When the news feels especially heavy, it can be nice to turn to goats for an emotional uplift. And have we got some really feel-good goat news, because move over, Smokey the Bear: Goats can prevent forest fires, too. We already know that goats are cute, with their weird little vertical eyes and giddy jumping and their slightly scary (but also sort of cute!) habit of screaming like people. But they’re also notably ravenous—and that little fact could be used to help save California.
A new article in the New York Times explores how enterprising goat herders in the wildfire-ravaged state have been using teams of the animals for fire mitigation, mainly through the goats’ habit of eating delicious brush grass and dry shrubs.
You see, the tasty plants that goats love to munch on are also the ones that are most prone to catching fire in the midst of historic drought conditions. The story in the Times follows one herder, who sets up an electric fence and releases her 200 goats to eat whatever they can overnight. Not only are they adorably clearing brush that would normally be kindling for wildfires, but when they, um, digest the plants, they’re also fertilizing the soil so that new grass can grow in its stead.
And these goats have some range: According to the piece, goats are capable of eating brush up to nine feet in the air if they stand on their hind legs. No thanks to nine-foot-tall goats as an image in general, but yes please if it helps prevent fires!
This type of mitigation isn’t new. In fact, using fire-ravaged land as a grazing pasture is a pretty ancient technique dating back to early humans. But bringing it back in the wake of the recent and devastating fires in California feels particularly genius—not only is it effective, but it captures the imagination and brings more attention to earth-friendly fire prevention techniques. Plus, walking around on a trail and running into hundreds of lunching goats sounds positively delightful, no?
The practice of hiring goats to do yard work has been gaining momentum in recent years, and the Bureau of Land Management even contacted the California goat herder profiled by the Times to address wildfire concerns in Colorado.
Goats! Our furry friends may also be the heroes we need right now.