RENO, Nev. (AP) —Goats are known to eat just about anything, but it didn't dawn on Vince Thomas until recently that the menu might include Christmas trees.
"They'll eat the pine needles and leave the skeleton of the tree," said Thomas, a longtime volunteer firefighter who has come up with a new use for his family-owned goat herding business, "Goat Grazers."
"It basically looks like Charlie Brown's Christmas with a scrawny tree that has nothing but the branches," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Thomas is launching a new program with the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District on Friday to use his 40 goats to help recycle Christmas trees.
He says he got tired of watching people discard the trees in landfills or dump them on public property, where they became a fire danger.
"It was amazing to me to see how many Christmas trees people would just toss out there," he said.
Thomas said his goats have been used in the past to help graze in areas with fire-prone weeds along the Sierra's eastern front.
"We thought, 'What a great way to get rid of the weeds,'" he said. "We had the idea of doing just that with the recycling program and we thought about the trees.
"And the goats are great employees, they love their job and they don't complain."
Thomas said he noticed not long ago that no weeds were growing at his daughter's home in Spanish Springs northeast of Reno where she raises rabbits, pigs and goats.
"It was my daughter's goats. They ate every single weed in our yard," he said. He became curious and tossed a piece of pine tree to the goats, and they devoured it — pine needles and all.
"I did a lot of research on that, and it's OK for the goats," Thomas said. "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."
Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful is among a number of groups in the area that recycle trees and are glad to have the help from the goats.
"A lot of people dump it out on the desert and that's really a problem because people think it's a natural thing and it will decompose," said J Merriman, communications manager for the group that has been chopping recycled trees into mulch for 24 years. "But because we're out in the desert, they don't decompose, it will just get drier and drier and it really becomes a serious fire hazard."