CHICAGO – Travelers may soon be doing a double take when they gaze out their plane windows at O'Hare International Airport, the latest location to consider trading in lawn mowers and landscapers for goats.
The Chicago Department of Aviation is looking for about 30 goats and a herder for a pilot program, aimed at taming the grass and weeds in one area of the airport grounds that's difficult to mow. The agency is the latest government body to find that goats not only never ask for a pay raise or take vacation, they can also get to those had-to-reach spots.
"They may have steep slopes, very hard to get to with heavy machinery, and those machines also emit pollution," explains Amy Malick, point person for sustainability at the Department of Aviation. "They're burning fossil fuel. So as a sustainability initiative we're looking to bring in animals that do not have emissions associated with them, at least to the same extent that heavy machinery would."
The farm formula is not a completely new concept. Atlanta's airport began using goats this week and San Francisco has been doing it for years.
Goatscaping goes beyond airports. Towns, businesses, and even homeowners are finding this four-legged solution helps maintain land, uses fewer chemicals, and cuts down on noise. Both Google and Yahoo have used goat herds to clean up the land around their California headquarters. Nearly 300 billies went to work on the Presidio Golf Course in San Francisco this month, chewing their way through acres of dense brush of thicket and hemlock so golfers could more easily spot their wayward balls. The goats can get to parts of the golf course that never get attention because lawn mowers can't access them.
Gentle, easy to manage, and often less expensive than human landscapers, goats are popular workers. They also leave behind natural fertilizers and expose soil and seeds that can encourage native grasses and wildflowers to grow, which can also cut down on pesticide use. The goats are accompanied by herders and sometimes herd dogs to keep them in line.
In Charlotte, Vt., local cemeteries are using goats and sheep to trim the grass. Stephen Brooks, chairman of the Charlotte Cemetery Commission, told Vermont Public Radio he thinks the grazing could save Charlotte about $2,000 in fuel costs this year. While there are huge cost benefits, Brooks says if you add too many animals to one area, they chew the grass down faster so they need to monitor the sheep and goats to keep the level of grass down, relative to its growth rate.
Last month, town officials in Seaside Park, N.J., considered using goats to remove a patch of poison ivy that overlooks Barnegat Bay. Visitors to the bay have been deterred from certain areas due to the ivy, which is not poisonous to the goats. Although it could be an expensive endeavor-- costing up to $20, 000-- the solution is better for the environment than using chemicals.
With all these advantages, towns and businesses are likely to increase their use of the animals. Each goat can eat about five to eight pounds of weeds per day and the never call in sick.