Allegheny GoatScape goats visit Gates and Purnell to clear vegetation, create excitement

Carnegie Mellon students clustered at the Randy Pausch Memorial Bridge this past week to see what soon may become a common sight on the Carnegie Mellon campus, around six Nubian goats munching away at the Kudzu vines on the Gates east side landscape slope. The goats belonged to Allegheny GoatScape, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to renting goat herds to clear public spaces and promoting goat husbandry, and were brought in as an eco-friendly means to clear the vegetation that had sprung up between the Gates-Hillman Center and Purnell Center for the Arts. The goats grazed from Wednesday, Sept. 13 to Friday, Sept. 15 as part of what Facilities Management and Campus Services director of operations Steven Guenther called in The Piper “a trial program in support of the Green Practices Committee.”

The goats clear the invasive Kudzu vines without the use of harmful herbicides. The only fuel they need is the plants in their enclosure, which they then turn into a natural fertilizer. The Allegheny GoatScape website also claims that goats are perfectly suited to “manage Pittsburgh’s steep slopes,” since they can navigate the steep hills with ease and can even climb out to shallow ledges on buildings. Steven Guenther cited the multitude of environmental benefits that goat landscaping provides in the university press release and affirmed that this week’s foray into environmentally conscious landscaping was “all part of our commitment to a long-term maintenance plan that may combine goats with manual labor.”

The goats were enclosed in about two thirds of an acre of overgrowth by an electric fence and a green plastic fence adorned with a tartan sign that read “Goats Working.” The goats had a small enclosure with water and solar powered lights and were accompanied by a miniature donkey named Hobo meant to fend off predators. Onlookers craned over the edge of the Randy Pausch bridge or clambered up the hill to watch the goats work and included students, children, and members of the Pittsburgh community. The goats even prompted local news coverage, with the local CBS station KDKA-TV calling it a “step back in time” for our technologically advanced university.

David Wessell, grounds supervisor, cited this visibility as one of the reasons that this site was chosen for the inaugural implementation of this program. He outlined the hope that “the goats will capture student interest at least from their sense of ‘novelty’ on the campus landscape. Our focus going into the event is that a green practice that is usually conducted in back park areas or in municipal right-of-ways will now be easily viewable to our campus community members and thus provide for a true learning opportunity.”

Pittsburgh’s own South Side Park welcomed Allegheny GoatScape goats in the beginning of August. Mowing goats have become an increasingly common phenomenon as city and state governments, companies, and property owners seek to find an environmentally friendly way to clear out weeds from large spaces. So common, in fact, that according to the Detroit Free Press, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees filed a complaint that the hiring of goats by Western Michigan University eliminated union jobs. David Wessell stated that ordinarily the plant growth “would be cut-down mechanically with trimmers by [Facilities Management and Campus Services] gardener staff and/or landscape service vendors in the month of November after plant dieback due to temperature freeze” but that “because of the specific and limited function of Goat Grazing in the ornamental landscape they do not feel threatened in the scope of their grounds work.”

This limited scope could prove a challenge to planned expansion, should the program be deemed enough of a success. According to David Wessell, goats require tracts of land spanning around an acre and there aren’t many that meet this requirement that contain the kind of growth that the goats clear.

Nevertheless, the hillside is now neatly shorn, and the goats’ visit sparked an almost certainly unprecedented interest in environmentally conscious methods for groundskeeping at Carnegie Mellon, if the rubbernecking at the Randy Pausch Memorial Bridge is any indication. This interest is what Facilities Management and Campus Services and the Green Practices committee ultimately sought in bringing livestock to campus, meaning that this trial run will doubtlessly be deemed a success.