New York’s Prospect Park has a new addition: a herd of eight goats introduced to remove invasive weeds – a sustainable alternative to herbicides and machinery.
New Yorkers relaxing in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park may be surprised to hear the distant bleating of goats in this popular green space, but it’s not a trick of the imagination.
Over summer, a herd of goats got busy eating its way through weeds in the north-eastern area of the park; the invasive species had proliferated since the original woodlands were damaged by storms.
It may seem a curious addition to the park’s wildlife, but goats provide a sustainable alternative to herbicides and machinery when it comes to weed removal. With its four stomachs, a goat can consume 25 percent of its bodyweight in vegetation every day – and it can also access places a human can’t.
“The area’s steep hillsides present unique challenges for staff and machinery, but are easily accessible to goats,” says Christian Zimmerman, Prospect Park Alliance Vice President of Capital and Landscape Management.
“Once their work is complete, we will plant new native trees and shrubs, including red and white oaks, spicebush and service berry, which will help to bring back important habitats for birds and other wildlife.”
It was Ann and Larry Cihanek from Rhinebeck in Upstate New York who provided Prospect Park with its new goats. For the past ten years, they’ve been running an outfit called Green Goats, using the animals to restore landscapes.
The idea is simple: Goats spend all summer eating their way through all the invasive vegetation. They’re so effective because they devour the weeds down to their roots and then eat the new shoots, so the plants run out of energy to grow back at all.
“Using goats is good for the soil, for the park attendants, and for the goats,” says Larry Cihanek from his farm in Rhinebeck. “Prospect Park is one of the most recent parks we’re working with. It’s the most urban of all the locations. Usually, the number of park visitors averages a 20 percent rise when there are goats – Prospect Park is far exceeding this number.”
Prospect Park is Green Goats’ most high-profile project to date. Cihanek says he’s received interest from Japan and the UK and is looking forward to spreading the idea across the world. Currently, Green Goats only operates in the US.
Cihanek hasn’t always been a farmer – originally from Manhattan, he spent 42 years in the advertising industry before moving to the countryside.
The idea to put their goats to environmental work was sparked by an e-mail from managers at Fort Wadsworth Park in Staten Island. “The park was overrun by trees and the staff wouldn’t cut them down because of the poison ivy and thorns,” Cihanek recalls. “They had the idea to get some goats in and sent an e-mail to 400 goat owners. Only eight of these responded – and the other seven said it couldn’t be done. Goats were used to this work in the old days, so we decided to give it a go.”
The plan is working – each year, Green Goats has doubled the number of parks visited by their animals. This has caused the herd to grow substantially – the Cihaneks now own 170 goats with a view to expanding this number to 400 in three years’ time.
Now, during the off-season, the goats are back in Rhinebeck. It’s a time the Cihaneks enjoy. “Goats are more like dogs than any other animal. They know their names, come when you call them, have a favorite place to be scratched … They’re clever and smart – really neat animals,” Larry Cihanek points out. “I had a good time in advertising, but now I’m doing something good for people, goats, and the earth. It’s a win-win-win situation. One acre at a time.”