Mitigating Fire Risk: Goats at The Athenian School

May 03, 2024

What would be a strange sight to many is a very normal sight to students, teachers, and staff at The Athenian School in Danville, CA: A large herd of over 250 goats on school grounds each year in April. Every spring, the SSC Grounds Team partners with Star Creek Land Stewards, a minority, woman-owned targeted grazing outfitter, to bring over 250 goats to campus to assist with annual weed abatement. These goats become a part of the Athenian family for just around two weeks as they put in many hours of work to help get Athenian in compliance with California fire laws and policies.

California Fire Prevention Regulations

Each year, our grounds team at The Athenian School is responsible for ensuring the property complies with all California fire prevention regulations. Because of great fire risk in this area, our team must work to ensure all unnecessary combustible vegetation is removed and that Athenian meets established minimum standards for weed abatement.

At Athenian, this means creating 30-foot fuel breaks and 15-foot cross breaks, or continuous strips of disced or dozed ground, effectively dividing the campus into five-acre sections. These fuel breaks must also be present around all structures, storage, trees, shrubs, and brush, along ridgelines, fence lines, ditches, and along the sides of creeks. The goal is to limit fuel to any fire that may spark.

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Benefits of Utilizing Goats for Weed Abatement  

Why not use mowers and hand tools to get the job done?

While tools are appropriate for maintaining most areas of campus, The Athenian School’s 75-acre campus shares a seamless border with Mount Diablo State Park, and several areas are on rocky, steep terrain, which poses a safety challenge for individuals manually clearing those areas.

Goats are a safer and more sustainable solution to this landscaping challenge. They reduce the need for power equipment and eliminate the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides because goats will eat nearly any vegetation, including thorns, stickers, poison ivy, and poison oak.

How It Works: Goat Landscaping

Star Creek Land Stewards bring the goats to campus in trailers, and they are protected by a herder and guardian shepherd dog who stay on campus 24 hours a day until all fire breaks have been completed. The herder works to set up electric boundary fencing, which keeps the goats focused on one area at a time and ensures they are safely contained and protected. During the day, the goats graze peacefully, clearing each area of land as they go. At night, the guard dog protects the goats from any potential predators such as mountain lions, bears, and coyotes in this area.

When the goats have cleared a patch of land, the herder and guard dog will direct them to the next fenced area until their work is complete.

Student and Staff Safety and Education

Student and staff safety is the top priority when bringing new, innovative solutions to any school. When goats are scheduled to arrive, our SSC onsite team sends out an informational notice to everyone on campus, which includes information about why the goats are there and how to observe them safely. Students and staff are advised to keep a safe distance from the electric fence, avoid touching the goats and guard dog, and contact the SSC Grounds Team or onsite herder if they see a goat in distress. The goats cause minimal interruption to normal campus activities, and students can often be seen at the fence line observing the goats and watching them work through a section of land.


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