Gobbling goats can eradicate noxious weeds
By Janelle Holden
Cortez Journal Staff Writer
Socrates died from eating poisonous hemlock, but Lani Lamming’s goats love it.
On a daily basis, her 2,000 cashmere goats annihilate even the most toxic, noxious and prickly of weeds.
Lamming, founder of Ewe4ic Ecological Services in Alpine, Wyo., was in Cortez June 11 to speak to the Mancos and Dolores soil conservation districts.
Lamming, her husband, Fred, and her sons Reggie and Donny Benz have developed a profitable, environmentally sound alternative to the normal practice of controlling noxious weeds with pesticides – goats.
A former cattle rancher, Lamming obtained a master’s degree in weed science at Colorado State University, where she conducted research on how sheep eat weeds. Her research led her to goats, which eat more types of weeds at a faster pace than sheep.
After graduating from CSU, Lamming bought 100 cashmere goats and has built the herd to 2,000 over the four years she has been selling their services to landowners with weed-infested properties.
As in Montezuma County, weeds are a problem across the West. It is estimated that invasive species take over 4,600 acres of land per day and 1.5 million acres per year, Lamming said. They destroy animal habitat, increase erosion, create fire hazards and decrease land values. Many states, counties and cities – including the city of Durango and La Plata County – mandate that landowners control noxious weeds on their property.
Unlike cattle and horses, goats prefer weeds over lush grasses. Goats can also reach the more difficult places where weeds grow – cracks in rocks, steep hillsides and beneath bridges and highway overpasses. With intensive grazing over several years, goats can eliminate even the most aggressive weeds, including leafy spurge, purple loosestrife and musk thistle, Lamming said.
"The weeds are smarter than the plants, the goats are smarter than the weeds, and the only thing smarter than the goats is a border collie," said Lamming.
Lamming said she has never advertised her service; word of mouth has managed to build a lucrative business. Her clients have included the city of Denver, the towns of Meeker and Parker, and the Vail and Breckenridge resorts as well as public-land managers in several states.
Lamming used to charge by the acre, but now she charges per goat, from 25 cents to $2 per day, plus goats transportation costs.
Although Lamming doesn’t own land, she has never had to buy feed or supplements for her goats. They will eat weeds at any time of the year, she said, but the best time for grazing is the fall and winter when the weeds are down.
When the goats have finished their assignment, Lamming reseeds the newly turned soil with natural grasses fertilized by the goats’ waste. Any extra "fertilizer" is bagged and sold to organic farmers. The waste is not contaminated with seeds because of the unique shape of goats’ mouths and their powerful digestive enzymes.
Lamming said any type of goat will eat weeds, but she chose cashmere because of their "handleability" and wool product. The cashmere from the goats is sold for $15 an ounce.