Pesky weed problem? Goats to the rescue!

Billie Arceneaux had a good week.

Partly because she enjoyed the company of 350 friendly goats munching away on the invasive weeds on her property adjacent to Lory State Park, but mostly because after nearly a year of basically fruitless effort and activism, she has at last began to make some progress in her effort to draw attention to the indiscriminate use of pesticides in her neighborhood.

The herd of cashmere goats, owned by Lani Malmberg of Ewe4ic, a weed management company, spend nearly all their time eating. They have to, in order to eat the 25 percent of their body weight they need each day. And the amazing thing is, they actually prefer the broad leaf plants — like leafy spurge, that are the least desirable. Only when the goats have consumed all the weeds in an area do they become interested in the grass. By that time they have been moved to another weed-filled field.

Arceneaux, who worked diligently with several neighbors to launch a campaign against improper pesticide spraying by Larimer County to “maintain the integrity” of the road prior to chip sealing, has found a way to create awareness of a better way to heal the land and rid it of unwanted weeds. And in Lani Malmberg, Arceneaux has made a new friend.

Malmberg, who grew up on a Wyoming cattle ranch and is on intimate terms with animals, gave up ranching on the family place when times got tough in the 1980s. A single parent raising two sons, she scraped and saved her way through a degree in environmental restoration, biology/botany from Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. A day after graduation the found herself at Colorado State University with a stipend to support her family and a commitment to earn a masters degree in weed science.

By the time she graduated at age 39, she’d had extensive experience on the effectiveness of sheep in getting rid of leafy spurge and had conducted a couple of important research projects. During one of them, she wangled positions for both her boys, then ages 11 and 12, explaining that she needed helped she knew would be reliable. She even got them on the project payroll at $7 an hour plus retirement benefits.

After graduation she went into debt to buy 100 goats, convinced that there was a need for the services they could provide. Today she keeps a herd of around 2,000 animals, a number that sometimes swells to 2,500 during the birthing season. She’s in demand in 12 states between Missouri and the Pacific Ocean, the Canadian and Mexican borders. Her son Donny, runs one herd and she another. Both have experienced border collies that Malmberg said control the sheep much better than the electrified portable fences she uses to keep the goats in the areas where they are eating weeds, fertilizing the soil and aerating it with their tiny hoofs.

Malmberg lives a nomadic life in a comfortably large RV. The goats travel in four-decker semi trailers.

Her knowledge, gained through many years’ experience as a rancher and through her studies in environmental restoration and weed science, makes her services especially valuable. She understands what needs to be done to heal the land. Often she spreads grass seed before the goats begin feeding, to allow them to fertilize and aerate to promote new growth. She does brush control, fire mitigation, flood control, oil field reclamation and reseeding. Clients have included federal, state, county and city governments, homeowners’ associations, oil and gas companies required to do reclamation of the land and private landowners.

She’s articulate about her work and a believer in alternatives to chemicals for weed and pest control. “Chemicals try to get rid of the symptoms,” she said, “while my goal is to heal the landscape.” She pointed to a gorge on the Arceneaux property that she explained could be removed by the action of goats at its banks, allowing flowing water to be absorbed by the land rather than rushing down into Horsetooth Reservoir. The process takes time, but the results are permanent and non-toxic.

“I was the only graduate student in my field not funded by a chemical company,” Malmberg likes to explain by way of pointing out the power of large chemical companies who relentlessly promote their products regardless of consequences.

The goats will spend a few more days on Arceneaux’s land before they move into Lory State Park to do weed control there. The park was not able to fund the goats so Arceneaux is paying for Malmberg’s services because she believes so strongly in non-chemical weed control. Cameron Landis, Lory Park’s weed expert, is willing to welcome the goats and will observe their work with interest.

Meanwhile Arceneaux is enjoying the 350 visitors on her land and is hopeful about the future.

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