Gone to the goats

Herd helps recycle trees

Vince Thomas’s goats sample pine branches at their corral in Washoe Valley.

Vince Thomas’s goats sample pine branches at their corral in Washoe Valley.

PHOTO/KELSEY FITZGERALD

For information on Goat Grazers, visit www.goatgrazers.com/
For information on KTMB’s Christmas tree recycling program, visit ktmb.org/christmas-tree-recycling/

On a cold Sunday in mid-December, 30 brown, black and white goats stood in a corral in Washoe Valley munching on hay and Christmas tree branches. The wind blew hard and the afternoon light grew dim as the sun dipped below the Carson Range, but the goats—an assortment of South African Boers, New Zealand Kikos and Alpines—chewed enthusiastically on.

For the past 25 years, Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful has marked the end of the holiday season with its annual Christmas Tree recycling program, collecting discarded trees and chipping them into mulch that is used throughout the year in local parks. Last year, with help from a workforce of nearly 500 volunteers, the group kept a total of 10,252 trees out of area landfills. This year, KTMB and the Washoe Valley herd of goats made common cause.

“Christmas trees are not 100 percent of their diet, more like a snack,” said Vince Thomas, owner of the herd. “They’re like candy to them. They’re also nutritious, healthy and full of vitamins.”

Thomas’s herd is put to work throughout the year on local weed and fire management projects through his business, Goat Grazers. Thomas, who has been goat-keeping for 10 years, learned of his goats’ affinity for Christmas trees after the herd devoured a pile of dried trees that someone had dumped illegally in the Peavine Wash, where they had been working to eradicate invasive weeds.

He later learned that pine needles are full of nutrients, and offer other health benefits for goats. “Pines are actually a natural de-wormer for the goats. They’re also high in Vitamin A and Vitamin C,” Thomas said.

This knowledge prompted him to look for other sources of trees. Last year, Thomas partnered with the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, which had organized its own network of Christmas tree recycling drop-off points. In all, Thomas’ herd finished off 638 trees, consuming all but the trunks and larger branches.

This year, Thomas and the TMFPD are joining forces with KTMB, adding six new Christmas tree drop-off stations to KTMB’s traditional three recycling sites at Bartley Ranch Regional Park, Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, and Shadow Mountain Sports Complex.

“We’re really excited about this partnership, and growing the Christmas Tree recycling program,” said Jaime Souza, operations manager for KTMB. “This should make it really convenient for people to recycle their trees.”

Souza also hopes that the expanded program will reduce the number of trees they find illegally dumped in open space areas outside of the city.

“That’s one of the big things we see when we start to scout illegal dump sites in the spring,” Souza said. “Usually the first thing we see is dried up Christmas trees, which become a fire hazard.”

In addition to becoming healthy snacks for goats, the Christmas trees will be chipped into mulch for local parks, as in previous years. Christmas tree mulch is also available to homeowners, free of charge.

KTMB’s Christmas tree recycling program will run from Dec. 26, 2015, to Jan. 10, 2016. All objects that might be unhealthy for goats or chippers (such as tinsel, ornaments and wire) must be removed from the tree branches prior to donation. Information about volunteering and tree drop-off locations is available on the KTMB website.