I never had much interaction with goats until 10 or 11 years ago, when my wife and I were visiting a farm in rural Virginia. I recall they had at least three dozen goats, most of them babies (kids), and a big, gentle St Bernard who made certain that no visitors got close enough to touch any of them. During our weekend there, those goats provided hours of entertainment. What cool animals.
Since that time, every once in a while, I remind my wife that I’d love to own goats. Now the fact is, our house in the city with its city-sized yard would never really accommodate this. Plus I don’t know the first thing about properly caring for goats, or any other sort of farm animal. Still, a man can dream.
Over a year ago, I stated hearing about a herd of gots in Pittsburgh that was going around and cleaning out the overgrown or invasive vegetation on abandoned lots, neglected areas of parks, and steep hillsides. Immediately I new that this idea was a total winner.
It took me a little digging, but I learned that Gavin Deming is the founder of a local non-profit, appropriately named: Allegheny GoatScape. The man leading this effective and entertaining project welcomed me to visit him and his goats recently; you can see the video here.
I cannot confirm or deny the old adage that goats will eat anything. But I do know that these goats can eat dozens of plan species that either don’t belong in Western, PA or are a nuisance in their present location. They eat plants that can be poisonous to people and other animals, plants that are hard to kill, plants that are unpleasant to have around. To the goats of Allegheny GoatScape, it all becomes a delicious meal.
There really are a number of great things about the way the goats work. They are chemical free. They don’t require any sort of noisy, gas guzzling, expensive machinery. They leave behind natural fertilizer for plants that can be added after the overgrown species are removed. And, probably most important of all, they are really entertaining. People love to watch the goats. They attract an audience. They bring a community together. Where poisonous spray or some sort of loud equipment would probably cause people to avoid the area, these goats get people outside, hanging out together, admiring the 4-legged workers.
According to Deming, the goal really is to create a clear palette for better utilization of the land. The goats come in and create a clean slate; thy don’t just remove what was bad and didn’t belong, they leave the area ready for something good to come take it’s place.
Additionally, Allegheny GoatScape educates people on caring for goats and the important work that they can do. They have been work animals for centuries. People, especially children, love to learn about what they can do.
There are currently two herd, one made up of ten goats, the other with six. And each herd is protected by a guard donkey who will make a fuss and kick her hooves at anything threatening the goats. They all travel together to a worksite. Work happens in a fenced off area, and then they move along to the next location; putting in long hours and requiring very little additional care since eating is their job.
So if you are reading this, looking at the pictures of goats and thinking: “this is awesome! How can I be a part of this?” then I’m happy to fill you in. Right now, especially, donations are very much appreciated. The goats eat a lot, and there really isn’t enough vegetation for them in the winter months. They are off duty for 3 or 4 months each year. Hay is very high up on their list of winter treats, but with all the rain this last year, quality hay at an affordable price is in short supply.
Additionally, as Allegheny GoatScape really is a one man (and 16 goat) operation right now, they could use the additional help of some trained volunteers. If you might be able to give of your money or your time, I’d recommend reaching out to Gavin via the website.