Originally Published: September 22, 2018 8:56 p.m.
The sound of bleating blended with the whir of weed-whackers Wednesday morning, Sept. 19, in the weedy area behind the Prescott Mile High Middle School.
In less than two hours, the unlikely duo of pygmy goats and volunteers wielding rakes and electric mowers had taken care the area’s weed problem.
The use of goats for weed abatement was an experiment by the Over the Hill Gang, the volunteer trail-building group that also helps keep the community’s open spaces clear of weeds.
George Sheats, the coordinator of the Over the Hill Gang, explained that the City of Prescott’s Recreation Services Department had been approached by Mile High Middle School with a request for help in clearing out the overgrown area off Aubrey Street between the school and the Arizona Pioneers’ Home.
Along with the dozen or so Over the Hill Gang volunteers, the effort was aided by five goats from the Cabra Pequena farm in Skull Valley.
“In order to provide some special assistance, we found a goat owner who was willing to bring their goats in,” Sheats noting that the five goats on hand were “hungry and chomping away.”
Amanda Amos of Cabra Pequena explained that she had met Sheats at her job as a server at El Gato Azul. The two had talked about the possibility of trying out Amos’ goats as weed eaters.
“(Sheats) asked if I’d ever be interested in doing vegetation work,” Amos said. “I decided to give it a whirl.”
As the Over the Hill Gang worked around her, Amos kept track as her five goats grazed on the dried weeds and leaves that clogged the open area behind the school
“I like anything that gives them a new experience,” Amos said, noting that the Cabra Pequena farm has limited acreage and limited opportunities for grazing.
Andy Binder, principal of Mile High Middle School, said he liked the green aspect that the goats brought to the weed abatement. “Talk about full circle,” he said, as he watched the goats helping with the volunteers’ efforts.
The weed abatement will be helpful in advancing the school’s plans to use the area behind the classrooms as amphitheater space, Binder added.
While the Over the Hill Gang focuses on trail-building projects on Mondays and Fridays, it works on community projects, such as the one at Mile High Middle School, on Wednesdays.
“We’ve got all electric tools, so we’re not making much noise,” Sheats said from the site on Wednesday morning. He explained that the Over the Hill Gang was adhering to “Firewise” standards in removing ladder fuels that could increase the risk of wildfire.
Sheats was hopeful that goats could be become a regular feature of the Over the Hill Gang’s maintenance work along Prescott’s creeks. “We’ll probably start doing this type of maintenance in the Greenways (trails) with goats, maybe as much as once a month,” he said.
Noting that the group was “happy with what’s going on here,” Sheats said, “We’ve made this area a lot safer and more attractive.”
Amos’ farm, which has dairy and pack goats, produces goat-milk soaps and caramels, which the farm sells at the Prescott Farmers’ Market.