From the overgrown lots of northwest Detroit to the immaculately manicured corporate campuses of Silicon Valley, there’s no job site that the cloven-hoofed garbage disposal known as the goat doesn’t enjoy.

Goats are, for many, a symbol of the holiday season. The Yule goat — the folkloric holiday beast takes the form of Julbock, a billie-shaped effigy made from straw and bound together with festive red ribbon — is the traditional Nordic symbol of Christmas. And although not as popular as their grazing ovine cousins, goats are also frequently included in nativity scenes. Added bonus: They look adorable wearing Santa hats.

It would make perfect sense then that a team of curious-tongued ruminants in Nevada’s Truckee Meadows have been tasked with a very apropos form of seasonal employment: munching on discarded Christmas trees.

Aiming to put a sizable dent in Tannenbaum-based landfill waste and stamp out the illegal dumping of dead and dried-out pines during the weeks after Christmas, this unique Christmas tree recycling scheme was recently launched by Goat Grazers in partnership with the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District which serves the incorporated areas of Washoe County around the cities of Reno and Sparks.

Although a rural fire prevention service and a family-owned goat-for-hire business may seem unlikely partners in a Christmas tree recycling initiative, the founder of Goat Grazers, Vince Thomas, has 26 years of volunteer firefighting under his belt. He knows, first hand, the fire risk that a scourge of unceremoniously discarded Christmas trees in an arid desert landscape can bring.

"I've seen them everywhere, all you have to do is get off the beaten path a ways and you'll see trees all over. It was amazing to me to see how many Christmas trees people would just toss out there,” he explains to the Reno-Gazette Journal.

And after years working in the goat-based “biomass fuels reduction and weed and fire management” business, Thomas also knows that goats love themselves some de-flocked Christmas trees. He describes what happens when his 40 ravenous charges descend on a veritable buffet of formerly gussied up pine trees: "They'll eat the pine needles and leave the skeleton of the tree. It basically looks like Charlie Brown's Christmas with a scrawny tree that has nothing but the branches.”

Thomas explains to the Reno-Gazette Journal that he discovered the caprine appetite for Christmas trees somewhat on accident and has gone out of his way to ensure that a petit dejeuner consisting of pine needles is safe for goat's four-chambered tummies: "I did a lot of research on that, and it's OK for the goats. With cattle and some of the other animals, it can cause miscarriages. But for goats, it's a natural dewormer, and pine is very high in vitamin C, so it's healthy for them.”

Thomas also believes that his goats, which are employed to munch on much more than just Christmas trees, are an incredibly happy and low-maintenance bunch: " ... the goats are great employees, they love their job and they don't complain."

Through the initiative, unwanted natural Christmas trees — stripped of hooks, tinsel and other adornments, of course — can be unloaded free of charge at a number of Truckee Meadows Fire Prevention Service stations from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Jan. 9. From there, the trees will be transferred to the Goat Grazers farm and happily devoured by Thomas’ hardworking, slit-eyed recycling team in an effort to “reduce the fire threat caused by improper management of fire prone vegetative materials.”

In addition to disposal via goat, the Gazette-Herald notes that litter-busting nonprofit, Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful, also provides area residents with a Christmas tree recycling program. In this case, arboreal castoffs are recycled in a more common manner: sent through the chipper and turned into mulch to be used in landscaping local parks.

Via [Los Angeles Times], [Reno Gazette-Herald]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

In Nevada, Christmas tree recycling goes to the goats
You can mulch, or you can let the critters handle it.