Pittsburgh City Council gives preliminary approval to use goats as hillside grass clippers
Goats overseen by a donkey proposed as hillside grass clippers
March 10, 2016 12:00 AM
Goats from Steel City Grazers attack invasive plants. Pittsburgh City Council preliminarily approved a measure to have the animals clear hard-to-reach hillsides in three city parks.
By Lexi Belculfine / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For Wimpy, Ozark, Cowboy and eight of their four-legged friends, it’s just lunch.
But the grazing goats and their guard donkey are slated to work this summer to clear hard-to-reach hillsides in three city parks after Pittsburgh City Council preliminarily approved a measure Wednesday to put them to work.
“They particularly like invasives and difficult plants, which is really convenient, like vines and poison ivy and knotweed. The things that are difficult for humans to deal with, goats actually really like,” said Steel City Grazers owner Carrie Pavlik of Allentown.
A $10,000 grant from the Allegheny County Conservation District will bring Steel City Grazers’ 10 goats and their livestock guardian, a miniature donkey named “Hobo,” to Highland Park; Emerald View Park, which surrounds Duquesne Heights, Mount Washington and Allentown; and West Penn Park in Polish Hill as soon as mid-June.
Tree Pittsburgh, Mount Washington Community Development Corp. and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy will provide about $5,000 worth of in-kind services, such as signs and installation of the goats’ fence.
“We’re all striving to restore the forest ecology. Ultimately, that’s our big goal: getting trees to thrive and native plants that should be found on our wooded hillsides — that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Danielle Crumrine, Tree Pittsburgh executive director.
“So we have to combat the invasive species first, and then go in and plant the trees and plants that should be there, and then maintain it all. Because even though the goats are going through [now], it’s going to take years of work to really combat this problem.”
Goats chomping on poisonberry, grapevines and Japanese knotweed will help maintain hillsides and the integrity of their slopes, improve wildlife habitats and air quality, and help trees cool and shade the city, Ms. Crumrine said.
The women briefed city council on their plan at its Wednesday morning standing committee meeting, and Ms. Crumrine showed members a section of a 30-year-old grapevine removed last week from West Penn Park.
“It’s just kind of a testament to the fact that our hillsides haven’t been maintained in over a generation,” she said.
Council unanimously recommended a resolution allowing Tree Pittsburgh to use the goats in city parks, practically guaranteeing final passage at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Hobo and the Nubian, Nigerian Dwarf and Saanen goats — which lived at Carrie Furnace this winter but move from job to job in the warmer weather — take a few weeks to clear an acre, and Ms. Pavlik said she expects the three parks will take up to 2½ months.
A portable electric fence keeps the animals in, and a second orange fence keeps people away from the pulsating barrier.
“They’re happy to stay in there, because that’s where the food is,” Ms. Pavlik said.
A temporary lean-to provides shelter from the elements, Steel City Grazers employees bring them food and water every day, and, of course, Hobo looks out for his little friends.
“Instead of having a dog or a shepherd, he protects the herd,” Ms. Pavlik said. “If a stray dog or something were to approach the area, he would stomp his feet and scare them off.”
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