Goats reduce fire hazards in the Berkeley hills

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory goat herder with his dog. Photos: Roy Kaltschmidt, courtesy of LBNL

For the past six weeks, more than 600 goats have been munching the grass and shrubs on the steep hills around the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in a 6-week project to make 100 acres less susceptible to fire.

“They are perfect for the steep slopes at the lab which would be difficult to clear by humans,” said LBNL Communications Manager Jon Weiner.

The goats come from Goats R Us – an Orinda-based company that specializes in goat-powered brush reduction.

The bearded grazers eat most vegetation available, including plants like poison oak and star thistle, which are difficult to clear by hand. They generally eat the tops of plants instead of pulling the roots, which causes less damage to lands than traditional grazers.

Egon and Terri Oyarzùn started Goats R Us in 1995 with 54 goats. They began clearing small areas of their neighbors’ land, and the business eventually blossomed. Today, Goats R Us’ goats, border collies and shepherds work in harmony with native plant cycles, ground-nesting birds and endangered species to provide specialized vegetation management throughout the Bay Area.

In 1999, Goats R Us shepherds worked in collaboration with San Rafael’s In Defense of Animals to rescue 120 feral goats stranded on Catalina Island.

Goats R Us provides a comfortable retirement plan for their hoofed workers. Golden-age goats are never sold and instead roam hills near Orinda, grazing freely. They receive supplements and vaccinations and occasionally visit nearby schools or senior centers as goat ambassadors.

Robert A. Mills is a graduate student studying interactive journalism at The Reynolds School of Journalism at The University of Nevada, Reno. He is currently interning at Berkeleyside. 

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  • Anonymous

    Goats are the best.

  • Anonymous

    It’s always delightful to round a curve on Wildcat Canyon Road and see hundreds of goats grazing in the hillside.

  • Hansagruber

    Don’t deer clear away the underbrush in this same manner?  Don’t they actually protect homes that are built into forested areas by doing so?  Our state agencies continue to push suburban deer slaughters because of the understory being eaten away.  What does “generally eat the tops of plants” mean?  That is not very specific.  Are these goats given instructions as to what level they are allowed to munch down to? If deer were allowed to move freely – and not confined because of roads and homes dividing green spaces, maybe they also could be classified as “general” munchers. I suppose if you are stuck “munching” in the same area year after year, you might have to go down a bit further.  Just saying …. some animals are more fun to stalk and kill than others. Let’s hope no goats stray off and become the next decades trophy hunts for lazy suburban weekend hunters. 

  • Noah S.

    As an LBNL employee who worked in one of the buildings pictured above, the best part was one day when the goats got loose into our parking lot!

  • TN

    The border collies who herd the goats are fun to watch. I watched just one of these dogs herd hundreds of goats onto a truck trailer. It is a rare sight to see sheepdogs working in urban areas. It was fun watching the dogs and goats interact when the lot that became Berkeley Bowl West was being cleared of weeds.

  • Anonymous

    I guess it wouldn’t be Berkeley, if someone didn’t say, “Baaa!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/bobertmills Bobby A.M.

    “They generally eat the tops of plants instead of pulling the roots,” meaning the goats don’t typically eat roots. This cuts back on erosion.
    I wasn’t trying to say they deserve to live more or less than any other grazing species. Just that they make good organized grazers.

  • Anonymous

    Get your goat?

  • Anonymous

    I love the photo of the smiling goat munching on brush. I’ve always thought goats were a bit strange and otherworldly looking but this one looks friendly.

  • Guest

    In an Animal Farm analogy, the 600 goats should become conscious of the fact that a handful of humans and a few guard dogs are exploiting and enslaving them for their own profit and benefit.  As the vanguard of the proletariat, we in Berkeley should sow dissension among the goats, support revolutionary goat liberation and foment the overthrow of “Famer Jones.”  The exploitation and mistreatment of these proletariat goats has already been documented locally.

    Co-Owner, Herder of Orinda-Based Goat Leasing Firm, Charged With Animal Neglect

    http://lamorinda.patch.com/articles/co-owner-herder-of-orinda-goat-leasing-firm-charged-with-animal-cruelty

  • Guest

    In an Animal Farm analogy, the 600 goats should become conscious of the fact that a handful of humans and a few guard dogs are exploiting and enslaving them for their own profit and benefit.  As the vanguard of the proletariat, we in Berkeley should sow dissension among the goats, support revolutionary goat liberation and foment the overthrow of “Famer Jones.”  The exploitation and mistreatment of these proletariat goats has already been documented locally.

    Co-Owner, Herder of Orinda-Based Goat Leasing Firm, Charged With Animal Neglect

    http://lamorinda.patch.com/articles/co-owner-herder-of-orinda-goat-leasing-firm-charged-with-animal-cruelty

  • Charles

    I enjoy seeing the goats in the hills, but am surprised that Goats R Us is back in Berkeley less than a year after animal cruelty charges were filed against it.  http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/11/29/BA661GJ8SU.DTL
    Perhaps Berkeleyside can look into the disposition of those charges, and see whether and why EBRPD and other local institutions continue to work with them.  

  • annie painter

    I love watching the goats and the herding dogs. Perhaps Berkeleyside could devote a reporter’s time to clarifying the outcome of that neglect charge, to sort of “clear the air” here on the comments board? Thank you!

  • http://berkeleyside.com Tracey Taylor

    We are going to do a follow-up story which will address the animal cruelty charges.

  • Guest

    Nitpicky vocabulary point: goats don’t graze, they browse. (Sheep and cattle graze.)