California business raises boer goats to manage wildfires

By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Goats have been beneficial to mankind since time immemorial. They were among the first animals domesticated for their milk, meat, and pelts, among others.

While these are the common benefits that most people think they can get from goats, a company in California sees the goats for some beneficial uses other than those.

Fire Grazers Inc. is a company that specializes in brush clearance, also known as fuel modification or the thinning of vegetation in an area to reduce fire hazards.

The company’s goats munching down on grass.

“We take our goats all across the state of California, clearing fire-brush in areas that are too difficult, dangerous, or time-consuming for traditional mowing crews,” said Joseph Victor Choi, treasurer and field manager of Fire Grazers, Inc.

The idea behind the business came from Choi’s father. Fire Grazers Inc. has been around since 2009 and is now run by Choi and his two brothers, with the help of their wives.

How Boer goats mitigate wildfires

Almost every year, California experiences wildfires that become more and more severe as time passes by because of the growing threat of climate change. As the weather in the state gets hotter, materials such as leaves and grass become a flaming hazard that could easily combust even with just a spark, whether man-made or natural, causing millions of dollars in damage, not to mention endangering lives.

The goal of the company is to assist in managing fire-hazardous zones through fuel modification. In short, the company uses goats to prevent wildfires which annually threaten the California landscape.

Having less wild brush decreases the risk of accidental wildfires due to extremely warm weather conditions or human fault like leaving a burning campfire unattended. This is where the goats come in.

According to Choi, who grew up in the Philippines, goats are nature’s lawnmowers. To utilize this skill, Fire Grazers, Inc. brings goats to designated areas that need to be cleared, moving them around using portable electric netting fences that are charged by a car battery.

“This keeps the goats in the fence so they can do their job, which is to clear out any given area as fast as possible. Three hundred and fifty goats can clear a hectare of land in about two days,” Choi said.

Fire Grazers, Inc. chooses Boer goats because these are a hardy breed and are adaptable to extreme weather conditions. Boer goats are also skilled in scaling steep slopes, and are also appropriate in getting rid of unwanted or invasive weeds since they are not picky eaters.

Proper care of Boer goats

When it comes to the proper care and maintenance of goats, Choi said that in addition to the weeds and water that they consume, goats also need protein in the form of pressed blocks, salt and minerals provided in salt licks, and selenium for feeding mothers.

Goats also need shelter in inclement weather as well as the security provided by a guard dog.

The family business is run by brothers (from left to right) Aaron, Michael (CEO), and Joseph Choi.

“We use Anatolian Shepherds and Great Pyrenees for our guard dogs because they have good instincts for guarding herds; and short-hair variations of those breeds might work in the Philippines, but I’m sure there are other herd-managing breeds better suited to the Filipino climate,” Choi said.

Challenges in goat raising 

The big challenge for raising a large number of goats in a humid free-range environment, according to Choi, is making sure that the herd stays within the limits of the electric fencing.

“It’s a lot of work and responsibility. Goat raising is a very difficult job, it requires much effort and sacrifice. There can be serious liability issue in case the goats escaped from their pens, so please be forewarned,” Choi said.

He added that goats are escape artists, so it’s important to keep the fence well charged. This means clearing a path for the fencing with mowing equipment so that the electric fence doesn’t lose its spark when it touches wet grass or brush.

One thing to remember is to keep goats on the move because, unlike cattle who can be stopped by just several links of tension wire, it’s difficult to make a large, permanent perimeter fence that will hold goats in.

Another consideration is that goats will eat their favorite food first if left in a large area, then tend to get fussy about the leftovers. Moving them more often will result in better performance because they eat what they have to work with.

“In terms of breeding them in large numbers, it’s important to separate mothers and babies from the herd at least for the first few days since the kids often get lost and confused when looking for their mothers and vice versa,” Choi said.

For a sick goat, Choi recommends vitamins to help get them back into shape. He also suggests not only owning a large plot of land to keep the goats, but to keep in contact with interested neighbors and third-parties who might want their property cleared, just in case the goats finish faster than expected.

Raising goats as a profitable business

Now in service for nine years, Choi admits that goat raising has been profitable for them because of the huge demand for goats and their products.

“On top of the brush clearance, we can also sell them for a profit based on the season and availability of contracts,” Choi said.

Goat milk and its related products are enormously beneficial, especially because goat milk can be consumed by all mammals and can be used into other products such as butter, soap, lotion, etc.

Additionally, goat meat is the most consumed meat in the world, and while it is less brittle, it can be cooked in various ways such as stew and more.

The company has also seen vast improvements in the soil quality in the areas where their goats have grazed.

Goat manure, when diluted, makes fantastic compost tea, which is an immensely powerful natural fertilizer. More than one master gardener has taken the company’s goats’ droppings and used them, to great effect, in growing trees and plants. (Photos courtesy of Fire Grazers, Inc.)

For more information, visit the Fire Grazers Inc.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s July 2019 issue. 

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Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Patricia Taculao, or Patty as she likes to be called, is a content producer for Manila Bulletin Digital Lifestyle. She graduated from University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She loves to spend her free time, reading, painting, and watching old movies.

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