PITTSBURGH – A herd of goats was hired to clear weeds and invasive vines from a city park as the first stage in a restoration project.
The nonprofit group, Tree Pittsburgh, is spearheading the effort to improve and plant more trees at West Penn Park in the city’s Polish Hill neighborhood.
But before that can happen, 30 goats owned by Erik Schwalm, a Saxonburg farmer, were brought in Tuesday to chomp through weed, noxious plants and vines. Tree Pittsburgh plans to plant 110 trees at the site, but wanted to eliminate the other plants which could destroy the trees if left unchecked.
Schwalm owns 130 goats that he raises for meat and for show at his farm about 25 miles north of the city. But it wasn’t his idea to employ the goats.
That was the brainchild of Brian Knox, who owns Eco-Goats, a business in Davidsonville, Md., a tiny unincorporated town about 35 miles south of Baltimore.
Knox has his own herd of goats he rents out at $400 per head to clear weeds and other plants, mostly in Maryland, Delaware and northern Virginia. Because he doesn’t like to transport his herd long distances he was hired as a goat tender and consultant to oversee the herd for Schwalm, who was paid $50 per goat.
Each goat can eat about 25 percent of its body weight in greens each day. Although it’s more expensive to clear ground using goats, that has fewer side effects than herbicides.
“Herbicide is much cheaper, but it has more downsides as far as soil contamination and collateral damage,” Knox said.
The park clearing exercise was also used as a workshop to determine if the city might be able to develop policies for people who want to begin their own goat-grazing businesses in and around Pittsburgh.
Goats “could be the solution to controlling many of our overgrown hillsides,” said Lisa Ceoffe, the city’s urban forester.