Goats back on weed- munching duty in Vail
The answer is “504 goats,” but only if you ask the right question.In Vail, the right question is, “How can we control weeds across acres of right-of-way and open space without spraying or mowing?”For the past few years, the town has hired private companies to bring in goats for summer weed control. The results were generally good: A goat-grazed hillside looks like a small re-enactment of Sherman’s March to the Sea. But there have been problems.An unleashed dog killed a few goats a few years ago, and one herd dog a specially-trained animal worth thousands of dollars and a priceless companion was killed by a hit-and-run driver.”I’ve heard all those stories, and I’m really working to make sure none of that happens to me,” Golden Hooves Grazing Services owner Laura Lou Colby said. Along with the goats, Colby came to Vail with three herding dogs; one giant, white Great Pyrenees guardian dog; and several thousand feet of portable, solar-powered electric fence.
“I think the guardian dog will help a lot,” said Colby, who also stays with her herd at all times. Guardian dogs are often used with sheep and goat herds to discourage coyotes and other predators. She’s also counting on the fence.While a lot of fence isn’t needed in some areas, on Wednesday Colby’s herd was chewing up a stretch along the Vail recreation path just east of the golf course. The path was busy with bicyclists and pedestrians while the goats safely gnawed knapweed, thistles and grass. In a tight corridor just east of the golf course, fences do most of the work.”The dogs are really bored right now,” Colby said. “They’ll get some work in when we get into more open spaces.”With the goats right next to a well-used trail, Colby spends a lot of time answering questions. Tourists and locals stopped to take pictures and one, Larry Small of Fort Worth, Texas, even helped Colby put a fence panel across a culvert that a couple of young goats had sneaked through to get across the path. Although he’s from cattle country, Small was willing to state for the record he was happy to help Colby with her goats.The people who stopped to watch the goats virtually all thought the idea of using hungry herbivores for weed control was a good idea.”They should do stuff like this in Arizona,” Brenda Landau of Tuscon said. “We had big wildfires last year and it’s nice to see there are natural ways to keep the weeds down to prevent some of that.”Actually, Colby does bring her herd to Tuscon and Phoenix. Over the last six years, Colby’s goat herd has turned into a weed-eating traveling circus, going to just about any place that has weeds.Golden Hooves actually started as a way for Colby to control weeds on her home place at Maybell, near Meeker. As her herd grew, the animals chewed up weeds on her place, and her neighbors’ places. Soon, she was looking for weeds to satisfy the hungry critters.And 504 goats will eat a lot of weeds. Goats will chew virtually anything green as high up as they can reach, stripping leaves from bushes and positively tearing up thistles and other noxious weeds.”I think it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen,” Mike Roeder of Illinois said. “There’s no stinking lawn mowers, they don’t need mufflers and they fertilize where they’ve been.” Vail resident Trisha Hutchinson agreed. “It’s a nice, natural way to control the weeds,” she said. And her walking partner Dinell Wilson said kids along the path really seem to enjoy seeing the animals. Colby enjoys the people, too.After herding a few people out of the way while getting her two wayward goats from one side of the path to the other, she said people can complicate her job a bit. “But you have to enjoy talking to people,” she said. “Besides, it’s fun. Sometimes you don’t see anyone for a week.”