HOT SPRINGS-The City of Hot Springs will be piloting a new weed control program this summer. Hot Springs residents can expect to see goats munching on unwanted plants in Chataqua Park and along Fall River from the River Street Bridge to Evan's Plunge. 

The program is part of a new effort by the City to remove chemical herbicides from its weed fighting arsenal.  

According to city administrator Kim Barbieri, the City hasn't purchased any chemical herbicides for 2019. The remainder of 2018's herbicides will be used and then the City will use industrial vinegar and goats, depending on the reception of the pilot program. 

The goats being used in the pilot program belong to May Wichers.

Wichers has owned goats since 2015. She said depending on how many kids are born this spring, she could have as many as eight goats browsing the city properties as early as May 1. 

Wichers started raising goats as a source of milk, cheese and meet. She proposed the browsing program to help get rid of noxious plants while expanding her herd's food sources. 

According to Wichers, goats will eat a wide variety of vegetation but prefer weeds and woody plants like thistle, burdock, mullein and yucca.  

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Many people think of goats as unruly, stubborn escape artists, but Wichers has her goats trained to browse untethered. 

Wichers said many of the problems people experience with goats is due to the goat's boredom while confined, "goats need to free forage, they are better behaved, happier and healthier." 

When Wichers takes her goats for their daily "walk" near her home just north of Hot Springs, the goats follow her right out of their pen. When they get to a spot to eat, they stop and feed, but are generally within 20-30 yards of Wichers and within eyesight. When feeding time is over, Wichers walks back to the pens with the goats in toe. 

If successful, Barbieri said she hopes to see the program opened up to more goat owners to cover more ground throughout the City. 

In addition to weed control, goats could potentially used in fire mitigation. Goats preferential browsing habits tend to skew towards weeds and woody vegetation. Given enough goats and time, the underbrush on the hillsides surrounding Hot Springs could be browsed away, reducing the fire risk around the community. 

Generally large numbers of goats are needed for fire mitigation, but communities throughout the West in states like Colorado and California are already using herds to get rid of flammable underbrush. 

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