Here is an article by The Almanac’s Harry Funk, about our invasive plants removal efforts using goats from Steel City Grazers. The goats will be in Bird Park until Sept. 26th, eating their way through vegetation that is preventing the woodland from renewing itself. After this is complete, members of the Conservancy will return to the area to remove remaining invasive species, and replant with native trees and seed the area with native grasses and wildflowers.
Photos by Chris Gregory Phillips
By Harry Funk
When it comes to animals eating plants in Mt. Lebanon, some are welcome guests.
They’re the nine goats plus one miniature donkey with a temporary home in Bird Park, helping to rid it of invasive species of plants.
“Wherever we bring them, they adapt very quickly,” Doug Placais said. “Their love in life is eating, so they’re well-suited to the task.”
He and his wife, Carrie Pavlik, recently formed a business called Steel City Grazers, which provides animals as an alternative to weed whackers.
“We’re sort of like an eco-friendly landscaping operation,” Placais explained. “Homeowners or businesses or nonprofits can bring us in, and we’ll set up a perimeter of fencing and bring our goats to eat invasive species, weeds, anything unwanted.”
That includes poison ivy, to which goats are impervious, but members of the Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy are not.
The nonprofit organization has been working with the municipal public works department on a program to clear invasive species out of local parks. That often involves volunteers pulling weeds by hand, a process that can take a lot of time, effort and potential exposure to urushiol, the substance that makes poison plants the bane of gardeners.
“Goats are great at that,” nature conservancy board member Janice Seigle said as she surveyed the animals work Monday. “They’ve really done a job on it, in just a few days.”
Wimpy, Favorite and the other goats – along with Hobo, the donkey – arrived Saturday at the behest of the nature conservancy.
“We like the eco-friendly, no-fuss option the grazing offers, and we’re hopeful this is a viable solution to a serious problem in our natural parks,” Tom Schevtchuk, the organization’s president, said.
The animals are contained by an electric fence, set up by Steel City Grazers, that is powered by an equally environmentally-friendly solar panel.
The idea for Steel City Grazers came from Pavlik’s Peace Corps stint in Zambia.
“Farming is a way of life there, and everybody has chickens and goats,” Placais said.
The Pittsburgh couple picked up on the concept when they returned home.
“After we got our two milk goats, people started jokingly asking, ‘I hear goats can eat poison ivy. Can you come and clear our backyard?’” Placais recalled. “We thought it was kind of an interesting concept, and we’d heard about it in California, they use it a lot to clear fire breaks and that sort of thing.”
Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy members heard about Steel City Grazers and invited the goats to gobble up unwanted vegetation.
“They’ll just come in and eat all that up,” Placais said. “And then, hopefully, they can do a native planting and wildflower blend that will shade out the weeds next year.”
Harry Funk has been a professional journalist in Western Pennsylvania for 30 years, working primarily for community-oriented newspapers. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.