Brewery farmer combats cedar with goats, and they drink the beer, too

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – For many Central Texans, cedar is a dirty word. The coniferous plant, actually Ashe Juniper, grows rampant across the region. In the winter, it releases massive amounts of fine pollen into the air, driving allergy sufferers crazy. Because the plant grows so easily in Central Texas, removing it seems impossible.

Enter the Nigerian Dwarf Goat.

These goats stand about two feet tall. They’re cute, trainable and they eat Ashe Juniper. “Goats are not grazers as much as foraging browsers,” says Sean “Farmer Peppy” Meyer. Peppy is a farmer and rancher with Jester King Brewery, a holistic brewery, farm and event space located just west of Austin off U.S. Highway 290.

Peppy has raised a herd of 33 Nigerian Dwarf Goats since birth. He says that about half of their diet consists of Ashe Juniper. “They’re just a puddle of piranhas,” he says while watching them consume a nearby juniper.

The goats are able to consume juniper and a variety of other nearby plants because of specific bacteria in their hardy guts. While all goats are able to feast on the plants, Peppy boosts his herd with a special ingredient — beer.

“Banshee there,” Peppy says while pointing at a nearby goat, one of its knees yellow with what appears to be an infection, “She wasn’t eating for about three days and when I gave her a half-pint of beer … within 10 seconds she was able to get up and graze for the first time in 10 days.”

This is because the beer brewed by Jester King uses ingredients grown on the property. This means the bacteria needed to digest the local plants is in the beer. “There was witnesses (to Banshee’s healing) and they were like ‘it’s magic!’ and I was like it is. It is.”

This is the real reason Peppy has bred this herd, to restore the natural life cycle to the American landscape. This is called the carbon cycle and it works like this: goat eats the plants, goat poops, the manure is used by the plant to grow, and the cycle repeats.

This cycle not only enriches plant life already present, but it makes the soil healthier and encourages new plant life to grow. Peppy says that the Hill Country used to have several inches of soil and miles of native grasses that are now lost because of the near-extermination of America’s largest grazing animal — the American Buffalo.

By restoring these grazing animals, Peppy hopes the land will grow healthier and the carbon cycle will be restored. “If we want Central Texas to be a hospitable place for us and our children, the time to make an investment is now.”

At Jester King, the goats help produce the fertilizer that’s used on the farm. The ingredients grown on the farm are then used at the brewery.

Peppy says it takes 200 goats to graze one acre of land each day. Meaning they won’t be enough to restore the ecosystem, even if everyone in town buys a few just because we hate cedar. Once Peppy’s team is fully trained to manage his current goat herd, he plans to take the next step in his land restoration project: raising a herd of American Buffalo.

Finally, Farmer Peppy is hoping investors could help purchase the buffalo and more goats. He’s seeking researchers from nearby universities who could study his efforts to restore the land.

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