Power Mowers

Goats that feast on weeds and crops from effluent-irrigated fields help keep costs down and provide a curiosity for residents near a lagoon treatment plant in Utah.
Power Mowers
The Ash Creek team includes, from left, Randy Stevens, electrician; Darrel Humphries, financial officer/human resources; Jason Stevens and Gary Wilcox, inspectors; Logan Murphy, operator; Greg Kleinman, pretreatment coordinator; Darwin Hall, superintendent; Blair Gubler, assistant superintendent; and Heath Ruesch, operator.

Darwin Hall isn’t necessarily happy about the publicity his 1.6 mgd natural treatment plant in Southern Utah has been getting, but he’s willing to concede that having goats that help with plant maintenance is a curiosity to many people.

Two television stations have contacted him to do documentaries. Newspapers and other media have done stories or expressed interest. Hall, plant superintendent for Ash Creek Special Service District near Hurricane, Utah, says it started when a local reporter driving past the plant saw lots of goats grazing inside the fenced 340-acre site. She stopped to inquire, took pictures and wrote a story. “Now we have people coming out of the woodwork wanting to see our plant,” says Hall.

More than 120 goats roam the banks of the seven-lagoon facultative system. They eat the weeds and save the Ash Creek district nearly $20,000 annually on weed control. “Before the goats, burning and spraying for weeds took a substantial part of the maintenance and operation budget,” says Hall.

Fast breeders

The district first tried sheep, but they didn’t range well on the heavy rip-rap slopes of the lagoons, and finding someone to shear the wool was difficult. So in 1986, the district got rid of the sheep, bought seven nanny goats and borrowed a billy — all Boer crossbreeds that are bred for meat rather than milk production. “That small beginning grew into over 100 nannies with an average 200 percent kid crop,” says Hall.

The goats are raised by the district’s farm manager, Kim Spendlove, who serves as caretaker and veterinarian. Besides checking on the goats daily and keeping predators like coyotes and stray dogs away, he finds the goats easy to keep: “They are real friendly and will eat hay right out of your hand.”

The goats graze freely in pastures between the lagoons but need supplemental feeding of hay in winter and during dry spells. Spendlove occasionally gives them shots for pink-eye or colds, and he makes sure they have salt blocks available. Natural birthing in the pastures keeps the herd at the targeted level of 125 nannies. About 150 goats are sold on the market each February.

Irrigated feed

Spendlove harvests 200 acres of alfalfa, oats and triticale each year on the plant property. The sale of crops nets about $40,000, and annual sale of goats adds nearly $18,000. “I also run the lagoons, but they are pretty much self-running, especially when you have the goats to keep the weeds out for you,” says Spendlove. “I really enjoy it.” All effluent from the plant is used to irrigate the 200 acres of crops. During the cold months, effluent is stored in a lagoon for irrigation between March and December.

Despite Hall’s reservations about the attention his plant is getting, he acknowledges with humor the many awards the district and his 10-member staff have received. Most recent have been the Water Environmental Association of Utah’s Best Lagoon award to the district, and the Operator of the Year to Spendlove.

Hall jokes that it seems whenever anyone finds time in the day to apply for an award for another staff member, a plaque shows up. Hall is proud of the innovative ways the district reduces costs and cooperates with its member communities of Hurricane, La Verkin and Toquerville: “The staff members at Ash Creek all strive to treat and use the treated water to provide the best quality of life to our customers.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.