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Gawk at grazing goats at the Getty

May 6, 2008 |  6:28 pm

Getty_for_goats

The Getty is grateful for goats.

Travelers on the 405 Freeway between the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles will see about 60 goats roaming the hillsides, along with goat-herder Hugh Bunten and two dogs, Steve and Boo, for two to three weeks, The Times' LA Now blog reports.

The Getty Center, about 110 acres, contracted the goats to munch away at brush that could serve as fuel for wildfires, Veronique de Turenne writes.

For the story behind the goats, step back in time to 2005 by clicking on our jump for a more in-depth look at the Getty's acquisitions.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

Herd mentality in Brentwood

The Getty Center's artful approach to clearing treacherous hillsides of brush: Rent a few hundred goats.

By Merrill Balassone, Times Staff Writer

It's 9:30 in the morning, and visitors at the Getty Center in Brentwood are enjoying the mild weather as they stretch out under shady walnut trees. Some crowd the gates expectantly, eager to get in on the action.

"Ready, goats? Let's go!" yells goatherd John Adams.

And on command, a team of 300 goats files out of the pen in an orderly line down a dirt road on the museum's north side, tearing away mouthfuls of dry foxtails and buckwheat from the hillside.

For the last three weeks, the all-goat landscaping team has been eating away at the dry brush on 8 acres of land at the Getty Center, too treacherous and steep for the maintenance crew to reach.

"At first I thought, 'Oh, my God, will they have dogs chasing the goats?' And you think of those sheep competitions," said Lynne Tjomsland, manager of grounds and gardens at the Getty Center. "But there's a real hazard of one of our guys getting hurt, and if there's a way to avoid the risk, we'll do it."

For Tjomsland, the goats have provided an ideal solution to the threat of brush fires. The goats are mostly attracted to low-lying brush and grasses and can stretch up to 8 feet to strip low branches off trees while leaving the canopies intact. The animals naturally "recycle" the plants, fertilizing the soil and reducing the chance of mudslides.

Sarah Bunten and her husband, Hugh, manage the goats, and their company, Nannies and Billy's, was spawned after a co-worker gave them a goat as a wedding present.

Since that quirky gift, goats have become a way of life for the Bunten family. For the last year, the Buntens and their daughter Annie, 25, have been living on the road, away from their house in Lakeview, Ore. They have set up a base camp next to the goat pen -- a small teal-and-white trailer where Annie sleeps, with a dusty easy chair and a refrigerator outside and a small tent for Bunten and her husband. At the opposite side of the pen is another trailer, where Adams and his friend Keith Pugh, a fellow goatherd, stay. While Adams has lived outdoors for the last three years, he says that the lack of modern conveniences can still test his patience.

"It can be great because you get to travel and have crazy experiences like living at the Getty, but then you have to deal with the weather and the bugs, and you don't have a couch and a remote control," he said.

"But there's no rent and no dishes," adds Annie, who met Adams while attending the University of Oregon. "When you tell people you're a goat herder, they always ask you where your staff is."

The Buntens use Boer goat mixes, developed in South Africa to feed miners. They started their business selling goat meat to some of Portland's upscale "sit-down suit-and-tie" restaurants, where the entrees were as much as $40 a plate.

They soon realized the goats were more valuable as landscapers than as meat. Goats can be easily trained and are able to memorize the terrain and obey spoken commands. Tjomsland said she was surprised to find how easily the goats navigated the twisting access roads at the Getty a year after they first cleared brush on the property.

The goats finish their tour of duty at the Getty on Friday. Then they travel south to their next gig, at Peck Park in Palos Verdes.

While the Buntens use three dogs as guides, the goats aren't always easy to handle. The goatherds must tap into the herd mentality and take the role of the "lead goat." If not led correctly, the goats can wander into people's homes. Bunten's goats have chomped on tobacco plants and survived rattlesnake bites.

"There's a lot of strategy involved," Annie said. "Sometimes they get a little tricky, and they divide and conquer. Other times, they don't think the food is as good as we're telling them it is. But basically, it's just about being smarter than the goats."

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