Weed-Eating Goats For Hire? One Pittsburgh Woman Hopes To Turn Them Into Eco-Stewards

By Diana Nelson Jones
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Goats can’t legally reside in the Pittsburgh — yet — but a number of people want them as regular visitors. And an entrepreneur hopes to fulfill that wish.

Carrie Pavlik of Allentown, 30, is starting Steel City Grazers, a goats-for-hire business to put the animals to work clearing overgrowth.

She is trying to raise $40,000 at Indiegogo.com by March 23 to buy equipment and livestock to be ready for work by summer. She will house the herd legally outside city limits but close enough to keep transportation costs down, she said.

There is no city policy on the use of goats as eco-stewards, but the city is inching closer to allowing urban goat keeping.

On Tuesday and on March 24, planners will present the Planning Commission with revisions to zoning regulations “which would allow people for the first time to keep goats in the city,” said Andrew Dash, assistant director of strategic planning. The proposal would limit dwarf goats to small lots.

Last summer, an Alcoa Foundation grant paid for a Tree Pittsburgh pilot project in Polish Hill. Saxonburg goat farmer Erik Schwalm brought his herd to thin vegetation on a slope in West Penn Park. It was a good demonstration of how goats can be good eco-stewards, said Tree Pittsburgh’s executive director Danielle Crumrine. The city installed temporary fencing.

Mr. Schwalm said so few enterprises exist in the region that there is no well-established rate. He charged $400.

Maryland-based Eco-Goats was for several years the only company available, but increasingly throughout the country, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forestry Service, municipalities, institutions, nonprofits and landowners have hired goats to control overgrowth.

Ms. Pavlik lived among farm animals when she served in the Peace Corps in Zambia and established bees and chickens on her property in Allentown when she returned.

She said Tree Pittsburgh’s Polish Hill event last summer inspired her to go into the goat business.

“I hope to start with around 10, possibly increasing that to 20 the next year,” she said.

Using goats for weed control eliminates the need for pesticides. Goats fertilize the soil as they work and mash seeds they eat, making them non-viable for future growth when they defecate. And they safely eat poison ivy.

A local group that includes the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the Allegheny County Conservation District, Tree Pittsburgh, Grow Pittsburgh and the city itself is discussing the logistics of using goats for hire in the city.

The Polish Hill event last summer “was a sort of test,” Mr. Dash said. “We want to see if it’s something we could replicate. It’s a great idea. We just need to manage liabilities.”

Jake Milofsky, Tree Pittsburgh’s tree care and restoration coordinator, said a makeshift solution is “to treat goats as if they are a volunteer group and submit paperwork to the city just as when we do a volunteer clean-up project. That places the responsibility on us.”

Tree Pittsburgh is joining with the parks conservancy and Mount Washington Community Development Corp. in seeking a $10,000 grant from the Allegheny County Conservation District to use Steel City Grazers’ goats, said Scott Roller, a spokesman for the conservancy.

One project would be to return to the site in Polish Hill, a hillside along Brereton Street, to continue a native tree restoration project.

Katherine Hunninen, Mount Washington’s director of park development and conservation, said she has some priority restoration sites identified in Emerald View Park.

Before bringing goats to the neighborhood, she said, “we will have public sessions to make sure everyone is aware what’s going on.”
Jake Baechle, volunteer coordinator for the parks conservancy, said goats would be ideal to use near reservoirs.

“We can’t use chemicals that close to public water,” he said. “There are other areas that need persistent management of invasive plants, including areas of poison ivy.”

“It’s fantastic that Carrie is taking this on,” Mr. Milofsky said. “The big question mark for us has been, ‘Where we are going to get goats?'”

For more information about Ms. Pavlik’s business, visit www.steelcitygrazers.com. The fund-raising campaign is at indiegogo.com/projects/pittsburgh-goat-grazing-company.

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