Herd helps with Valle Verde’s landscaping for fire prevention
A herd of goats is eating its way through Valle Verde, to protect the senior living community from wildfires.
Steve Freire, Valle Verde’s director of buildings and grounds, enlisted the help of 805 Goats owner Scott Morris and his herd of more than 120 goats to help clear out flammable invasive plant species including invasive weeds, mustard, chaparral, thistle and even poison oak.
“Poison oak is their favorite; it’s like dessert to them,” Mr. Morris told the News-Press.
His herd will clear out vegetation from a five-acre swath of land off Torino Drive near Hidden Oaks Road. Valle Verde’s main office is located at 900 Calle De Los Amigos.
Mr. Freire told the News-Press that Valle Verde first brought goats onto the 60-acre Santa Barbara campus for vegetation control last year.
“We investigated it, and I interviewed a couple of goat herd companies to bring their herd so they could graze all of the fire fuel. They graze down the grass, weeds, chaparral and anything else that they can reach,” Mr. Freire said.
“It’s doing everything we need from an emergency management and fire obligation standpoint. And it brings so much joy to the community. It’s a triple win,” Mr. Freire said.
He explained that the goats don’t need any training or encouragement to start chomping on the flammable brush. Once the goat herders set up a fenced area for them to graze in, the goats mow down practically everything they can get their teeth into. The larger goats will even prop themselves up on small oak saplings trim low-hanging branches.
“Goats are great because they consume from the flower and seed down. That removes the possibility of that seed dropping and reproducing,” Mr. Morris said. He added that the grazing helps native vegetation compete with invasive weeds.
Mr. Freire confirmed that the weeds and chaparral on last year’s grazing site have come back much thinner than before.
Goats are more suited for wildfire grazing than horses and cattle because they are less picky eaters. Their four-chamber stomachs also digest up to 90% of what they eat, which allows them to graze on a wide variety of plants safely. However, goats don’t have a taste for invasive ice plants, and avocados are toxic to them.
The 805 Goats herd can clear about an acre and a half of land every two days, depending on weather and terrain. Mr. Freire said the herd’s 14-day stay at Valle Verde began on Saturday.
Mr. Morris said 95% of the goats in his herd are Boer goats and the rest are Nubian dairy goats. 805 Goats raise most of its herd naturally, but the Nubian goats are males donated by local dairy farmers.
“They’re not noisy, they don’t smell, if you hear them there’s a problem. They’re like a bunch of 5-year-olds always looking to get out. The ground here is very soft, and they can perfect getting under the fence and they’ll just start to walk,” Mr. Morris said with a chuckle.
He continued that when the goats get out, they usually just walk around exploring and grazing on whatever brush they can find.
Mr. Freire said the goats have created excitement and joy for the community.
More than 20 Valle Verde residents wore masks and formed a socially distanced crowd to welcome the goats into the community on Saturday.
“It is such a highlight for them,” Mr. Freire said. “You hear the stories of those who grew up on farms and ranches in the Midwest. This was a no-brainer. It provides something spontaneous for the residents, not two-stroke engines making noise across the hillside.”
Mr. Morris said the residents are welcome to come out to the grazing site to watch the goats. 805 Goats staff will help residents pet and hold the younger goats.
“They’re so gentle and sweet,” said Valle Verde resident Nadine Tracy as she held a young goat named Moose.
“You can see it in their eyes,” Ms. Tracy said. “You show them love, and they give you love back.”