Jonathan Bartley knows a thing or two about fire mitigation thanks to his four years of firefighting in Oregon. But now he is taking a hands-off approach by re-creating natural cycles of weed-thinning with the use of goats.
He calls his new business DuranGoats, which he co-owns with Adrian Lacasse, and over the weekend he was letting his livestock loose at the former Robert E. DeNier Youth Service Center, a former juvenile detention center, in Bodo Industrial Park. There were about 12 goats at his disposal.
Each goat in the herd is male and less than a year old, with the oldest of the group being born in March. He said they all get along well and they’ve been castrated. If that weren’t the case, and a female were introduced into the lot, that could cause issues.
On Saturday, they frolicked around the fenced-in DeNier center yard and chomped away at weeds.
Bartley said in late July, many weeds are putting energy into the flowers and topmost parts of the plants in an effort to photosynthesize sunlight and produce seeds. The flowers are what the goats go to first for an easy meal.
Because the goats are trimming vegetation where it is directing most of its efforts, it will take longer to recover and be less prominent over the next growing season, he said.
“Effectively, you’re tricking the root system,” he said. “That plant is going to grow much smaller next year.”
Bartley describes his business as a “soil-first approach to regenerative land management” and said soil health and sustainable, natural ways of repairing the ecosystem are top concerns.
He often refers to weed and fire mitigation as a “battlefield,” terminology he picked up during his time fighting wildland fires, he said. What Southwest Colorado wants as far as natural vegetation is drought-resistant grass.
“If you look at where the weeds are sprouting up, it’s generally in areas where there’s nothing growing there,” he said. “Effectively, it’s dead soil where the sun is just beating down on it. Nothing could really survive there except for a weed, an invasive species that is going to come in.”
He said the goal of DuranGoats is to “change the pasture.” That is done not just by letting goats graze to their hearts’ content but also allowing them to leave a large amount of droppings, which help fertilize the soil in places that only weeds were able to grow before.
“Going back to that battle metaphor, what we’re looking at is a bunch of grass that’s also seeding, but right now it’s being outcompeted by the weeds,” he said. “If you eliminate seed production (of weeds) you weaken these plants.”
The goat droppings fertilize soil and allow grass to grow, thus healing the pasture, he said.
Bartley charges only $5 a day per goat, plus transportation fees, mainly for gas, he said. The business is still in its infancy, but by next year he hopes to have more goats. Prices might increase slightly, but customers will get more bang for their buck with more goats onsite at once, which means less overall time spent grazing.
Since Bartley and Lacasse started their business venture, the goats haven’t really had a day off – not that they mind. Still, if business slows down in the winter, Bartley said they have options for storing the goats in a horse trailer for shelter and are looking into wintertime services to keep them busy and well-fed.
Bartley said because of human development, many areas are fenced off from local fauna that would naturally graze on troublesome weeds and grasses. But goats are an easy way of letting nature take its course in a way that benefits the environment and the people who live nearby, he said.
“We put such a heavy emphasis on spraying when it comes to weed mitigation,” he said. “But what I tell people is you can spray every single weed in your yard. You can spray until you’ve killed every single weed. And you’re 10 years in, what you’ve done is you’ve killed the soil.
“You don’t have any weeds there, but you’re caught. Because as soon as you stop spraying, all it’s going to take is one weed on the other side of the fence. And believe me, there’s always going to be one weed on the other side of the fence.”
Weed sprays don’t just kill weeds. They kill pollinators too, Bartley said. Grazing goats do the opposite – they help balance out and heal the natural environment.
Plowing and mowing are other common methods of weed and plant mitigation, but they don’t replenish the soil like goats naturally do.
“The inspiration for this project is holistic, where you’re really trying to replicate the natural cycle and just do things right,” he said.
Bartley said the goats are fairly low maintenance. They need food, water and shelter, plus a salt lick and a mineral feeder. Other than that, all they need is a bit of compassion.
“We let them into this area and then we go about our day,” he said.
DuranGoats isn’t Bartley’s full-time job, at least not yet. But ideally, the business will grow into a career, he said.
“It’s cool to create an art and to follow a passion and for everyone to say, ‘Yeah, that’s awesome, I’m interested,’” he said. “And then you can make that passion into a livelihood.”
But wintertime is just around the bend, and Bartley and Lacasse are still working out what they will do this winter.
Hay is always an option for feed, Bartley said, but that also costs money. He is looking into wintertime services that the goats could prove useful for. Fir trees used as Christmas decorations could provide the food source needed to last the goats through the winter, he said.
Cactus spines can be less prominent during the winter as well, which might provide another source of food for goats and service for property owners, he said.
Saturday marked the goats’ second day at the DeNier center. In the following days they made their way around the property, eating up weeds wherever they could find them.
Their next meal tickets were for an area near Elmore’s Corner on County Road 243. After that, they were headed to the Twin Buttes area, and then on to Wildcat Canyon.
The DuranGoat guys can be found at the Durango Farmers Market on Saturdays, on Facebook at @durangoats and on Instagram at durangotsllc.