what other jurisdictions had been doing and time and again we found that goats have been used on a more and more frequent basis," said Siu. "Therefore, we figured ‘why don’t we test out goats for our needs and see if they work for us as well.'"

The goats are a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of managing land, especially during the drought.  Dry, excessive brush poses a serious fire threat and lawnmowers could cause a spark. 

Olympias said that using goats ensures there won’t be any fires here.

 “This way it’s more like going in and removing the grasses and brush instead of mowing it and leaving a bunch of fuel lying on the ground," said Olympias.

They also help maintain the ecosystem and manage insect populations.

“It’s what the goats are really all about," said Olympias. "They help everything return to the way it should be it does also help with vector control.”

In fact, Olympias started raising goats almost by accident.

“We basically got a few goats years ago just to get rid of the blackberries because we had cattle," said Olympias ."And the goats just kind of, everybody was like ‘Oh I want some of those goats. Can you bring those goats over here?’ So then we started doing just target little spots for local ranchers to help with berry bushes and the noxious weeds that are in the pastures."

Now, goat grazing is almost a full-time job that requires long-term planning and breeding. 

“To keep the goats healthy all year, it’s a lot," said Olympias. "Our breeding program is to raise goats for brush control.  We’re breeding for a really hearty nanny, one that produces good size kids, milk’s good, has good feet, and has good maternal qualities.”

After only three weeks, passersby have grown accustomed to seeing the herd dozing on the hillside.

“They bring a smile that radiates all the way through here,” said one neighbor.

The Wilhaggin Basin is one of several properties where Olympias grazed her goats.  As the summer comes to an end, breeding will start sooner in the fall so that there will be a larger population of grown goats ready to start once more in the spring.

 goat

Annie Chernich

Insight Associate Producer, Intern

Annie started as an associate producer with Insight in the summer of 2013 and rejoined Beth Ruyak and the rest of the team in 2014. She attends Boston University, and will spend her third year studying International Relations in Paris, France.  Read Full Bio