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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Korean American brothers lead herd of goats to combat California wildfires

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Three Korean American brothers – Aaron, Michael, and Joseph Choi (from left) – are gaining attention for their efforts in herding goats to prevent wildfires. [Courtesy of Fire Grazers website]
A herd of goats led by three Korean American brothers is playing a crucial role in preventing wildfires in California. The brothers, Michael, Joseph, and Aaron Choi, run Fire Grazers Inc., a company that uses goats to reduce the risk of fire outbreaks by clearing dry brush and weeds.

According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, Fire Grazers Inc. has been working in the Palos Verdes area, releasing goats to remove vegetation that can act as fuel for wildfires. The company, which operates ranches in Mariposa County, Central California, is currently responding to a request from the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy to clear weeds using 600 goats in Malaga Canyon and other areas.

The goats have become indispensable “four-legged firefighters” for the Choi brothers. Michael Choi, co-owner of Fire Grazers Inc., explained that goats are highly effective in clearing large areas of weeds, especially on steep terrain. Their natural mountaineering skills make them far more suitable than cows, which might struggle or even roll down hills in such environments.

With an average herd size of 350 goats, the Choi brothers can clear about an acre of weeds per day. Their services are in high demand during the summer months when the risk of wildfires increases.

The goats’ voracious appetites enable them to devour weeds, dry grass, and other vegetation across sloping canyons, prompting local governments to hire herding companies like Fire Grazers to help prevent wildfires from spreading.

The Choi brothers, who have been running Fire Grazers for 13 years, are revolutionizing the shepherd profession in the 21st century with their innovative use of goats.

However, their work is not without challenges. They must constantly fence the goats to prevent straying and protect them from coyotes and bobcats. Michael emphasized that goat farming is a full-time commitment, requiring attention 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Aside from their practical benefits, goats also provide the Choi brothers with a sense of purpose. Michael shared that goats have a distinct family structure and develop friendships both within and outside their immediate families. However, he noted that some goats can be challenging to be around due to their naturally mean temperament.

Fire Grazers Inc. operates as a family business that originated with the Choi brothers’ father, Mark Choi. The company has secured contracts with various municipalities, including Orange County, Calabasas, and Santa Clarita, for eco-friendly weed control projects using goats. Unlike machinery-based methods, goat grazing offers an environmentally friendly alternative.

Mark Choi, the brothers’ father, decided to pursue a quieter and more sustainable lifestyle in Mariposa County, leaving behind the constraints of urban living. Despite his limited knowledge of goat ranching and brush clearance, he sought guidance from his mentor, Mike Canaday, to establish and sustain the Fire Grazers business.

Fire Grazers charges varying prices for pasture clearing with goats, depending on factors such as terrain, vegetation density, and the time of year. Typically, the cost ranges from $1,000 to $1,500 per acre.

The efforts of the three Korean American brothers and their team at Fire Grazers Inc. demonstrate the effectiveness of utilizing goats for weed control in mitigating the risk of wildfires. Their use of goats not only clears vast areas of vegetation but also provides a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution to wildfire prevention.

BY YEOL JANG    [support@koreadaily.com]