Four-legged landscapers return to Carnegie Mellon

This week, Carnegie Mellon welcomed goats back for their fifth visit to campus, “one of the herd’s favorite spots to munch,” according to the Allegheny GoatScape website. In conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University’s Sustainability Initiative, Carnegie Mellon partnered with Allegheny GoatScape, a Pittsburgh nonprofit created in 2017. After three days on the job, the goats made commendable progress eating away at the vegetation on the hill between Gates and Purnell. In fact, it takes the goats less time to clear the area each year, asserting victory for goats and passersby alike.

From the University of Pittsburgh’s Greensburg Campus to the Erie National Wildlife Refuge, the goats have made appearances across Western Pennsylvania. In an interview with The Tartan, Allegheny GoatScape Founder and Executive Director Gavin Deming said that transportation is easiest when sites are close to the organization’s home base in Pittsburgh’s Northside, but they have made trips as far as two hours away with relative ease. “The goats, when we’re finishing up a project, they know when there isn’t much food left,” he explained. “They know when they hop in that trailer there’ll be food on the other side, so they’re pretty good at working with us to get into the trailer.”

With their successful track record and indisputable charm, the goats have a full schedule ahead of them. According to Deming, their grazing season is between late April and mid-to-late November. Popular demand for Allegheny GoatScape has led to a waitlist on their website for the 2022 season, although the organization prioritizes grazing in public spaces like Frick Park and the Great Allegheny Passage.

Allegheny GoatScape touts a win-win platform; landscapes are protected from invasive vegetation, and the goats indulge in their favorite pastime. After all, Deming said, “That’s what they do: they eat.” Though it might be impossible to clear some terrain with a weed-whacking machine, goats could easily scale it. This is an especially useful trait in Pittsburgh, a city notorious for its hilly topography. The goats are also an environmentally conscious alternative to pesticide deployment. Ecological benefits aside, the herd also lightens up the mood on campus.

“I’d heard about using goats instead of machines before,” Master of Science in Robotics student Seth Karten said, “but I’ve never actually seen it in practice. I thought it was really interesting that they were doing cliffside landscaping. I’m all for it.”

Allegheny GoatScape splits its grazers into four herds. Each is provided what Deming describes as a “guardian donkey” that guides and protects the group. Team Sunshine, led by GoatScape’s youngest mini donkey, came to Carnegie Mellon this year with all 10 of its grazers. The goats munched through invasive vegetation from Wednesday morning to Friday afternoon. Typically, Deming said, it takes a herd two weeks to clear an acre of land; the goats usually take on spaces between a quarter of an acre to an acre and a half (about the size of a football field). Currently, two herds are taking on an acre each at the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset County, PA.

As colder weather approaches, Deming and the other Allegheny GoatScape staff are making preparations for their goats. With the addition of two new herds to the organization since last winter, it has yet to be determined where they will live during the off-season. Regardless of location, the goats will happily eat their way through winter and emerge this spring to continue their work against invasive overgrowth.