Goats in Pittsburgh might not have been a common site in Pittsburgh a few decades ago, but the city has successfully reinvented itself from an industrial steel town into a vibrant center for technology and green living. With that transformation, urbanites like Carrie Pavlik and Doug Placais, have found a niche with urban farming. She’s the owner of Steel City Grazers, a goat landscaping business.
Why did you decide to expand your urban goat farm into a goat landscaping business?
We knew about goat landscaping and were interested in it, but our intrigue started to grow after Tree Pittsburgh, an urban forestry nonprofit, held a goat-grazing demonstration project in Pittsburgh a couple of years ago. They had to bring in an out-of-state goat grazer because no one was doing it locally. As excitement grew in the community, we realized that there really was a need in our region for this type of business. As the only urban goat keepers in the city at the time, it felt like the right move to make.
Who has used your service?
Anyone who would hire a conventional landscaper can hire goats: neighborhood associations, businesses and organizations, municipalities, parks, farms, homeowners associations, developers, public works, utilities, land banks, homeowners and renters, schools, community groups. We’ve had a lot of residential clients—people who just have overgrown backyards or hillsides. Last year, we also worked with Rivers of Steel, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Mount Lebanon Nature Conservancy. This year, we have some jobs lined up with Tree Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation.
How does goat grazing work?
Based off the size of the area to be grazed, we can give clients a rough estimate. Then we will then come see the site in person and schedule the job. Before the goats arrive, Steel City Grazers will clear a fence line and set up temporary electric fencing and a temporary shelter. (The electric fencing not only keeps the goats in, but it keeps predators out. The herd will also be accompanied by a livestock guardian donkey.) Then we can bring in the goats! The goats are on the job 24 hours a day. They rest and sleep when they choose to. Steel City Grazers staff check on the goats daily until the job is complete.
What advice would you give to a farmer considering goat landscaping as a business?
Unless you already have the equipment, animals, land and time, it’s not something to go into casually. You’ll really need to make the commitment, which involves establishing yourself as a business entity, getting insurance, developing a contract and understanding urban ordinances. We’ve faced challenges due to our climate (which makes the business seasonal) and our urban location (not as many large jobs and difficult to find a place to keep the goats when they’re not working).
Why use goats over traditional landscaping equipment?
Using goats to eat unwanted plants is a proven method for vegetation management. Goats love brush with a special preference for leaves and flowers, leaving targeted plants unable to photosynthesize or go to seed. The majority of seeds that do go through the goats’ digestive tract come out nonviable. For example, after using goats to graze, the New Jersey Division of Wildlife found an 85 percent reduction in common reed and a 75 percent increase in desired native species.
There are even more benefits to using goats for landscaping, though:
- They eliminate the need for herbicides.
- They can go where people and machinery can’t.
- They’re not afraid of thorny or itchy plants.
- They provide free fertilizer.
- They reduce the soil seed bank.
- They’re quieter than machinery.
- They reduce fossil-fuel use.
- They give us a chance to reconnect with nature in an urban setting.
- They help build. community.
- They’re excellent PR agents.
- They’re definitely cuter than a weedwhacker!
Check out the Steel City Grazers website to learn more.