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Reducing baaaa-d fire danger

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A hard-working and well-fed construction crew is chomping away at the fire danger in the foothills.

Amanita Thorp, the owner of Horned Locust Goatscaping, installs an electric fence as a herd of goats and sheep are released in the Domingo Baca Arroyo. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The four-legged crew members, some with horns and goatees, are attracting a bit of a crowd as they work to clear shrubs from the Domingo Baca Arroyo east of Tramway between San Bernardino and San Rafael.

The Sandia Heights Homeowners Association hired the crew for three days this week. Roughly 50 goats, along with about 10 sheep, lunched on brush and unwanted vegetation that can be a fire danger in warmer months.

Judy Durzo, a member of the association’s board, said about four fires in the foothills last summer threatened homes, which prompted the group to take action.

“We’re really looking for something to do to lessen the (fire) danger and the goats … are really effective and environmentally awesome,” Durzo said. “It just seemed like the goats might be a heck of a lot of fun and get the community involved in taking action.”

A herd of goats and sheep invade the Domingo Baca Arroyo in an effort to reduce the fire danger in the area. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The herd worked the arroyo on Monday and Tuesday and they are expected to be back at it today. The herd was working private land in a part of the foothills with some of the thickest vegetation that poses the greatest risk for the 2,500 or so homes in the Sandia Heights, Durzo said.

Datle, 10, is the “queen of the herd” and wears the bell, said Amanita Thorp, the goat wrangler and owner of Horned Locust Goatscaping, which was hired for the project. Varstow, Clover and Boa are others in the flock. Thorp used an electric fence to keep the goats penned into a specific area.

The goatscaping business was launched about 12 years ago when the Army Corps of Engineers was planning a project that included the use of herbicides on land near Thorp and her family’s organic farm close to Madrid. She said she and her father worked to allow their goat herd to clear shrubs instead of using chemicals.

Since then, the herd has been hired to work lands primarily in northern New Mexico around Santa Fe. They are primarily used to reduce fire danger but they can also be hired for rodent control or aesthetics, Thorp said.

A goat munches on lunch in Domingo Baca Arroyo. A homeowners association in the foothills hired the herd of goats to eat shrubs to reduce fire danger. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

To make the tribe efficient, the goats range in age and type. They are primarily Spanish goats but also dairy goats, which produce great-tasting milk and cheese thanks to their diet of wild grasses, Thorp said. Ages in the flock range from kids to the 10-year-old nanny and her twin buck.

Goats of different species, ages and sexes eat differently, and having a mix ensures the group will effectively knock down the fire danger in a particular area, Thorp said. Their hooves aerate the soil and the sheep graze on the grasses, she said.

Durzo estimated that after working a patch, the goats ate about one-third to a half of the vegetation that had covered the land.

“It’s not like you are totally mowing the lawn. But it’s tidier and it’s natural and it’s how it always used to be when the animals came through and kept it balanced,” Thorp said of the effect her goats have on the land. “It balances it and makes for a healthy situation for natural grasses. … There’s some things you’ll see right away and some things you’ll see after a couple years of using the goats.”