Christmas trees get their goat

Children love the Christmas season. But so do these kids.

Christmas is already a memory. And around Reno, there are sounds to prove it.

They go something like this: munch, munch, munch.

They're goats. And they're eating Christmas trees.

Friday marked the first day the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District in Nevada began using a unique – not to mention environmentally sustainable – method of recycling the symbol of Christmas. Pine needles and all.

The program's goal is to keep Christmas trees out of the landfill, and to reduce illegal dumping along with eliminating what might otherwise be a fire danger, firefighters say.

"Goats have all kinds of fire hazard uses – eating old Christmas trees is just one of them," Amy Ray, fire marshal for the Truckee Meadows district, told the Los Angeles Times.

The program is the brainchild (or in goat terms brain kid) of Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District volunteer Vince Thomas, who created a business he calls Goat Grazers to employ the family’s 40 goats.

And coincidentally, they love Christmas trees.

"They'll eat it all – the pine needles included – and leave the skeleton of the tree," Thomas, a longtime volunteer firefighter, told The Times. "It basically looks like Charlie Brown's Christmas. Nothing left but a scrawny tree that has nothing but the [bare] branches.”

Thomas is spending Friday driving to different fire stations to pick up trees for his goat herd.

But the animals don’t just work the holidays. Ray said Thomas’ goats have been used in other seasons to help graze in areas with weeds along the Sierra's eastern front.

“They’re able to get into areas that machines and landscapers aren’t,” she said. “All the rocky terrain, hills, valleys and heavy brush.”

She said Thomas erects an electric fence to keep the goats corralled, which he moves as they buzz-saw the landscape.

"One of their favorites is the invasive white top weed," she told The Times. "They prefer to eat it before it flowers, so it doesn’t have a chance to spread."

And best of all, she added, goats have multiple stomachs so they don’t immediately defecate in the field and allow the seeds to spread that way.

Thomas, 52, saw how the goats kept his daughter’s lawn free of weeds. He did some research and found that the pine needles from Christmas trees acts like a natural de-wormer, high in vitamin C, "so it's healthy for them."

They do such a good job, they make the 16-year firefighting veteran look good.

"Goat are great employees; they love their job and they don't complain," Thomas said. "They think I’m the best boss in the world."

john.glionna@latimes.com

Twitter: @jglionna

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