Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory goat herder with his dog. Photos: Roy Kaltschmidt, courtesy of LBNL

By Robert Mills

For the past six weeks, more than 600 goats have been munching the grass and shrubs on the steep hills around the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in a 6-week project to make 100 acres less susceptible to fire.

“They are perfect for the steep slopes at the lab which would be difficult to clear by humans,” said LBNL Communications Manager Jon Weiner.

The goats come from Goats R Us – an Orinda-based company that specializes in goat-powered brush reduction.

The bearded grazers eat most vegetation available, including plants like poison oak and star thistle, which are difficult to clear by hand. They generally eat the tops of plants instead of pulling the roots, which causes less damage to lands than traditional grazers.

Egon and Terri Oyarzùn started Goats R Us in 1995 with 54 goats. They began clearing small areas of their neighbors’ land, and the business eventually blossomed. Today, Goats R Us’ goats, border collies and shepherds work in harmony with native plant cycles, ground-nesting birds and endangered species to provide specialized vegetation management throughout the Bay Area.

In 1999, Goats R Us shepherds worked in collaboration with San Rafael’s In Defense of Animals to rescue 120 feral goats stranded on Catalina Island.

Goats R Us provides a comfortable retirement plan for their hoofed workers. Golden-age goats are never sold and instead roam hills near Orinda, grazing freely. They receive supplements and vaccinations and occasionally visit nearby schools or senior centers as goat ambassadors.

Robert A. Mills is a graduate student studying interactive journalism at The Reynolds School of Journalism at The University of Nevada, Reno. He is currently interning at Berkeleyside. 

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