SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Munch, munch. Munch, munch.
It’s just past 4 p.m. on a late September day and Henry, a tan colored mixed-breed goat, along with 68 of his buddies, is chowing down on chemise, ceanothus, thistle and assorted native grasses. Or as fire officials term it, fuel. This 2-acre patch of land, bordered by a small clump of homes and a popular hiking trail in the Santa Barbara foothills, is tinder dry — a big concern with peak fire season now here.
“They’ll eat for about 20 minutes, then lie down like they’re pregnant,” Lorraine Argo says referring to the herd of mostly wethers (castrated males) she’s just released to their enclosure. Also in the mix: two Anatolian predator dogs to protect the goats from coyotes, rattlesnakes and nosy domestic hounds.
“You can call them ‘Killer 1′ and ‘Killer 2;’ we won’t release the names,” Argo says laughing. There’s also an electric fence to keep people out and the goats in. “It’s 10,000 volts but almost no amperage,” adds Argo’s husband Ian Newsam. “I’ve been shocked more times than all the animals combined.”
The couple runs Brush Goats 4 Hire, a Santa Barbara County outfit that uses “target browsing” to help homeowners and municipalities deal with the area’s most damaging phenomenon — wildfire. Paid for by a federal Fire Safe Council grant of $67,000 procured by the local homeowner’s association, the goat project comprises an increasingly critical tool for battling the devastating firestorms that frequent the area.