Better Than a Weed Whacker

Using goats to eradicate plants

Amanita Thorp, who turns 29 later this month, has been goatscaping since 2007. Thorp coined the term when she was preparing for her first contracted job as a wrangler of weed-eating goats. "Now," she says, "you look up goatscaping, and it's a thing. It's pretty awesome."

According to Thorp—whose first paying goat gig was to clear land at the Army Corps of Engineers' Galisteo dam—hiring goats to clean up invasive or fire-spreading weeds costs three times less than using mowers and herbicides—often-used, but harsher methods of eradication.

Thorp and her father—along with her working crew of horses, dogs and 48 goats—have been working for about a month this summer for the Eldorado Community Improvement Association to clear Eldorado's greenbelts. For the last four years, Horned Locust GoatScaping, a division of the family company, SunStar, has been hired to eat away and stomp out plants like invasive ragweed—which "grows up and dries, and is hot burning, like tumbleweed," Thorp explains. It also causes nasty allergies.

"I see a lot of improvement here. A lot more grass has come in—even as dry as it's been," Thorp says, "a lot of the ragweed has backed off." She explains the process as a "mob effect." The contact the herd makes with the earth as it pushes the weeds into the soil "sequesters the carbon; it feeds the mycelium, which feeds the soil, which feeds the grass, which feeds the goats."

The goats prefer substance—larger plants like chamisa, tumbleweed and ragweed—and ignore the smaller grasses, which are then able grow and spread in areas previously overrun with invasive plants. Ultimately, the goats help restore balance to an off-kilter ecosystem. "Plants need animals just as much as animals need plants," Thorp says.

Thorp herds the goats horseback twice daily for about two hours each time. When she's not in the field, she keeps busy reading, updating her blog and website, and making gourd ornaments and horsehair and feather jewelry to be sold at her family's booth at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.

After their work in Eldorado is done, Thorp and her herd will head to Tesuque to clean up a residential property. Thorp says oak trimming at the Valles Caldera is also on the horizon for her goats. And she'd like to start working for Albuquerque's open space program on fire prevention. Perhaps someday soon the herd will graze through Santa Fe, but for now, Thorp says, city parks officials have been giving her the cold shoulder. "They don't return my calls."

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