Eco-Goats Graze to Save Gravesites

Eco-goats to the rescue!
Eco-goats to the rescue!

What does an historic Washington, DC cemetery do when invasive plants threaten the trees along its perimeter?

Call in the Eco-goats, of course!

I “kid” you not. These “living lawnmowers” are based in Annapolis, Maryland, and are rented out to provide “environmentally friendly vegetation control” that is sustainable, low-impact and cost effective.

Which is exactly what the Historic Congressional Cemetery needed. Founded in 1807 and located on Capitol Hill, the cemetery is run by a non-profit preservation group and owned by Christ Church of Washington.

Historic Congressional Cemetery has 65,000 graves
Historic Congressional Cemetery has 65,000 graves

The cemetery covers 35 acres and is the final resting place of several famous Americans including Elbridge Gerry, signer of the Declaration of Independence; J. Edgar Hoover; John Philip Sousa; Matthew Brady, Civil War photographer; and several members of Congress.

The cemetery’s southern border is covered with dense foliage featuring tall trees that are being choked by invasive plant species such as kudzu, poison ivy and English ivy. If left unchecked, the invasive plants could kill the trees and send them toppling onto historic headstones. Complicating the problem is the fact that the cemetery is part of the ecologically stressed Anacostia Watershed – the Anacostia River flows just a half-mile to the south.

Some of the overgrowth the goats were hired to tackle
Some of the overgrowth the goats were hired to feed on

Since part of the cemetery’s mission is to help preserve the watershed, administrators didn’t want to kill the invasive plants with toxic pesticides and herbicides, which could potentially seep into the watershed. They didn’t want to bring in heavy equipment to remove the debris, either, which could damage the historic grounds.

Instead, the cemetery hired Eco-goats to eat the invasive plants threatening the trees. From August 7-12, about 100 goats were brought to the cemetery and confined to the wooded area to chomp away at the overgrowth.

The Eco-goats earned their siesta
The Eco-goats earned their siesta after stripping this ground bare

Goats don’t exactly graze. They gorge. These little herbivores with the freaky slit-pupil eyes gobble and gnash through just about every plant in its path. They love all of the invasive species that threaten the cemetery trees.

When I first arrived to watch the Eco-goats in action – around 1pm on a Saturday – I was disappointed to see them all lying about in the shade like a bunch of drunken Bacchanalia after a mid-day feast.

I was about to give these bums a slow-clap with a smirk on my face, for working so hard, until I was told by a cemetery docent that the goats were resting on dirt that had been a jungle before they’d shown up.

Oh. Wow. They’d earned their rest after all.

Within minutes, the lead goat stood up, and the rest rose to follow, revealing the devastation of their binge – a sizable tract of bladed ground.

The Eco-goats moved eastward, ruminating every step of the way. A crowd of people had gathered along the fence-line to follow the goats, including plenty of families with small children. We stretched over and under each other to take photos of the goats at work.

According to the docent, the Eco-goats weren’t meant as any kind of publicity stunt to attract more visitors. The goats are just smart sustainability in action:

This kid was working hard
Chowing down near the fence

Goats are efficient and low-impact – Small, light-weight and agile, they’ll climb part-way up tree trunks to reach vines and chew stems; they’ll squeeze through dense brush and leave little impact on the surrounding terrain.

Goats are insatiable – You think your kids eat a lot? These kids eat practically around the clock, consuming 10-15 pounds of green material a day.

Goats are cheap and they “give back” – The Eco-goats cost only about 25-cents an hour to rent, and they fertilize as they work. Plus goat droppings don’t spread invasive seeds because the goats crush seeds as they eat them.

Federal, state, and local government departments and their contractors throughout the country have used goats to control weeds and invasive species. Even Google headquarters has used goats instead of mowers as an energy-saving alternative to trim their fields.

It’s an “udderly” great idea!


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