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Got acres of weeds? Get a goat

BOISE, Idaho — Tim Linquist of Wilder-based CT Biological Weed & Brush Control has several hundred employees — all goats — and they have just one job: eating.

And every day is bring-your-kid-to-work day — that's why about 300 baby goats were hanging out with their moms at Polecat Gulch Reserve in the Boise Foothills last week.

The 600 does and kids have been hired by the city to serve as living weed-whackers, mowing down as much of the invasive rush skeletonweed as they can over an eight-day period in the public reserve.

The grazing was timed to occur just before the weeds flower.

"These plants are not going to flower this year and cause more spread of the skeletonweed," said Julia Grant, Foothills open space manager. This is a test run for the city, which has never had goats on the payroll.

The total annual weed abatement budget for the city's Foothill's properties is $2,600; $500 was spent on spraying poison hemlock in Hulls Gulch in May. The remaining $2,100 will go to Linquist and his goats.

Grant said the goats will graze on about 25 acres in the 640-acre reserve. She took photos of the site before the goats arrived, and she plans to take photos after they leave.

Grant said she'd been thinking about the possibility of getting goats for weed abatement because they are less expensive than chemicals and don't infringe on use of the nearby trails (they're fenced in).

"I used to work in Colorado — we used goats for leafy spurge," Grant said. "There were a lot of open space programs, and a lot of small businesses that focus on goats as weed abatement." "Here, we just haven't had that crop up," said Grant, who became aware of Linquist's business when she received an email flier forwarded from the mayor's office. The email address was "WeedsFearUs." Linquist started his business in 2009. His herd may sound large, but it's dwarfed by Idaho native Roy Holes' Prescriptive Livestock Services herd of 7,000.

Holes says he started renting goats in 1997, after discovering that goats could control the yellow star thistle and brush at his former ranch near White Bird. Holes now lives in Kennewick, Wash.

Prescriptive Livestock Services is the largest contract grazing company in the Pacific Northwest, possibly the entire country, Holes said. Its goats live and work in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana and occasionally California.

Holes' goats are transported from job to job, returning home only during kidding season. He says he'd grow his business if he could find more help.

"The hardest part is finding people at the management level to handle projects," Holes said. "If I had the right people, I'd definitely build on it." Goats have long been promoted as a possible alternative to herbicides.

A U.S. Forest Service report titled "Using goats to control brush regrowth on fuelbreaks" came out in 1982.

Linquist said goats, as opposed to sheep or other livestock that graze, are ideal for the Boise Foothills weed-abatement job because most of the seeds are destroyed during digestion.

Napping on the job is allowed as well, and some of Linquist's goats rested under shade trees Wednesday afternoon.

"We're not union. ... They just do what they want," joked Linquist, who wore a "We rent goats" T-shirt. "When they're laying down, most of the time they're ruminating, chewing their cud." It took Linquist and his wife, Lynda, three trips to transport the goats from Wilder in a 28-foot double-deck, gooseneck livestock trailer.

Seven herding dogs and an electric fence keep the goats in a 2-acre area until it's pretty well mowed.

That helps keep the does focused on the task at hand (as does keeping the male goats separated from the females, except during a breeding period in the spring), rather than wandering about.

Tom Ferguson, who is caretaker of a 1930s home at Polecat Gulch, said the goats had done a good job of ridding the weed from one 2-acre area Wednesday.

"The skeletonweed was so tall and thick, the little baby goats couldn't see where to go," Ferguson said. "Now you have to look hard to see any. It's a heck of a difference." All of Linquist's goats are Spanish-Boer cross, a meat goat known to be hardy and maternal. One of Lindquist's does is named Psycho, for her maternal protectiveness.

"When she has babies, she's crazy," Linquist said. It's a trait the Linquists see as positive, so they've kept all of her daughters and named their breeding program after her — Psycho Genetics.

The smallest job they've ever done was about a third of an acre in a Nampa backyard. They brought 80 goats to snack on the yard for about eight to 10 hours.

"We do quite a bit of real estate, subdivisions that are sitting empty," Linquist said.

A photo on CT Biological Weed & Brush Control's Web site shows the company's goats feasting on a Christmas tree. The goats pick it clean, like a person gnawing an ear of corn.

"We're looking at putting together a Christmas tree recycling program," Linquist said.