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Elk Grove Citizen

Four-Legged County Workers Head for Pastures New

Jun 17, 2020 12:00AM ● By Story and photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner

Goat farm owner Steve Gregory (left) and son Jacob muster stock to journey between Carmichael and Fair Oaks.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - Six hundred goats recently joined the morning Fair Oaks Boulevard commute. Accompanied by whistles, barks and bleats, 2400 hooves beat a rapid tattoo through Schweitzer Grove (Carmichael) to board stock trucks. A short ride later, the bearded day-workers were munching weeds near Bannister Park (Fair Oaks).  Once that two-week riverside picnic was behind them, they moved to Rollingwood, Orangevale.

Park districts and Counties are increasingly using herbivore power on hard-to-mow territory. Poison oak and steep slopes are all in a day’s rumination for goat gangs that recently trimmed Wilhaggin Retention Basin on American River Drive. Though animals take longer than blades, their chomping doesn’t cause sparks and fires. They’re also quieter. “We hardly knew they were here,” said a resident near Schweitzer Grove. “I came out to watch them every day. Such a peaceful sight. I hope they’ll come back next year.”

For Lincoln goat farmer Steve Gregory, summer is when his goat and sheep are busiest – and happiest. However, coyotes and mountain lions can be a worry in wilderness work areas. Gregory flocks are tended with Biblical devotion by shepherds and canines who sleep with their charges at night. Hydration is another big concern.  “Each animal needs up to two gallons of water per day - more if it gets really hot,” confirms the farmer. Though his truck delivers water daily, some neighboring residents volunteer garden hoses. “We’re always grateful for that,” he says. “Our animals’ health is our first concern.” Gregory’s Peruvian herders are legendary in their industry. “These guys grow up around grazing animals,” says their boss. “They seem to know how sheep and goats think. We all put our animals before ourselves. If they’re not healthy, we can’t stay in business.”

From a landowner’s view, goats are often more cost-effective than machines.  “They might take more time to do the job,” explains Sacramento County engineer Lennard Bravo. “But they’re great on steep terrain where human ankles have been turned. They free up staff to deal with emergency situations at times of fire risk. And after herds do their work, we’ve found regrowth is limited and less maintenance is needed.” The gentle mowers also cohabit well with wildlife - they don’t hurt ground-foragers like quail or turkey chicks. They devour invasive vegetation - blackberry and thistles are a particular delight - and their droppings return nitrogen to the soil. While machines spread seeds to germinate elsewhere, ruthlessly grinding caprine teeth reduce kernels to pulp.

Though his livestock has fulfilled many Sacramento County contracts, the passage of Fair Oaks’ century-old truss bridge presented a picturesque challenge. “It’s a bridge with so many pedestrians and cyclists,” explains Gregory. “We don’t worry about how the goats will manage - they move well as a herd - our concern is how people react to them. Fortunately, eating’s their favorite thing to do. That’s what gets them across bridges so smoothly. They’re all led by their stomachs.”