A few thousand goats and sheep have spent this spring grazing and clearing away weeds and tall grass along Elk Grove’s creeks. They have 411 acres of land to clean up until the summertime begins and the city’s dry brush becomes fire hazards.
On May 16, neighbors and other onlookers were invited to view the four-legged maintenance workers at a temporary camp near the corner of Big Horn Boulevard and Lewis Stein Road in Laguna. This base was set on vacant land owned by Pappas Investments.
Liza Morris, a property manager for Pappas, said that neighbors preferred the sounds of goats and sheep than the machinery that’s typically used to clear brush.
“They loved hearing the goats instead of the tractors and the weed-eaters,” she said, adding that goats also don’t kick up dust like those machines.
This is the city of Elk Grove’s fourth year of their “Grazing Management” program, in which they hire herders to have goats and sheep remove brush. This is intended to be an alternative to using herbicides as well as excessively mowing the land.
“The goats are always hungry and they work effectively,” said Tiffany Agrusa, an administrative analyst for the city’s public works department.
She added that the animals also deposit “healthy nutrients” to replenish the soil.
This year, the city hired Integrazers to bring their legion of animals to clean up the areas of creeks such as Laguna and Strawberry.
Under the Elk Grove city contract, the project will cost $250 an acre for single grazing and $350 an acre for double-grazing. The overall costs are not to exceed $143,850. Pappas also hired Integrazers to clear up more than 25 acres of their properties.
Integrazers have worked in Elk Grove since early April and they plan to finish their job in early June. The animals are kept in temporary camps for a few days before moving to another part of the city.
Lee Hazeltine, the owner of Integrazers, said that the animals help keep residents safe from fire and flooding hazards.
“The storm drains have to be kept clear in order to function properly and keep the public safe from flooding,” he said.
Hazeltine said that a 140-pound can consume up to 7 pound of grass a day – he estimated that his large flock can graze 10 tons of dry grass a day.
He also mentioned that the grazing practices can have positive impacts on the carbon and water cycles of the land.
Hazeltine has worked in the grazing business for 14 years, starting with a small herd of goats from Texas. In years past, his herd grew up to 14,500 animals that grazed more than 5,000 acres in the Rocklin-Lincoln region.
Hazeltine said that his animals graze land in timber or levee areas during the summer, and they clear up brush at hayfields and alfalfa farms in the wintertime.
“People say, ‘Man, I want your job,’” he recalled. “But when you’re up to your elbows in mud and slop then nobody wants your job. That’s life – life is a balance. But it’s a good job, that’s why I’m still doing it.”