Goats’ Appetites Put To Work

Goats made their first appearance in our pages as a matter of pure visual fun. Then there were several in a row that touched on companionship as well as culinary aspects. Finally one treated goats as workers.  That was five years ago. Today Coral Murphy Marcos tells the story, with photographs by Amanda Lucier, about a family, plus one intern, at the cutting edge of fighting fire with appetite:

The Unconventional Weapon Against Future Wildfires: Goats

When megafires burn in unison and harsh droughts parch the West, local governments, utilities and companies struggle with how to prevent outbreaks, especially as each year brings record destruction.

Carrying an unconventional weapon, Ms. Malmberg travels the American West in an Arctic Fox camper, occupying a small but vital entrepreneurial niche.

Ms. Malmberg, 64, is a goat herder and a pioneer in using the animals to restore fire-ravaged lands to greener pastures and make them less prone to the spread of blazes.

She developed the fire-prevention technique in graduate school and is among a few individuals using grazing methods for fire mitigation. It’s a word-of-mouth business, and private landowners and local governments hire her to remove weeds while restoring the soil.

Ms. Malmberg works with her son, Donny Benz; his fiancé, Kaiti Singley; and an occasional unpaid intern. The team runs on the goats’ time and have their dinner only when the day’s job is done.

They arrive early and open the trailer. The goats jump out, ready to eat, as Ms. Malmberg watches that they don’t stray. The team sets up an electric fence to confine the goats and their meals to a specific area overnight.

After the goats digest the brush, their waste returns organic matter to the soil, increasing its potential to hold water. Goats are browsers that eat the grass, leaves and tall brush that cows and other grazers can’t reach. This type of vegetation is known as the fire fuel ladder and leads to wider spread when wildfires spark. More than quell a fire, Ms. Malmberg aims to prevent it from even starting. “By increasing soil organic matter by 1 percent, that soil can hold an additional 16,500 gallons of water per acre,” said Ms. Malmberg. “If helicopters come and dump water on the fires, nothing is done for the soil.”

In 2020, Ms. Malmberg co-founded the nonprofit Goatapelli Foundation to train people in how to use goats to prevent wildfires. She said that of the 200 or so participants, only a few had launched their own businesses. Start-up costs could total $360,000, Ms. Malmberg said, including equipment and the livestock, which she trains herself…

Read the whole story here.

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