Local goatscapers tidy up lawns, help prevent fires

·4 min read

Aug. 9—SAN MARCOS — Fire prevention, tidying up the weeds out back, pruning the perennials — whatever you call it, chomping goats get the job done on properties large and small from Albuquerque to Taos.

Amanita Thorp Berto has ferried her herd of 130 goats and 30 sheep for goatscaping duties since 2010, first with her father as partner until 2017 and now with her husband, Tom Berto, as driver of the 24-foot trailer.

Typically, 75 goats go on the road for a job — they all fit in the trailer.

"They never know what buffet they are going to have," Amanita Berto said. "They do best when there's five or six [types of plants] out there. Elm is their favorite."

Goats do the job nature's way and can clear an acre in a day. Amanita Berto works home properties across Santa Fe as small as a quarter- to a half-acre and properties as large as 100 acres. Sandia Heights residents in Albuquerque have her on speed dial.

"We are starting to have more consistent big jobs, 10 to 15 acres," she said. "We're spending 10 days in Taos [this month] in portions of a 30-acre property."

Horned Locust Goatscaping is also booked for five days in August in the orchards at the New Mexico School for the Deaf. The Berto goats have been feasting at Railyard Park two or three times a year for the past four years.

"We've done a lot of yards since COVID," Berto said, reference the massive work-at-home dynamic spawned by the pandemic. "Right now, I'm booked into September."

Horned Locust goats have worked the weeds, largely kochia, in Eldorado leach fields and on home properties for 10 years. Eldorado resident Tom Mauter has signed on with Horned Locust for all of those years for his neighboring lots that once added up to 3 acres of weeds but now have the goats pruning native vegetation, mostly gamagrass.

"It's a division of labor [with the goats]," Mauter said. "They don't like the cholla. I don't do the weeds."

Before the goats visit, Mauter digs out all the cholla, trims the junipers and cleans out the pack rat nests. The goats then take care of the weeds.

"I can tell you, it's all natural vegetation now because of the goats," he said. "Before the goats, there were a variety of weeds. Some were quite tall. The gamagrass is much nicer to look at."

Mauter also sees goatscaping as fire prevention. Wildland fire home protection calls for clearing vegetation at least 30 feet from homes — but sparks can ignite miles from a main fire.

"There's only so many steps you can take, but it's an important step to take," he said.

Sandia Heights residents line up for Horned Locust goats, which have tended to some 15 to 20 homes over the past couple years.

"They have had enough fires close by that they are serious about fire prevention," Amanita Berto said. "I think fire prevention is the big one the past few years. It's just plain become a threat."

Amanita Berto grew up among chicken, geese, turkeys, donkeys — and goats — a few miles from their current 70-acre rented property at the edge of San Marcos near the town of Cerrillos. Back then, her family lived within 3 miles of the Galisteo Dam, where the Army Corps of Engineers intended to remove tamarisk and spray with herbicide.

Neighbors protested, and eventually, the Thorp family goats were enlisted for service. Later, Berto and her father made a business of it.

Horned Locust Goatscaping is also known as Horned Locust Remediation. The goats don't just eat the weeds — their hooves also churn the soil. Over time, Berto watches native plants take over from the weeds through the goatscaping process.

The goats are epicureans, so Berto sets up an electric fence at clients' homes to keep the goats within an assigned area.

"They eat the best bites first, then the next-best bites, then the next-best bites," Berto said. "By the time they are done with the good bites, they start looking over the fence."

The standard charge for a quarter- or half-acre is $475 per day. Larger jobs are $1,000 to $1,200 per acre. Berto can be contacted at nmfilanimals@gmail.com or by text at 505-470-8741.

Tom Berto is an animal coordinator for the New Mexico film industry and Amanita Berto did a bit of background acting when she stepped away from goatscaping briefly after her father retired. The Bertos met on a film set.

"We do it year-round," she said. "The big season is end of June to October. We have September to May for Albuquerque. In winter, the ground needs to be thawed enough to put in fence posts."