SANTA CRUZ – The bearded brigade assembles at the canyon’s rim and casts their collective gaze below, surveying the steep and rugged terrain through slitted eyes before committing to a line of attack.
Nearly 200 goats were deployed to the back nine at Pasatiempo Golf Club last week, using their cloven hooves to traverse the surrounding canyons in an operation dubbed Landscape Goat.
The cloven-hoofed calvary is expected to be stationed at the 18-hole championship course for 6-10 weeks, spending their days grazing in areas so overgrown with weeds, vines and plants that neither man nor machine can tackle.
“I’ve been looking at old photographs (from the 1920s and 1930s) of the property over the past two-and-a-half, almost three years that I’ve been here, and the ruggedness of this area, especially on the back nine, was pretty extreme … The goal is to get back to that,” said Paul Chojnacky, the golf course’s superintendent.
He added that in the short time the goats have been grazing, they’ve cut down so much of the overgrowth that the individual peaks on the hills now can be seen as they once stood in those historical pictures.
In previous years, several members of the maintenance crew would go down into the canyons to clear out pampas grass and invasive species, but they could only cut so far into the formidable terrain. Whatever material they could clear out would have to be hauled up out of the canyon and put into big brush piles, and another company would then have to be hired to cut it into chips. No matter how hard the crews worked, Chojnacky said, everything would just grow back each spring, “so it almost looked like we hadn’t done any work there at all. It was a rather frustrating schedule.”
After pondering the situation, he discovered Brush Goats 4 Hire and contracted the company.
“You can already see in less than a week what they’ve done, and it would take us months to remove all that material and then having to haul it off,” he said. “Plus, we’d have to go down there and spray chemicals, and we don’t want to have to do that, either.”
The goats belong to Ian Newsam and Lorraine Argo, a husband-and-wife team that operates Brush Goats 4 Hire, a 3-year-old company based out of Buellton. In addition to the roughly 170 goats, they also brought along two Anatolian shepherd dogs – code named Killer 1 and Killer 2 – to guard their charges from the predations of mountain lions and coyotes.
The goats – which Newsam said eat between 5 and 10 percent of their body weight each day – now are contained in an approximately two-acre area lined by a solar-powered electric fence, whose 10,000 volts also serve as a deterrent to any predators.
Pasatiempo is touting the goats as an environmentally friendly alternative to hiring a traditional maintenance crew, since they eliminate the need for chain saws, chippers and other heavy equipment that produce damage as well as noise. As well, Newsam said, the goats will be able to completely eradicate some species of vines in the canyons, thereby reducing the need to spray harmful chemicals that can irritate golfers and maintenance crews alike.
“There’s a place for machinery and there’s a place for man, but once you get on hillsides and areas that are a little bit dangerous for people – these guys are amazingly agile – then that’s where we can come in to help out,” Newsam said.