Who Needs Mowers? Tree Pittsburgh Uses Goats To Clear Dense Hillside

Jul 8, 2014

In the hilly regions of western Pennsylvania, lawn care can be a nuisance. Sometimes, dragging lawn mowers and weed whackers up and down hillsides seems like more trouble than it’s worth. That’s why environmental non-profit Tree Pittsburgh found a creative solution to clearing undergrowth on tricky terrain—goats.

Tree Pittsburgh hired consultant Brian Knox from Eco-Goats and rented more than 30 goats from local farm Goodness Grows to clear dense plant growth from a hillside near West Penn Park in Polish Hill.

Tree Pittsburgh Tree Care and Restoration Coordinator Jake Milofsky said Tree Pittsburgh wanted to clear the area of invasive species so it could be regrown with more manageable vegetation, but the hill presented several problems.

“Since it was so steep and difficult to get equipment on and difficult for volunteers and our staff to really manage at this point … we decided it was a good candidate to bring in some goats,” said Milofsky.

Tree Pittsburgh works to maintain healthy plant life in the city, and Milofsky said the hillside was a hotbed of imbalanced weed growth.

“This site is a pretty big monoculture of Porcelain Berry Vine, which is a non-native, invasive vine that is really common on Pittsburgh hillsides. It’s really aggressive—it’ll grow up over trees,” said Milofsky. “So we really try to control it in order to create healthy tree canopy and healthy forest ecosystems.”

Knox says Eco-Goats clears an average of 20 sites using goats each year, and that this one is one of the smaller sites. Knox also said that he usually uses his own goats, but transportation reasons led him and Tree Pittsburgh to contact Goodness Grows’ Erick Schwalm to rent local animals.

The goats were on the hillside Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., which Knox said was not quite enough time to clear all the vegetation.

“Usually we stay on at least 24 hours,” he explained. However, there were some concerns about leaving the goats alone on the site overnight, which Knox scoffed at.

“They do fine on their own—the supervision is mostly to keep the mischief out,” he said.

The site is surrounded by an electric fence, set up Monday by Knox and Tree Pittsburgh workers and volunteers.

“Part of the purpose of the electric fence is to take care of our predators,” explained Knox.  “Our urban/sub-urban predators tend to be teenagers and dogs. So 10,000 volts does a really good job on both of those.”

Milofsky says the event was about bringing attention to the use of goats as vegetation control as much as it was about clearing the hillside. According to him, Pittsburgh needs to catch up with other cities on this issue.

“It’s not a common solution as much in this region as it is in other parts of the country,” said Milofsky. “There are other cities that have really adopted this as a means of vegetation management in difficult areas. But we are hoping to make it more of a common occurrence in Pittsburgh.”

Milofsky says Tree Pittsburgh intends to rent goats again in the future, but has not yet set a time or place.