ASHTON, Idaho (AP) - To most creatures, a noxious weed called leafy spurge is the part of the meal that gets pushed off to the side and ignored.
For a herd of goats in eastern Idaho, the noxious weed is like eating dessert first.
"They look like kids after you give them ice cream and they play in the dirt," Stan Jensen told the Standard Journal.
Jensen and his wife, Bonnie, own about 1,000 goats that they hire out to eat noxious weeds in California and Idaho.
Leafy spurge is a problem in places of eastern Idaho, where it grows with a 25-foot-long tap root. It chokes out grasses and is inedible to cattle and horses because of a milky secretion the plant produces that can cause blistering, as well as blindness.
But goats find the plant with 28 percent protein irresistible. The sticky secretion doesn't seem to bother them and they finish the day with dirt stuck around their mouths.
For two years the goats have been working at Mark Harbaugh Ranch east of Ashton. Goat herder Lori Brower of Gardenville, Nev., follows them with dogs during the day as the goats work their way through the leafy spurge.
Harbaugh said there's still work for the goats at the ranch, but that he's seen improvements.
"When we bought this property, spurge had taken over two-thirds of the pasture," he said, noting he's seen several moose and about 30 deer grazing on the property more recently. "There is more wildlife on the property now."
Stan Jensen is a fourth-generation rancher forced out of the cattle business when prices got low several years ago. Bonnie Jensen, working with Lemhi County Extension Educator Shannon Williams, came up with a plan to raise goats for weed management.
"After two years we sold all our cows," Stan Jensen said.
He said that besides private owners, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation use the goats.