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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Hungry Goats Fight Fires

A herd of 150 goats feast and prevent fires in Pomona.

Residents in the city of Pomona saw an unusual sight on the side of the freeway --a herd of goats. One by one, 150 goats arrived with a big job to do.

“I take them from salad bar to salad bar. And they enjoy it, at least I think they do,” goat herder George Gonzales said. “They’re getting pretty fat.”

Gonzales has been goat herding for 15 years.

“This is their retirement program,” said Gonzales.

These goats are literally put out to pasture. Many of them were used in medical experiments before Gonzales gave them a second lease on life.

Today they’re working on clearing a flood channel.

“They’re all girls, they’re having a great time chit chatting and eating all day long,” Gonzales said.

All day long, and for cheap. For this kind of work a human landscaper would charge $28 an hour. A goat only costs $1.50 a day. Lonnie Munson, a Flood Control Construction Supervisor, is happy about that.

“They always show up for work, they work overtime and I don’t have to pay them,” Munson said. “I don’t get accident reports and they do a great job.”

Goats work surprisingly quickly. Each goat has four stomachs, which means 200 goats can eat one acre a day.

Munson says goats are a particularly good option when one considers the alternative -- scorched earth caused by herbicides.

“Chemical spraying is very effective but you have a lot of downsides,” like erosion and toxic chemicals leaching into the water table, Munson said.

But the Department of Public Works is not as enthused about goats as Munson is. Munson says the DPW recently cancelled multiple goat projects, worrying that goat feces may contaminate water.

In a statement to ATVN, the DPW said: “These projects using goats haven’t been cancelled -- they’ve been postponed. The concern is that having animals inside the water bed would negatively impact water quality.”

But water experts like Dennis Williams of GeoScience says this scenario is “highly unlikely.”

“You just can’t have them walk across any ground and say there’s going to be contamination. You’d have to have herds and herds of goats for years on end,” Williams said.

For now, Gonzales isn’t too concerned with the politics. Out here, he says there’s nothing he’d rather do.

“I love my animals! They have feelings. They’re just like people. In fact, I think I like them better than people,” Gonzales said.

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