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City of Calistoga 'hires' goats, sheep for fire mitigation work

City of Calistoga 'hires' goats, sheep for fire mitigation work

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Under the watchful eye of Moana the llama, goats and sheep clear fire fuel on Calistoga's Mount Washington.

The City of Calistoga has hired more “workers” to assist in its ongoing mitigation efforts to protect the town from future wildfires. They work for food, are good for the environment, and they are cute to boot.

Just don’t mess with Moana the llama.

After receiving bids from nine various operations, the city chose Napa Pasture Protein to clear the tall grass and underbrush on the 9-acre property, where the city water tank is located. The area is overgrown with a fair amount of brush from oaks, madrones, and pine, and also poison oak, which is particularly appealing to goats.  

The project will cost the city $15,700, which may also look to employ the animals to clear brush in other areas in the future.

“I think it’s a good alternative for sensitive areas,” said Fire Chief Steve Campbell.

One hundred goats and sheep are stationed on Mount Washington, city property just off Silverado Trail, where they will spend the next two or so weeks clearing underbrush and old growth fire fuel.

Public Works has been busy this year already clearing four acres along Foothill Boulevard and 4-6 acres at the city’s reservoir. Campbell said the difficult terrain on Mount Washington, plus the proximity to Solage Resort, the new Four Seasons Resort, and nearby mobile home parks, made the goats and sheep a good choice.

It's difficult to get machinery into the area, plus the animals are less noisy, and it’s an environmentally friendly option. They will save the city on manpower hours, and “They do a really good job,” Campbell said. 

The city is the first municipality in Napa Valley that Napa Pasture Protein has provided services for, though the company is frequently employed by private entities, said owner Cori Carlson.

Carlson and her crew delivered the goats and sheep, plus Moana the llama, over the weekend. Moana is an imposing-looking llama with a lion-like mane. She leads the flock and herd safely to bed down for the night, and single-handedly will protect them from predators. “She’ll chase them off,” Carlson said.

The goats and sheep work efficiently chewing through the underbrush while providing nutrients for the soil with their droppings. Trampling across the ground, their hooves will also soften the soil so that in heavy rains the water will be more easily absorbed, rather than running straight downhill.

Along with goats and sheep, Napa Pasture Protein offers chickens — yes, chickens — and cows for grazing for fire protection services. Chickens are good for cleaning up orchards and vineyards where there are competing grasses.

“They level it and clean up the bugs, termites, ants, they eat anything that moves,” Carlson said. “Chickens also leave behind the highest amount of nitrogen for the soil than any other animal.”

The problem with chickens, however, is keeping them safe from predators. Carlson said she is working with a Canadian company to secure a mobile, robotic chicken barn. The barn provides water and shelter and moves with the chickens up to nine times a day.

Meanwhile, Carlson’s sheep and goats are used to being moved around to new grazing areas. They also know when the job is completed and it’s time to move on, she said. Without prompting, “They’ll follow me to the trailers.”

Irish TV camerman films Calistoga's Charlotte William's scrub-eating goats on a property in Angwin as they start their day.

You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at 942-4035 or csweeney@weeklycalistogan.com.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.

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