Goat grazing can be a cost effective, environmentally sound way to clear combustible vegetation and promote growth of native grasses and beneficial plants, particularly for large areas (10, to 100+ acres) and in steep or difficult terrain. Grazing can efficiently treat areas that are inaccessible or difficult to manage with mowers and weed eaters, areas where prescribed burns are inadvisable, and sensitive areas where the application of herbicides is not appropriate.
Looking to Hire Goats?
If you're a large landowner (10+ acres) goat grazing might be an effective tool to help you reduce wildfire hazard. Smaller residential properties are usually not cost effective, due to the cost of transporting goats by truck. FIRESafe MARIN offers a list of local goat grazing contractors at www.firesafemarin.org/contractors.
2019 Goat Grazing Funding Campaign is now closed. Thank you for your donations! You maky make donations to FIRESafe MARIN, and specify Goat Grazing. We'll offer the opportunity to name goats again in the future.
We raised nearly $20,000 to bring goats to Marin communities for wildfire hazard reduction in 2019 and 2020. Don't forget - your donation was tax deductible, and if you donated $100 or more, you got to name a goat!
Goats offer a natural, economical, and sustainable solution to reducing vegetation fuel and wildfire hazards in Marin. In 2019, FIRESafe MARIN helped bring 1200 goats to central Marin where they grazed more than 600 acres of high-risk grass woodlands, clearing 3+ acres a day of vegetation, including non-native, invasive plants. This approach proved cost effective and gentle on the land, reducing the fuels for fire, restoring native grasslands where firefighters can more easily control fires, limiting greenhouse gas emissions, and creating pastoral fuel breaks in the open spaces between communities. In 2020, with your help, we plan to expand this valuable project to 1200+ goats and nearly 1000 acres!
Goat Grazing Research
Goat grazing as a wildfire prevention tool: a basic review
2014. iForest – Journal of Biogeosciences and Forestry.
Raffella Lovreglio (1), Ouahiba Meddour-Sahar (2), Vittorio Leone (3)
"Fuel treatments aimed at reducing both horizontal and vertical continuity in fuels are of paramount importance as a prevention measure against fire propagation. Possible techniques include pruning, thinning (mainly low thinning), mastication, prescribed burning, and prescribed (or targeted) grazing. Their main target is crown fire avoidance by treating surface fuels and promoting low density and vertically discontinuous stands, thus eliminating fuel ladders. Grazing is an effective, nearly carbon-neutral weed control technique which is cost-effective, nontoxic, and nonpolluting. Goat grazing is a very interesting solution: if confined by a metallic or electrified fence within a restricted pen, with a rather high density, goats browse the available foliage and twigs from all woody plants as well as all herbaceous vegetation. They can feed on a variety of shrubs, some of which are useless for other domestic species, and are therefore the best adapted for the consumption of all the Mediterranean shrubs which represent the fuel ladder. The appropriate choice of season of grazing, type of plant species and type and amount of biomass to be eliminated, livestock density, social structure of the herd, grazing time per day, type of fencing, and size of pens define the prescribed grazing system. Keywords: Fire Prevention, Fuel Treatment, Goat, Grazing, Prevention, Prescribed Grazing, Targeted Grazing."
2018-2020 Marin Goat Grazing Program
- Property owners are still responsible for creating at least 100' of defensible space from all structures on their property.
- The goats are contained by a portable, solar powered electric fence. The fence is moved daily by herders. Thank you for your patience and understanding of the work and activity in the area - they'll move through quickly, and will only be in your area for a few days at most.
- The temporary fencing may need to be installed on private property - it usually takes less than 1 hour to erect 1 acre of new fencing per day, and it is removed the following day.
- The goats do not eat dead vegetation. A follow up effort may be needed to remove dead vegetation on private property.
- The goats are not guaranteed to eat all, or even any, or the vegetation that contributes to wildfires.
- The goats primarily reduce fine fuels, such as grasses. The stalks of certain species like broom and shrubs are left behind, and may be unsightly until they break down or are removed manually (there is no guarantee that this will happen in all locations).
- Goats are only a small part of an overall approach to reducing wildfire hazard.
- To protect you home, you MUST create your own defensible space and take steps to harden your home!
- The goats sometimes eat species we'd prefer to protect. Juvenile trees, which contribute to the wildfire hazard, are sometimes killed.
- Although the reduction of encroaching trees and shrubs is part of the overall goal, most small trees will survive, even if it looks like their bark has been removed.
- The goats eat the lower limbs of trees up to a height of about 6' (much like deer, elk, and other native grazers, and as natural wildfires would do if allowed to burn). This is encouraged and helpful.
- Wildflowers grow back stronger next year!
- The goats are extremely well cared for and their health is monitored daily by professionals.
- It's very rare that goats escape or damage ornamental landscaping - if that happens, we'll work to make it right - please don't complain social media before contacting us!
- A livestock guardian dog accompanies the goats, and it does bark at night when predators are nearby
- The goats need water. If you can provide a garden hose and access for the sheepherders, it would be appreciated.
- Permission must be granted by private property owners to graze on their property
- Goats are quieter than power tools, but do make noise
- Goats are usually in one location for 24-36 hours before moving
- Property owners should keep their pets away from the goat fencing, and never allow their animals to go inside the fence, as the guardian dog is very protective of its herd.
Two herds of goats and sheep, totalling 800 head, worked in Sleepy Hollow, Terra Linda, Lucas Valley, San Rafael, San Anselmo, and Fairfax in 2018 as part of a large-scale fire hazard reduction project spearheaded by local landowners, Sleepy Hollow Fire Protection District (SHFPD), Marin County Open Space District (MCOSD), and FIRESafe MARIN. This $171,900 project is a collaborative effort resulting from the Marin CWPP and 2016 SHFPD Wildfire Hazard and Wildland Urban Interface Area Assessment, which identified key locations for fuel reduction to reduce the impact of wildfires in Sleepy Hollow and neighboring communities. By partnering with adjacent local landowners, including Rocking H Ranch, Triple-C Ranch, San Domenico School, MCOSD, Ross Valley School District, and the Town of San Anselmo, the multi-agency project reduced hazardous fuels on more than 200 acres of high-risk grass woodlands in central Marin.
Fairfax: White Hill Middle School (Before/After)
About This Project
“Goat grazing can be a cost effective solution to reduce fuels and wildfire hazard in many parts of Marin,” says Rich Shortall, President of both SHFPD and FIRESafe MARIN. “This is the largest goat grazing project I’m aware of in Marin, and is pretty unique in the way it involves such a diverse group of public and private landowners.” Shortall also noted that the project will provide some level of protection to at least 7 Marin communities, including Sleepy Hollow, San Anselmo, San Rafael, Terra Linda, Marinwood, Lucas Valley, and Fairfax.
The goats, owned by Star Creek Land Stewards of Los Banos, CA, began grazing over the winter on Rocking H Ranch, helping to reduce and “de-thatch” decades of growth in 115 acres of native grasses while turning over soil with hundreds of tiny hooves. Shortall gives credit to Rocking H Ranch and ranch manager Arlo Seaver for helping get the project off the ground. “It was critical for us to find a suitable location to load and unload the goats, and provide winter grazing grounds. Rocking H has used the goats in the past, and their experience with the livestock contractor, and their generosity in loaning ranch facilities, was the real catalyst that moved the project from planning to reality,” Shortall said.
“Rocking H introduced goats as part of our integrated land management and fuel reduction program back in 2015, so when Rich reached out to us, we were happy to help,” Seaver said. “It’s an important cause and has been really rewarding to expand and partner with our neighbors. It reflects the commitment to agriculture, community and sustainability that Rocking H has and we look forward to more."
As spring approached, the herd of 400 goats moved to neighboring lands in the Terra Linda-Sleepy Hollow Divide Open Space where they joined a second herd of 400 sheep and goats helping to reduce fuels and invasive weeds at the rate of 1 to 2 acres per day on public lands. Priority areas for grazing include fire roads and preserve edges where grazing helps enhance defensible space near homes.
Careful attention was paid to areas where invasive weeds are present to ensure the goats and sheep don’t spread seeds to new areas. The animals grazed impacted areas before the plants flowered and produced seeds. “In addition to fuel reduction goals, this grazing project helps prevent the spread of invasive barbed goatgrass, which can threaten rare serpentine plants and wildlife habitats,” says Sarah Minnick, Vegetation and Fire Ecologist for MCOSD.
Andrée Soares of Star Creek Land Stewards says great thought is given to the species and health of the animals. “We ‘prescribe’ the number of animals, density and duration as well as species and breed of animals to each specific site and project dependent on the goals to be achieved, as well as animal health and appropriate approach for each grazing site.”
As the goats enter San Domenico School, a new phase of the project begins, focused heavily on public safety and wildfire hazard reduction. “San Domenico School represented a unique opportunity for fuel reduction. The campus is located at the end of Butterfield Road in a location with a long history of wildfires, and the number of students and dormitories makes it challenging to evacuate during a fire,” says Todd Lando, Coordinator at FIRESafe MARIN and author of the 2016 Hazard Assessment. “Fuel reduction will occur on 30 acres of the 515-acre campus, using goats, followed by hand crews and tree work, to greatly reduce the impact of any wildfires in the area and improving the safety of students and faculty when they ‘shelter in place’ during a fire.”
“This great example of sustainable land management, community collaboration, and natural systems to our school and valley. It is a really fantastic gift to our community,” says Kimberly Pinkson, Director of Communications at San Domenico. “When the goats arrived, all afternoon students, parents, and neighbors have been walking along the fences enjoying our new guests.”
There are important community benefits, as well. A 1923 wildfire, recognized as the largest ever recorded in Marin at 50,000 acres, burned through Sleepy Hollow Ranch where the school is located today. (The ranch was saved, ironically, by high school students bussed in from Tamalpais and San Rafael High Schools to fight the fire, according to news reports from the time). “As we saw in 2017, fires tend to burn the same areas repeatedly,” Lando said. “Fire modeling sponsored by SHFPD as part of our hazard assessment showed a real risk of a fire burning through San Domenico from Lucas Valley - before reaching the rest of Sleepy Hollow. Reducing fuels at San Domenico and along the ridges may allow firefighters to stop a fire there before it reaches homes in the valley.”
When they finish clearing more than 30 acres of grass and brush at San Domenico, the goats will move back to open space lands to create a 100 foot wide ‘reduced fuel zone’ along the ridge between Sleepy Hollow and Terra Linda. The grazed area will extend from San Domenico School to Fawn Drive and Fox Lane at the southeast end of Sleepy Hollow, allowing firefighters to work more safely and effectively along a critical ridge where wildfires can burn from one community to another. In June, the goats will move to nearby Triple-C Ranch, where they will make their way through 10 acres of grass and brush behind nearby homes.
Land managers and SHFPD aim to evaluate the effectiveness of the project when it’s complete, and begin planning for long-term maintenance of the grazed areas. “We understand that this is not a one-year project and we’re done,” says Shortall. “The Fire District is in it for the long-haul. We’ll continue to fund and facilitate this kind of work for years to come, and are already looking at new areas to reduce fuels next year.”
SHFPD, MCOSD, and our partners encourage all Marin residents to take responsibility for wildfire safety around their homes by creating defensible space (it’s the law!) and preparing for wildfire before it’s too late. More information is available at firesafemarin.org.
Questions about the grazing can be directed to: