Animals

Fighting Fire with Goats

A photograph of the author, Molly Mitchell.

By Molly Mitchell

January 15, 2020

Uma Sinjali Magar takes her goats out to graze in the Chitwan district of Nepal.
Uma Sinjali Magar takes her goats out to graze in the Chitwan district of Nepal.

A surprising hero has emerged to help the world’s wildfire problem ­– the ever-versatile goat.

From the edge of the Western Hemisphere in California to Australia’s outback in the Eastern Hemisphere, the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires has got the world feeling the heat of climate change in the most literal way.

A close-up of a goat chewing on some grass.
Goats are prolific eaters, and we can harness that power for good!

Turns out, grazing goats can be an effective and cost-efficient fire prevention strategy. The idea is that wildfires and goats feed on the same thing: dry, grassy brush. When goats have grazed an area, they have effectively removed the kindling that facilitates the spread of fires (sometimes called the “fuel load”).

Goats are especially good at firefighting in steep, rocky areas where it is difficult or impossible to maneuver brush-eliminating equipment like weed-eaters. Many see grazing goats as a more sustainable solution to controlling fires than more traditional methods, because they prevent the use of poison or taking the risk that controlled burns entail. Plus, neighbors like that goats are much quieter landscapers than humans with machinery, and many find that the presence of a herd of goats in their area is charming and fun.

Firefighting goats have been deployed all over the world, lately especially in the United States and Europe.  NPR recently reported on their use in California, and Portugal is hoping they can recruit enough shepherds to do the same.  While the idea of grazing goats to prevent fires is coming up in news lately due to the urgency of the current wildfire epidemic, this is a case of nothing being new under the sun. Goats have been preventing forest fires since the days of the first grazing animals, and humans smart enough to see the opportunity have reaped the benefits.