As summer nears, hundreds of goats are busy grazing on yellow grass next to a residential complex. Employed to help clear vegetation that could spark wildfires, these goats are vital in tackling the wild grasses and shrubs that have spread across California following a drought-stricken winter.
Goats are in high demand due to their grazing capabilities and ability to access steep, rocky terrain. Moreover, proponents say they’re an eco-friendly alternative to chemical weed killers and noise-generating weed-cutting machines. This has resulted in a significant surge in demand for goat-herding companies, which maintain thousands of goats to clear vegetation for government agencies and private landowners across the state.
However, new state labor regulations are making goat farming more costly, threatening the viability of these companies. These regulations could see monthly wages for goat herders increase from $3,730 to $14,000, causing a serious financial burden.
Currently, one herder typically manages 400 goats, and many herders, usually from Peru, reside in employer-provided trailers near grazing lands. Labor advocates urge that the state should consider the working and living conditions of these herders before enacting new laws.
With the increased wildfire risks, California is investing heavily in prevention measures. Goats have been employed to clear burn-prone brush near significant landmarks such as Lake Oroville and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. However, without a resolution to the new regulations, these companies may have to shut down, selling their goats to slaughterhouses and auction yards.
Historically, companies were allowed to pay goat herders a monthly minimum wage given their round-the-clock availability. However, a law enacted in 2016 entitles them to overtime pay, effectively increasing the minimum wage for herders. The new regulations will further increase these labor costs come January, making it unrealistic for companies to continue their operations.
Goat herding companies are now lobbying for a law to equate their herders with sheep herders. Despite the pressing need, the proposed bill has yet to receive a public hearing,