Firefighting goats could be sacked as departments cannot afford salary demands

Firefighting goats that munch away vegetation to prevent wildfires spreading could soon be too pricey to employ because of new salary laws.

Jason Poupolo, parks superintendent for the city of West Sacramento, California said tall, dry grass becomes "perfect fuel for a fire" when left untamed.

That's where the goats come in. Specialised companies rent out the animals to graze the problem away in a controleld environment, under the orders of a human counterpart.

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But a change in labour laws means that goatherds would be subject to the same labour laws as other farm workers and be entitled to costly overtime, meaning their wages could reach a whopping $14,000 (£11,300).

The wages have risen sharply year on year and companies would usually buck the excess onto their customer, but it's rising again and becoming unsustainable.

The changes could raise the monthly salary of herders from about $3,730 (£3,00) to $14,000 (£11,300), according to the California Farm Bureau.

“My phone rings off the hook this time of year,” said Tim Arrowsmith, owner of Western Grazers, which is providing grazing services to West Sacramento. “The demand has grown year after year after year.”

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However, his company, based in the northern California city of Red Bluff, could be at risk because of the legislation change.

"We will be forced to sell these goats to slaughter and to the auction yards, and we’ll be forced out of business and probably file for bankruptcy,” Arrowsmith said.

Comapnies used to be able to pay goatherds and shepherds a monthly minimum salary rather than an hourly minimum wage but a 2016 law change entitles them to overtime pay.

That change increased the herders’ minimum monthly pay from $1,955 (£1,580) in 2019 to $3,730 (£3,00) this year. It’s set to hit $4,381 (£3,500) in 2025, according to the California department of industrial relations.

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