The Goats at Viele Lake

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Over the past 20 years or so, I’ve spent many happy hours trekking around Viele Lake in South Boulder. Set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountain Flatirons, the lake has always reminded me of a setting one might see in Switzerland.

I’ve found the best times to visit the lake are early mornings and early evenings when the critters are active and the light is streaming through the trees and on the water. I’ve seen all sorts of animals at the lake including geese, heron, deer, fox, squirrels, leaping carp, turtles, birds, dogs and cats.

This summer, one day before the Fourth of July, I was surprised to see a herd of 40 goats and two llamas grazing in a fenced area near the lake. Thrilled, I had to find out what was going on. I phoned the number on a fence sign and soon met Emily McMurtrey, owner of Mutton Mowers LLC located in the nearby town of Longmont.

Emily McMurtrey, owner of Mutton Mowers LLC, stands with her herd.

Emily McMurtrey, owner of Mutton Mowers LLC, stands with her herd.

About two and a half years ago, Emily decided she wanted to go into the goat grazing business and bought a rescue herd of 18 goats from a Boulder family. Previously Emily worked as a water resource technician with Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks; she has a background in environmental studies and was also active in 4-H growing up.

Emily took her rescue goats to her father’s farm in Loveland, Colorado, where he owns a miniature horse and pygmy goat. Her family used to have horses at the farm, so there were corrals ready to go. In time, she added 22 more goats to her herd. Some of her goats were adopted from Mountain Flower Dairy in Boulder.

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Emily contracts grazing sites with Boulder’s Park and Recreation department, and Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks department. Her company specializes in small acreage grazing where her goats can mow down invasive weeds. These weeds are often difficult to get rid of because of a dearth of natural enemies, or they’re located on hillsides where it’s difficult for people to come in with weed whackers or mowers.

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Emily’s cheerful attitude was refreshing because her workload sounded exhausting. She said she’s more or less a “one woman show,” and does everything from transporting her goats, to setting up protective electric fences, to providing water and food for her animals. She’s very careful her goats are healthy and happy. “I try very hard to make sure that my animals are not anxious, have lots of food, have plenty of water and feel safe,” Emily said. “That makes them very easy to fence.”

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With a large rubber mallet in hand, Emily sets up electric fences around the perimeters of her pastures. “The fence is my initial guard against coyotes, bears, and mountain lions,” Emily added. “My secondary defense, if anything were to get into the pasture, would be my llamas. Llamas are pretty great at being predator aggressive. They make an initial alarm noise, which is a high-pitched hum. That alerts the goats that something’s going on. If that predator is still coming towards the herd, or advancing on the herd, the llamas will charge, kick, spit, you name it, to try to get that predator away.”

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Emily says she has never been injured by her goats she describes as “very gentle.” However, she has been bitten and spit at by her llamas.

Her herd is seen twice a year by Colorado State University veterinary students. “There’s not a lot of things that will make goats sick,” she added. “They’re considered ruminants similar to a cow; they have multiple stomachs and can digest a large variety of plants such as poison ivy. They like choices.”

She uses a large trailer to transport her goats and llamas. Transporting her herd is one of the most challenging aspects of her business and she often has help herding the goats toward and into the trailer.

Emily loves being outdoors, working with her goats and heading up Mutton Mowers. “I can’t have a bad day when I’m around my goats.”

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