Utah homeowners turn to goats to prevent wildfires

BOUNTIFUL, Utah (AP) — A Utah rancher’s team of goats is turning out to be the unlikely solution for homeowners worried about dry conditions ripe for wildfires.

Greg Cover told the Salt Lake Tribune that business for his 4 Leaf Ranch has been up this year, at the start of what is likely to be an intense fire season. Blazes fed by dry weather and steady winds have already destroyed dozens of structures and consumed more than 100 square miles (259 square kilometers) around the state.

Cover’s pack of goats and sheep munch on undergrowth and vegetation that can provide fuel for wildfires. The animals chew through grass and dense vegetation on hard-to-reach hillsides and difficult terrain.

But they leave the roots intact, preventing damaging erosion. The animals can also easily climb steep slopes that would challenge lawnmowers and other mechanical equipment.

These goats are the most efficient worker you’ll ever see,” said Cover.

Cover’s business, based in Kamas east of Salt Lake City, has a total of 450 goats and is the only one of its kind in the state. It works on about 100 projects a year, from April to November.

The animals can eat up to 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of vegetation a day and sometimes frustrate his employees forced to chase them across neighboring porches.

“A lot of people think this is an easy job,” said herder Terry Stanfill. “This ain’t easy here.”

Shirley Faerber called Cover’s team of animals to clean out the brush on her 1-acre backyard which slopes up to a dry yellow foothill in Bountiful. Her home was threatened by a wildfire 15 years ago and she said she feels safer when the vegetation is cleared out.

The yard’s growth has been too much for her to keep up on her own, she said.

The goats took about four days to clear out her land.

More than just work, Faerber said, the animals also provided an enjoyable view.

“They’ve been really cute to watch,” she said.

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