Goats gone wrong: City says farewell to cleanup crew

Updated Mar 4, 2016
Goats have been hired by Google and at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, but the city of Salem has fired their crew.Goats have been hired by Google and at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, but the city of Salem has fired their crew.

Goatscaping has been all the rage for a while now, but the city of Salem, Oregon, has decided to fire their team of invasive-plant-eating barnyard animals.

Back in October, a crew of 75 billies and nannies were rented from Yoder Goat Rentals to clear 9.1 acres of Armenian blackberry and English ivy at Minto-Brown Island Park. The pilot program lasted six weeks and cost $20,719, which is nearly five times what it would have cost for landscapers to do the job, according to the Toronto Sun.

The total price included $11,375 for the flat rate of the rental, $4,203 for a portable bathroom and potable water, $2,560 for goat monitoring, and $540 for weed removal for fencing in the goats.

An extra $2,041 was tacked on when the city had to hire group of prison inmates to clear the blackberry brambles the goats left behind after stripping the leaves. Along with not eating what they were supposed to, the animals devoured native plants and were particularly fond of munching on maple and hazelnut trees.

The city also cited a “barnyard aroma” as one of their reasons for not wanting to continue the program. Mark Becktel, public works operations manager for the city of Salem, told The Statesman Journal they also had to deal with a “heavily fertilized area, if you know what I mean.”

A report to the city council noted that the goats were “almost universally welcomed by park users as a pleasant, pastoral addition to the scenery.” Despite the public acceptance of the furry landscapers, the city has no plans to renew the program.

“We made it clear at the council meeting that we would not say we would never use goats again,” Becktel said. “We consider them a special tool in our toolbox. But you’re not going to see large numbers of happily grazing goats in our park system anytime soon.”

Since the area the goats were clearing was relatively flat, it could have just as easily been cleared by mowing and hiring a crew to clear the vegetation closer to trees. Salem does see them as a possible option for steep hills.

“They can do well on very steep slopes, hillsides and embankments, places where you can’t get a mower or a crew,” Becktel said. “So we’ll never say never. But they’re just not cost-effective for a project like this.”

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