Monday, June 17, 2013

Modern Pastoralists use Goats to Reduce Weeds and Fire

Tim and Lynda Linquist are using an old technique to solve modern problems. The couple’s business, We Rent Goats, employs one of the oldest domesticated animals. Their goats are an environmentally friendly way to remove weeds and brush, and reduce fire hazards.

The Linquists set up woven electric fences, and then deliver goats and burly white guard dogs that protect the herd from coyotes and stray dogs. They check on the animals often and are only a phone call away if there are problems. Landowners pay from $350 to $600 an acre for a one-time treatment. The cost depends on the complexity of the fencing required, the vegetation on the site, and transportation costs. The entertainment provided by the goats is free.

The rental goats are minimizing the fire danger in several Boise foothills neighborhoods this spring. Colten Tippetts, Town Manager at Hidden Springs, uses the goats on slopes too steep for mowers and brush cutters. The animals also fit in with the rural focus of the planned community.

The Idaho Transportation Department is using the goats for the first time this year to mow around stormwater retention basins. Shawn Strong, with ITD’s southwest Idaho vegetation crew, said the goats control weeds without the risk of herbicides getting into waterways.

Later in the summer, the herds will remove rush skeleton weed in some of the City of Boise’s foothills reserves. “We usually get good response from the public to the goats, because people enjoy watching them. Herbicide application freaks more people out than goats do,” said Julia Grant, Boise’s Foothills and Open Space Manager. Grant added that, despite warning signs on the low-voltage fence, people can get a shock, especially if they’re unlucky enough to fall onto the fence.

In addition to removing an invasive weed, the goats reduce fire danger. “Weeds are problem number one, but fire and weeds are so intertwined,” Grant said. Weeds allow fire to spread and then often sprout in burned areas before the native plants can recover.

After the weed and fire seasons are over, the Linquists’ goats spend the fall cleaning up alfalfa and organic hops fields. Then the goats have a few months off before they start kidding in late March. By May, the growing kids are ready to go to work with their mothers and the cycle starts again.

When Lynda, 28, and Tim, 36, met, they discovered a shared love for goats. Lynda’s pet goat William went everywhere with her and rode shotgun in her Jeep. Tim had started with 25 goats on his five acres near Wilder, Idaho. He saw a business opportunity when a friend in California wanted brush cleared from his land: Tim increased his herd to 200 and put them all to work.

The couple brought the goats back to Wilder in December 2009. That year, they were all due to kid early. Tim remembered, “I didn’t think it was going to be that bad; we had kidded goats before, but not in the snow and not that many. We were in for an education.” Lynda added, “We had a hard freeze first thing. If we didn’t get the babies into the barn under a heat lamp, they would freeze to the ground within 15 minutes.”

Tim’s job kept him on the road four or five days a week. That left Lynda, who had job closer to home, in charge of the 200 mothers-to-be. Early in 2010, Tim had used up all his vacation time and realized that weed-eating goats were a full time business. He quit his job at the end of April. “It was the best decision I ever made, after marrying Lynda,” he said.

Lynda, the president of We Rent Goats, participated in Boise’s MicroEnterprise Training and Assistance (META) program. This nonprofit helps women, new Americans, minorities, and other low- to moderate-income entrepreneurs in southwest and south central Idaho. META’s business classes and coaching have been a big help to the new business owners. “I had to learn everything,” Lynda said. “They helped me write a business plan, I learned to use accounting software--everything. And I was a psych major.”

The Linquists have adopted the nomadic lifestyle of many herders before them. The couple gave up their home in Wilder for a fifth wheel travel trailer, which lets them stay near their animals on their yearly circuit of open space, waterways, and agricultural fields. The first two years on the road were challenging. “We were goat ranchers, but we had to learn about portable fencing and being a mobile goat operation. We’re fencing experts now,” Lynda said.

As their client list grows, Tim and Lynda are increasing their herd. They keep the best females for breeding and sell the rest, plus the young males, for meat. The animals are raised humanely and certified as Animal Welfare Approved.

We Rent Goats needs to add people, too. They hire one or two summer employees every year, but they need more if they’re going to continue to grow. As Tim pointed out, though, it takes a special person to care for the goats properly, work with the dogs, and travel constantly. Acquiring land is the biggest challenge most new ranchers and farmers face. “We need a home base, someplace for the does to kid; a place to land if anything happens,” Tim said. Even agricultural lenders are surprised by the couple’s business model. While feed is a major expense for most livestock operations, the Linquists’ goats are paid to eat. “People can’t believe how low our feed costs are, especially now with hay being $200 a ton,” Tim explained.

Until they buy land, Lynda and Tim spend the off-season with their goats on empty patches of land near Boise. They find that bringing a herd of goats with them opens doors, as most people fall in love with the engaging animals. Being around the herd has a soothing effect on people and seems to bring back memories of an ancient way of life.




Sunday, June 16, 2013

Trash the Fat

I heard a splash when I tossed my filthy Tevas into the empty bathtub. I pulled back the shower curtain and saw gray Idaho silt from my sandals mixing with dishwater, spaghetti, and tomato paste. A ring of meatball grease circled the tub. The neighbors’ kitchen sink had backed up while I was in the field for a week.

Our 1940s-era apartments had nooks for phones, built-in folding ironing boards, and Murphy beds, but no garbage disposals. I was most dismayed by the food I found floating with my Tevas, but I learned recently that the meatball grease probably caused more problems for the city.

Meridian, Idaho’s Go with the Flow Tour on June 6, 2013 followed the path water takes from the city’s wells to its wastewater treatment plant.

We filled bottles at one of the wells, were subjected to wet pranks at the water tower, and drove up Meridian Road, where the city is laying new water lines while the road is being widened.

At our final stop we saw how gravity and bacteria do the heavy lifting at the treatment plant. Gravity settles out solids into sludge and various kinds of bacteria break down dissolved impurities. The city's short film about water's outbound journey from our homes premiered at the tour. You can watch it here.

We learned that the unattractive foam on wastewater is produced by a bacterium that feeds on grease.

Microthrix parvicella forms hair-like filaments less than 1/100th the width of a human hair. The bacteria produce foam that creates problem at the treatment plant and requires special techniques to control.

The City of Meridian's Trash the Fat program reduces the amount of cooking grease reaching the wastewater facility. The Environmental Division gives away plastic scrapers and lids. Just scrape grease into a can, cover with the lid, and put in the fridge. The grease will solidify when it cools. Then put the can in the trash--but keep the lid for next time.

If you’re wondering what happens to grease that gets into the sewer, the Meridian Environmental Division shows you here. Don’t look while you’re eating.

If I'd known then what I know now, the almost-20-year olds living next door would have received a house-warming gift of a plastic scraper and lid.