Forest wildfires are a disaster of the first order. But the tools used to fight them are super-cool. Smokejumpers, who parachute into the wilderness to battle the flames. Tanker planes that scoop tons of water off a lake and dump it on the blaze without ever landing.
And goats. Yeah, that’s right. Goats.
The horned, yellow-eyed gluttons are an increasingly common tool for suppressing forest fires. The vegetation that grows between the forest canopy and forest floor – known as “understory” – can serve as tinder for the fires like those that have ravaged the Pacific Northwest this year. Conveniently, goats love to munch on understudy. A herd can strip the bark, leaves and berries off acres of forest in just a few days. The result is less easily igniting, fast burning undergrowth to fuel the next inferno.
Indeed, they are so effective that goat fire-suppression has become a growth business in areas prone to wildfires. Healing Hooves of Edwall, WA, was recently hired by the posh Suncadia resort to unleash its 250 goats on nearby understory. The goats, guarded from predators by an electric fence and guard dog, worked in one-acre parcels, gobbling everything they could get their teeth on, up to six feet above ground. When the goats finally wipe their mouths and move on, the area looks like it’s been mowed and weed-whacked.
Seattle-based Rent-A-Ruminant hires out its herd for both fire suppression and more routine yard work. Homeowners have discovered goats are perfect for eliminating hard to kill and invasive plants like English Ivy and wild blackberry bushes. The company has also been hired to eliminate brush that has provided cover for drug dealing and other criminal activity on public property.
California, you won’t be surprised to learn, has long been in the vanguard of the goat-fire-industrial complex. The state has numerous such companies, some of which have herds numbering in the thousands.
While machines are often the most economical tool for reducing understory, goats are better for hard to reach areas and places with soft soil. Plus, goats work ‘round the clock until the job is done, the vegetation they eliminate doesn’t need to be hauled away, and the goats’ digestive track often sterilizes seeds, thus slowing regeneration of the understory.
The busy season for fire-suppression in the Pacific Northwest is late spring through October. There is so much demand that Healing Hooves has turned away customers, and Rent-A-Ruminant has considered franchising its model.
I’m a big believer that retirees should consider taking a job or starting a small business to stay busy and bolster their income, especially as they transition out of a career. So, what do you think? All you need to cash in on this bonanza is a couple dozen goats, a place to keep them, a trailer and a border collie. It will get you outside, put some cash in your pocket, and provide an awesome answer when people ask, “What are you doing now that you’re retired?”