Throughout California and the West, every ranch and land owner knows the importance of keeping brush and wild grass cleared off the land. In fire season, thick heavy brush can easily become ”fuel“ for a wild fire and can increase the danger of the fire spreading. Every spring, ranch owners must development a brush and weed management plan for the coming season. Grazing can be a cost effective and desirable method of management.
The demand for grazing land that is suitable for cattle is high, and if a property has open grassy terrain, the land owner can easily work out a grazing lease with a local cattle rancher to manage the grass growth. But steep, rugged brush-covered topography is not well suited to cattle grazing, and costs for manual brush clearing can be exorbitant. As an alternative, some local ranch and land owners have turned to goats as a solution for cost effectively keeping brush down, particularly in rugged areas.
Goats are browsers rather than grazers like cattle and horses. As browsers, goats actually prefer brush and weeds to grass, and they can be used to control brush and weeds without disturbing the grass and soil. They love to eat many undesirables such as thistles and poison oak. They are also extremely agile and sure footed, and can climb down steep embankments and maneuver through crevices. They are excellent at cleaning out what fire-fighters call, “ladder fuel,” which is a collection of dry grass, brush, and small branches on trees that could provide enough fuel to send the fire all the way to the tree-tops.
Goats love to roam but as herd animals they tend to stay together. However because they are vulnerable to predators such as mountain lions, coyotes, and bears, a livestock guard is required. Some dogs, such as Akbash, Great Pyrenees, and the Anatolian Shepherd are bred to guard herds of goats and/or sheep and to protect them from predators. Such dogs are typically raised with goats and/or sheep and must be taught not to chase them.
An alternative to the guard dog is the guard llama. Llamas can be effective guards with no training. Also no previous association with goat herds is required. They seem to have a natural instinct to guard and protect the goat herd. Llamas have proven to be highly effective against coyotes, and they are a deterrent to larger predators. Unlike guard dogs who require daily feeding, Llamas are browsers like goats and do not require supplemental feeding when the browse is adequate.
There are numerable breeds of goats. Some goats are primarily bred for dairy. Others, such as the Boer Goat, are bred for meat and may not be as hardy for grazing in rugged terrain as is, for example, the Spanish goat. Some ranchers have reported that the meat market for goats is quite profitable. Goats are cute and personable with a relatively high intelligence. The ranch owner will want to do extensive research to determine the breed best suited for their particular ranch.
A ranch owner will also need to install fencing for the goats as most typical horse and cattle fencing will not be sufficient to hold the goat herd. They have a ability to hop up and perch themselves on rocks or even in trees. Goats will need some worming and medical care, and they may at times require supplemental feeding, depending on the ranch situation. They will also need some provision for shelter from harsh winter weather.