Second annual running of the goats held in Malibu West

On Saturday, July 22, Malibu West residents lined the streets to cheer on 250 goats as they were shepherded from one end of the neighborhood to another. Photos by Samantha Bravo/TMT

Tightknit community gathers while goats graze and clear dangerous brush

The community spirit of the Malibu West neighborhood was on display last Saturday as residents joyously gathered for its second annual running of the goats. Young and old paraded down Paseo Canyon Drive cheering 250 goats hired to clear dangerous brush surrounding their neighborhood.

“It was a success,” said Tim Biglow, president of the Malibu West Home Owners Association. “Our main goal is fire prevention. Secondly, it’s great for the community.

It’s funny how euphoric it is. Everybody gets into the goats. Watching them on the hills makes you feel like you’re on the farm. It’s a great economic way to go about fire prevention.”  

Malibu West, which lost 26 homes in the Woolsey Fire, has been proactive in fire prevention. The neighborhood has a volunteer fire brigade that has grown in recent years. Goats were deployed to knock down dangerous vegetation near the family enclave where permitted which does not include the Santa Monica Mountain Preserve abutting the area. The herd, that clears roughly an acre a day, wrapped up a two-week stay. 

“It’s more economical to us. Getting guys up there for weeding; you know the noise, the fumes. The goats eat it all up and you don’t have to haul it away. That’s where you save your money,” said Biglow.

As the goats where shepherded from one end of the neighborhood to another, and residents lined the streets for a celebratory goat run to cheer on the animals. 

“Goats ran up the street,” Biglow added. “A lot of people participated.” 

At the end, the tight-knit community served breakfast burritos, coffee and muffins in celebration. 

“That was really fun,” Biglow said. “It’s a good thing for us to get the community together; kids, the old and young all together. It’s a nice day and a great experience.”

Michael Leicht owns Ventura Brush Goats that trucked in 250 grass-chomping animals to Malibu West. A shepherd stayed on site in a RV trailer called a “mobile shepherd housing unit” that meets compliance for mobile housing. The shepherd had help courtesy two livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). The specially trained LGDs live with the herd and according to Leicht.

“They actually feel a part of the herd. They never leave the animals and they protect them from coyotes and mountain lions by dissuading wildlife from approaching,” he explained. “We have very little if any interaction with local wildlife because the smell and sound of the dogs keep the wildlife away. Mountain lions are smart. Even though they might be able to win a fight with two dogs they don’t want to mess with them. They’re going to go back into the mountains and look for a deer or something that’s not protected by dogs.”

Ventura Brush Goats has also been contracted by the Malibu La Costa Homeowners Association for brush clearance. After that deployment, the herd is scheduled to graze at various private properties in Malibu.

Goat brush clearance has been so successful, Leicht’s company has doubled in size every year since 2018.

“There’s a growing demand due to increasing frequency of intensity of wildfires,” he said. 

The Ventura Brush Goats stay busy year-round with contracts with private land owners and land conservation agencies “to accomplish land stewardship goals other than fire fuel reduction during the off-season,” according to Leicht.

Targeting invasive Mediterranean grasses in January and February is the gold standard in brush clearance according to Leicht. 

“Specifically, the invasives tend to germinate after the first rainfall which is why they’re so invasive,” he said. “They grow quickly and it chokes out the natives (flora). Goat grazing levels the playing field so that when the native flowering plants want to germinate in March, they’re not tucked underneath a whole layer of thatch of invasive Mediterranean species like wild and black mustard or Brome and Hordeum grasses.” 

Leicht said when goats eat brush to the ground in January or February it leaves space for native plants to access sunlight and grow: “If not, when you see hillsides covered in invasive grasses or mustard what’s happened is those invasives have grown so much that when a native might try to germinate they’re already under up to four feet of invasive vegetation so they don’t have access to sunlight.”

As an ecologist, Leicht said he does not promote vegetation management by livestock because he likes livestock. 

“I found this is the most ecologically sound method of protecting lives and valuable property,” he said. “It’s an alternative to using herbicides and fossil fuel machinery.”

36 Goats SamBravo
Malibu West Home Owners Association members, Ventura Brush Goats, and residents gather for a photo while the goats enjoy the field behind. Photos by Samantha Bravo/TMT