Family-owned 805 Goats protects the community from wildfires

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Photo courtesy of Olivia Horstman

Fire season in 2020 is a concern as the spring rain nurtures vegetation that will dry with the summer heat. Local brush clearing service, 805 Goats, is visiting Westlake to clean up the hillsides before fire season.

By Olivia Horstman, Oak Park High School - CA

Until Scott Morris attended Toastmasters, an international public speaking and education club, he never considered starting his own goat-grazing service. Morris met Ventura County Fire captain, Vaughn Miller, in his chapter six years ago and was surprised to hear that the county had a short supply of goats.

“He said that they got federal and state funding to use goats for fire clearance, but they couldn’t get any animals in here,” Morris said.

This was the initial inspiration behind what would become 805 Goats.

When goats graze an area, they eat fire-fueling vegetation, essentially creating a barrier that slows the spread of wildfires. Unlike using hedgers or tractors to clear the land, goats offer a safe and environmentally beneficial service.

“As the goats get fed, the vegetation gets eaten, the invasive or non-native plants get reduced and there’s really no negative aspect of all of that — it’s all positive,” Scott said.

The Morrises are not farmers and do not live on a ranch. Scott used to work at a consulting firm.

“I did not think we were the type to own farm animals and I was worried,” Scott’s daughter and Westlake High School sophomore Maggie Morris said.

It took the family years of research before they could get started. They needed to learn everything from how to set up fences to important medical procedures because they would be completely responsible for the goats. Along the way, the family took advice from ranchers in and out of state and formed an alliance with La Reina High School. In return for free services, the school allows the goats to stay on the property between jobs.

In November of 2018, 805 Goats began with the purchase of their first goats.

“We wanted it to be a community company,” Morris said. “The areas we would like to service are the areas we live in.”

Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of people learned in November what can happen when an uncontrolled flame meets stretches of dried brush. Over 96,000 acres of sheer destruction was caused by the Woolsey Fire and 805 Goats was inspired to do their part in stopping these forces of nature from spreading like this in the future.

When spring came around the following year, 805 Goats made themselves busy providing service to several open spaces. One example was the land around the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

“They got a grant from Cal Fire and we did the job last May. And when the fire first broke out, it was pretty surreal because we actually drove by it that morning and we knew that there was a pretty good buffer between that hillside and where the library was,” Morris said.

It was this barrier that not only saved the building but also bought the firefighters valuable time to combat the wildfire.

“We felt very fortunate that what the goats had done would be exactly what the fire department uses them for,” Morris said.

Currently, the workforce of 805 Goats includes about 120 goats that can clear an acre in about three days. Luckily, they have not been impacted much by COVID-19 and are working at an open space in Westlake Village off of Hedgewall Drive.

The whole family helps out with the operation of the business and there is always something to take care of. With school out, Scott’s daughters, Maggie, Payton and a few of their cousins, have had more time to take part in it.

“It’s just nice to be able to feel like I’m doing my part in helping the community and keeping everyone safe,” Maggie said. “Plus, they’re cute so it’s enjoyable.”

805 Goats hopes to educate people on what it’s like to own animals and how they can be used to positively impact the community and environment. After all the risks that they have taken to launch their company, the Morrises are reminded of the payoff each time they leave a job and can see the culmination of their work.

“If we hadn’t actually taken that step to get the goats, then that wouldn’t have been possible,” Morris said.

This story was originally published on The Oak Park Talon on May 7, 2020.