Goat with The Flow – Enthusiasts Rescue Goats From a Volcano

Looking After Goats Takes New Meaning When Toxic Gas Gets Involved

Goat with The Flow – Enthusiasts Rescue Goats From a Volcano

This is the courageous story of volunteers donning respirators and donating land and equipment to rescue goats and other livestock from the 2018 Kilauea eruption. And it all started with a sense of community.

I met Julie LaTendresse through pictures of her goat treks on hardened lava. The landscape is stark — nothing like what I normally see — and I was curious. How different is goat ownership in Hawaii?

“When I first started caring for goats here in Hawaii, my learning curve was large. I suddenly found a lot of issues I’d never experienced raising goats on the U.S. continent. My immediate and emergency help and advice came from local fellow goat enthusiasts. I eventually found some great vets that fill certain roles but for everyday support and even emergency care, we have to help each other. Chances are, no vet is coming anytime soon and if the local feed store doesn’t have the medication, it could be three weeks or more before they get another shipment. A few of my goats owe their lives to the fact that a goat-friend had the right insight or medication we needed at a crucial time.”

Julie formed HI Goat Hui Facebook group in anticipation of planning a Goat Academy in 2019 to move toward a goal of “seeing two (or more) healthy, happy goats on every homestead in Hawaii.” Their discussions were fascinating, giving me a window into local goat husbandry, such as using cassava root as an anthelmintic, the challenge of rainfall zones that vary across the island — some with over 200 inches of rain a year — and other management practices unique to goats in Hawaii. Not once did the topic of volcanoes come up.

Then the rumblings began.

The rumblings became earthquakes, and the earthquakes opened fissures. Then the lava, red and hot, began to flow. Between May 3rd and May 15th, twenty fissures had opened, releasing lava and toxic gas. Kilauea was making headlines not just in the Hui, but worldwide. Julie’s pack goat operation, Goat With the Flow, was only 10 miles from the eruptions in Pahoa … and goat care in Hawaii became an entirely new discussion.

One of five volcanoes in Hawaii, Kilauea is the most active and has been erupting on a continuous basis since 1983. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), a division of the United States Geological Survey, actively monitors volcanic activity and is diligent about ensuring the safety of the residents. Even they have difficulty predicting the path of Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. Fissures, gasses, and lava flows happen randomly. In one statement, Christina Neal, a lead scientist at HVO offered as a warning, “An outbreak of lava in a new location is one possible outcome. At this time it is not possible to say with certainty if or where such an outbreak may occur.” Residents of this region must be agile and resilient to remain. Often little warning is given.

Several groups formed to rescue goats, livestock, and pets. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Hawaii Humane Society joined efforts.

Julie and others offered their land and hospitality to evacuees. Almost immediately, the volunteers were unable to source respirators and cartridges needed to continue their efforts to rescue goats. On the islands, supplies are quickly depleted and slowly replenished. The greatest threat to life from volcanic activity is vog, which is a form of air pollution containing several toxic gasses. Goat Journal responded quickly to the call for relief and sent a shipment to support the evacuations. Additional donations came from all directions — in the form of pet foods, supplies, and volunteers.

Susan Regeimbal is one of the volunteers. While she admits that she was not a goat person prior to the eruption, having a large trailer and available pasture primed her to assist in rescuing goats. “My first rescue was with Batina, who got me started. We rescued seven goats near Noni Farms, next to Fissure 17. It sounded like missiles launching and bombs going off, with rocks the size of refrigerators flying into the air and landing in the pasture on the other side of the road.” Active lava flows in forested areas can produce methane blasts, sending airborne debris in all directions.

Susan participated in another mission to rescue goats when the lava started flowing toward Kapoho beach. “At 1 a.m., bullhorns blew, alerting the residents to a mandatory evacuation. I was up and hitched my trailer to help evacuate birds and goats in the farm lots. We had to wait to be allowed access.” The critical efforts to rescue goats and other livestock took place over two days before the area was hemmed in by lava, with the only means of further evacuation by boat or air. “I had to catch and carry animals one by one. We filled my trailer twice. Now all of those animals are living in my front pasture. It has been a big adjustment for them. Kapoho is dry with a lot of hardened lava. I live in the rainforest.”

The big island is known for its agriculture, both crops and livestock operations. While most natural disasters allow for rebuilding and replanting, a volcanic eruption does not. The lava flows are uninhabitable for decades, completely displacing those in its path. Legislation HRS 171-93 provides for land swaps and relocation to those impacted by lava on a lottery basis, but the purchase is limited to two acres.

Kirstin Heid and her husband have cared for goats and other livestock on the island for 33 years. They have over 100 sheep and goats on 100 acres. With the eruption, they have been forced to downsize. “Eruptions don’t happen every day, but when they do, resources are so limited that the challenge is overwhelming.” The possibility of relocating a herd this size, and sustaining the cost of supplementing feed, is unlikely. Kirstin and her husband are not leaving, and not giving up on the land, but livestock is not a scenario for long term success anymore. There is too much competition for available forage. As it is for many, rainwater is also their only source of water. Before it is fit for any use, it has to be neutralized with baking soda. A large herd consumes a lot of water. “It is a hard decision, but a decision that has to be made for the well-being of the animals. It is my responsibility to make the decision before the animals are harmed.”

Each rain burns more forage, reducing the food available to goats on the island. Photo Credit: J. LaTendresse

For Julie’s goats, she mostly uses the jungle for fodder and pasture. “There are lots of native fast growing trees and bushes they love, and many introduced species of pasture and cane grasses and forbs. People get goats just so they can keep the jungle at bay. The lucky goats get fresh tropical fallen fruit.” So if the plants are absorbing harmful chemicals, covered with ash and debris and burned by the acid rain, what is left to feed? With humidity that averages 70-80 percent, hay doesn’t cure and it spoils and deteriorates when stored. Because there is no source of emergency hay, state and private owners have made efforts to provide grazing land available to the displaced livestock. Hay is shipped from the mainland, and is normally a treat at $35+ for a regular three-string bale.

Goats graze with a cloud of vog in the distance. Photo Credit: J. LaTendresse

What Are the Effects of Exposure? 

Dr. Mark Thorne said that vog is not always temporary — it has been a continuous challenge on the southern coast since the eruption of Halemaumau, venting for 10 years. The vog contains sulfur dioxide, which then becomes acid rain. It burns leaves on plants and trees, and can kill them. The acid rain also takes its toll on fences, gates, tanks, and metal structures. The sulfur in vog amplifies the problem of copper deficiencies in animals, as plants in Hawaii already have a high iron content, binding copper. Hydrogen fluoride is absorbed by grasses and precipitated into water sources. Fluoride toxicity causes bone loss, erosion of teeth, and growth deformities. Similar to vog is laze, the plume that is created as lava enters the ocean. Laze contains hydrochloric acid, which, like the ash and vog contributes further to damaging the eyes, skin, and lungs.

Chemicals in vog produce acid rain, which damages foliage and kills vegetation. Photo Credit: J. LaTendresse

Pele’s hair is a fascinating effect of an eruption — it is lightweight spun volcanic glass carried by the wind. The hair-like shards are sharp and abrasive. Skin, lung, and eye irritation develops from contact. Animals can’t graze in areas where the hair has fallen. “It is literally everywhere so they are stepping on it and lying in it. It’s like fiberglass. I don’t know what the effects will be, other than a high hay bill,” Julie said with concern.

Pele’s Hair is spun volcanic glass that travels by wind and settles on the ground. Photo Credit: J. Latendresse

Beyond all of the hazards in the air and water above ground, they are experiencing earthquakes. According to www.earthquaketrack.com, as of July 8th, Hawaii, Hawaii has had 527 earthquakes in the past 24 hours, 4,084 earthquakes in the past 7 days, and 17,329 earthquakes in the past 30 days (M1.5 or greater). Earthquakes affect structures, but they also affect animals. They can cause stress, behavioral changes, and affect how animals utilize pasture.

Why Do People Live Near Volcanoes?

Oddly enough, from other areas of the island, like Waimea, you wouldn’t even know the volcano is active if you didn’t watch the news. It is business as usual. While it appears to us on the mainland that the island is consumed, thankfully, that is not the case. Hawaii is divided into nine Lava Flow Hazard Zones rated 1-9, with 1 being the highest risk. All of Puna, with a population of roughly 50,000 people, falls in Zones 1-3. It is the fastest growing area on the big island. Some homes are built where lava has wiped out previous developments. People build their homes here because the land is “cheap”and the lifestyle is desirable. For Julie, she takes the risk because the everyday pleasure outweighs the fear of the future.

This eruption has delivered more lava and destroyed more homes than any in modern history. As of June 29th, 657 houses have been lost. Sudden homelessness, not enough available housing, business losses, emotional stress, and environmental health risks are taking their toll. A culture that embraces the natural forces of creation and change represented by the volcanoes is also grieving the impact.

Susan moved to Hawaii from California after spending her childhood visiting the island. She admits that she has “mixed feelings. The volcano created everything that is so beautiful. So many memories of places that are now gone. It is really sad, but there will be some other beautiful thing to explore someday.” Given the alternative, she said. “The fires in California scare me far more than the volcano ever will.”

If You Want to Help:

If you would like to help with relief efforts or check in to see how evacuees are doing, you can contact Julie at https://www.facebook.com/GoatWithTheFlow/.

Donations of supplies, funds to feed rescue goats and evacuees, and gas cards to facilitate rescues are all appreciated at:

Volcano Relief
c/o HI Goat Hui
PO Box 568 Pahoa HI 96778

Or funds can be sent online at: https://squareup.com/store/GoatWithTheFlow

There is something raw and powerful about living on a volcano, yet to do so you have to stay humble and always be willing to submit to that great force if She comes. The land is never really yours and every day that Pele allows me to stay, I consider a blessing. It keeps me filled with gratitude.

So much devastation for so many people, and my heart hurts for them yet simultaneously I feel so fortunate to be here, now. To bear witness to this huge and sudden change of landscape is so rare and special. I wake every day to a new coastline and sleep under scarlet skies. How amazing it is to feel the earth move and rumble beneath me and to fall asleep to the booms and roars of fissure 8 from the relative safety of my farm. To be here in my community as witness and servant to others as this rite of passage occurs feels huge even if I cannot currently put adequate words to it. It is where I absolutely need to be.  

On my first visit to Big Island before moving here, while hiking around a barren lava field, I came across a perfectly formed, goat hoof print in cooled lava. That sighting really made an impact on me. I took it as somewhat of a beautiful omen. I was home. My goats and I had found our future and it was on the lava. The lessons of the volcano are many, if you listen. The lava tells the story of the volcano. The volcano tells the story of time: what happened before and what will happen in the future. When I found that hoof print in the lava, I knew I was finally home; for at least a time, now and until once again, when Pele says, “go.” Then? If Pele says “GO!” The goats and I, we go.

—Julie LaTendresse


Goat hoof print in lava. Photo Credit: J. LaTendresse

Originally published in the September/October 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

Karen and her husband Dale own Kopf Canyon Ranch in Moscow, Idaho. They enjoy “goating” together and helping others goat. They raise Kikos primarily, but are experimenting with crosses for their new favorite goating experience: pack goats! You can learn more about them at Kopf Canyon Ranch on Facebook or www.kikogoats.org.

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