Green Goats Organic Mowing Service

New York-based company Green Goats clears acres of brush on delicate and historic sites with the help of 180 caprine employees.

Photo by Larry Cihanek

When Larry Cihanek decided to retire from his 42-year career at a New York City advertising firm, he had a pastoral vision for retirement: He and his wife, Ann, would buy a rural property north of the city, purchase a few dairy goats, and settle into their new life as goat’s milk cheesemakers. They found the land and got the goats, but before their dream could be fully realized, a former military fort on New York’s Staten Island issued a call for ruminant grazing services that put Larry and Ann on a chèvre-less course that continues to this day.

Fort Wadsworth is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, and, prior to its closure in 1994, was the longest-garrisoned military installation in the country. “In 2007, they sent 400 emails out to every goat owner within 100 miles to ask if someone, anyone, would bring in goats to clear an overgrown Civil War gun battery,” Larry says. Only eight goatherds responded, and seven said it couldn’t be done — but Larry and Ann were up for a challenge. They added five more goats to their existing herd of two (affectionately named Curry and Stew) and launched a business called Green Goats, which fulfilled the contract and has returned to the fort every year since.

"Retired" goats live the good life with the Cihaneks.

Photo by Larry Cihanek

Why Clear Land with Goats?

Grazing goats serve several niche markets nationwide, including the clearing of land that’s sensitive to disturbance or difficult to reach with machinery. Following the goats’ success clearing Fort Wadsworth, Larry and Ann contracted with the Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery, which is one of the oldest cemeteries in the United States and the resting place for thousands of Revolutionary War and Civil War soldiers. “The ground is unlevel; some gravestones are up, some are down,” Larry says. But, unlike machines, goats expertly handle varied topography and delicate historic sites. Larry explains that in addition, cemeteries offering natural burials are growing in popularity and often stipulate that no motorized maintenance equipment can be used. For years, this meant hand-picking vegetation around gravestones — now, it means deploying grazing goats.

The Cihaneks at Green Goats' first job site.

Photo by Larry Cihanek

In other cases, goats can reach areas that are dangerous for people. At the Walkway Over the Hudson, a historic railroad trestle that’s now the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, poison ivy and thorny bushes proliferate in the fenced-off areas where trestle extensions hit the ground. Before Green Goats took the job, human workers attempting to clear the unwanted plants were routinely sent to the hospital with severe poison ivy rashes. “The goats go in and love the ivy,” Larry says. “And they aren’t held back by unions.”

Goats pose at the Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery.

Photo by Larry Cihanek

In addition to ivy, goats are adept at removing wild roses, invasive Phragmites reeds, Japanese knotweed, porcelain berry, kudzu, autumn olive, oriental bittersweet, tree of heaven, and just about every other unwanted or invasive plant. Compared with land cleared by mechanical mowing equipment, property cleared by Green Goats’ services gains a boost to biodiversity. One university client documented three species of plants before grazing one test location. The goats swept through, removing the dominant plant, and 10 species grew back. Fossil-fueled machinery tends to scare away wildlife, and Larry has noticed many birds nesting on properties that switch from mowing to grazing.

A huge barn and sprawling pens allow plenty of space for off-duty goats to play and eat.

Photo by Larry Cihanek

Goats with Jobs

During the past 11 years, Green Goats has grown to 180 animals. New additions are often donated or rescued. Many come from dairy farms whose owners have few choices in retiring unproductive milkers beyond sending the animals to market for their meat. “But now, there’s a choice with us,” Larry says. “Our goats are just retired from their former jobs and taking up a new trade,” much like athletes who retire from play while young.

2/16/2019 11:48:13 AM

Great idea and article!



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