Grass Gobbling Goats Are Gardening Away at O'Hare, Google

Gardener goats
Got a swath of land you need cleared of vegetation? Take a chance on gardening goats — they're an environmental- and wallet-friendly alternative to the ubiquitous, noisy, gas-guzzling lawn mower. Maria Tyutina/Pexels

At some point in the 20th century, the weed trimmer was invented. It's a motorized weed- and grass-trimming device that uses rapidly revolving strings to cut down vegetation in small spaces without destroying the bark of trees. It's easy to use and doesn't require much in gas or electricity to run. Genius!

Too bad the inventor of the weed trimmer didn't know about goats, though. Because even though he made plenty of money, his invention was extremely redundant considering that we essentially had weed eating in the bag with our first domesticated animal 10,000 years ago.


Of course, using goats as mowers seems like the type of 21st-century innovation that reliably causes your dad to shake his head in mystified silence, like when you ride your bike to work after stopping for a $5 espresso drink. But using goats to maintain vegetation works just as well today as it did in ancient Mesopotamia. Goats are commonly used to control big swaths of land in cemeteries, parks, airports and even Google headquarters, and though they don't cut grass and vegetation down as evenly as a piece of machinery, there are a lot of benefits to using animals rather than machinery and herbicides.

Goats: The Eco-friendly Option

You know what doesn't require petroleum products or chemicals of any kind? A goat. Residential homes in the United States use about 600 million gallons of fossil fuels each year on lawn maintenance — this doesn't include greenspaces like highway medians, military bases and public lands. But where there is vegetation, goats can do a decent job of gnawing down invasive weeds in a sustainable way that doesn't rely on toxic herbicides. Also, goats can turn that unwanted brush into milk, meat and fiber (like cashmere) if you play your cards right.


Goats Can Go Where Machinery Can't

Goats are known for their nimble little hooves, which can get places a mower can't. They're also naturally very adventurous, and will accept the challenge of even the steepest slope.

"The approach of using a grazing herd has been more efficient in removing vegetation along steep embankments, and rocky and wooded areas," a representative from the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) tells us in an email. O'Hare International Airport is in its seventh season of using a mixed herd of goats, sheep and a donkey named Jackson to clear the 11-acre (4.45-hectare) grounds around the airport. (In the past, they've also incorporated llamas and alpacas into their grazing herd.)


Goats Eat a Variety of Different Plants

The stories about goats are largely true: They're not picky eaters. Goats are browsers, rather than grazers like cows and horses. Grazers will keep the lawn mowed, but if you want an animal that will take a chance on an unusual-looking vine, goats are for you; they'll practically always take a chance on a plant they don't know, and their guts can tolerate a wide variety of plant species, but they sometimes eat things they shouldn't, so care should be taken to make sure there's nothing on the land that's outright toxic to goats.


Goats Are Thorough

At O'Hare International Airport, land clearing is important because it keeps wildlife off the property. Because they can denude even the toughest bramble thicket, the airport uses goats and other animals to take care of their stubborn overgrowth to keep wildlife and people safe.

"Vegetation management helps mitigate wildlife hazards to aircraft," says the CDA representative. "Harboring wildlife near runways could impact aircraft during takeoff. In essence, it helps reduce habitat for wildlife that could pose safety concerns for flight operations."


If you want to rent a herd of goat landscapers, that's doable! There are many companies out there that will service your goat-gardening needs, and according to Red Wagon Goats, located in Atlanta, Georgia, most residential customers can get their backyard cleaned up within the $400-$1,000 range, depending on size and complexity.

Learn more about owning goats in "Holistic Goat Care: A Comprehensive Guide to Raising Healthy Animals, Preventing Common Ailments, and Troubleshooting Problems" by Gianaclis Caldwell. HowStuffWorks picks related titles based on books we think you'll like. Should you choose to buy one, we'll receive a portion of the sale.