If you drove by the southeast corner of West Parker Road and Northline Drive during the early weeks of November, your eyes did not deceive you: yes, you did see a herd of goats eating grass down to the roots out of the storm water detention pond.
These approximately 150 furry friends are part of an innovative, eco-friendly pilot program by Houston Public Works to clear high weeds and grass around detention ponds with access issues or steep slopes. It’s being hailed as an alternative to city workers mowing and treating weeds with chemicals.
“This is a green opportunity to look at mowing, as well as ways to supplement the amazing work of our crews,” explained Veronica Davis, director of transportation and drainage operations, HPW. “We’re very excited about this pilot. The goats get to eat, so it really is a win-win for both.”
The department hired Rent-A-Ruminant Texas (Texas Goat Green Grazers LLC) to provide the herd to completely gnaw down the acreage of overgrown vegetation. The company raises and cares for the goats, and businesses and customers will hire them specifically to eat overgrown vegetation.
“The goats are a quiet, easy solution, said Kyle Carr, owner of Rent-A-Ruminant Texas along with his wife, Carolyn.
Davis said HPW launched the “goat program” in late October at the 2-acre detention pond to demonstrate the effectiveness of goats and to determine if stormwater quality will be impacted from goat droppings.
“Part of what we’re doing with this pilot program is collecting data because the goats poop, and we do have water quality that we need to maintain,” Davis said.
If successful, Davis said the samples would allow them to supplement city maintenance crews with the goats to help with managing the vegetation.
“Outside of detention ponds, we have a lot of channels that are challenging for us to get equipment into, or it’s not safe to send our employees. This opens up a lot of opportunities to incorporate goats into our programming,” she said.
The city maintains several facilities that provide drainage benefits to the entire city, including four retention ponds and off-road channels. Johana Clark, HPW senior assistant director, storm water operations, said they look for efficient, time and cost-effective solutions that at the same time do not have any negative impacts on the environment.
“This is one of the approaches that complements our maintenance duties,” she said.
Because of the size of the detention pond, it will take the goats about 10 days to eat 2.2 acres of land. Davis said another advantage of the goats is their saliva acts as a natural herbicide, so the vegetation should not grow back as quickly.
“We will be monitoring that after they finish chewing down to the roots,” she said.
Carr said their herd mainly consists of rescue and adoption goats. They also maintain a no slaughter policy.
“All of our goats in our herd have a name. This is the only job they do. They travel with us all over the state of Texas, grazing and clearing property, and they really get to do what they are designed to do,” he said.
“Especially where machines and man can’t go, that’s where the goats really like to go,” Carolyn Carr added.
The company has worked with the Houston Arboretum and used the herd to help maintain and manage the north and south Woodway ponds, the savannah and their coastal prairie.
“They were also targeting specific invasive species they were looking to get rid of, and we used the goats to mimic the application that was used back in the day when bison would come through the area. They were satisfied with the results,” Carr said.
Clark said using the herd to manage hard to get to vegetation is not expensive. Goat programs are used in several cities across the country and Canada. “It depends on the facility, access to the channels, magnitude of the vegetation, and the number of goats that will be in place,” she explained.
“The cost is very minimal compared to what we spend on personnel and machinery, as well as the environmental aspect, which is running less gas fuel. We want to be sure that we are moving toward a sustainable approach to maintenance control,” Clark said.
Davis said while there is a cost to the city, there is a major benefit as well.
“What this will allow if we can make this program work is we can use the goats to get to places where it’s hard for us to use equipment, freeing up our crews to do more mowing around the city, as well as being able to provide more to the citizens of Houston,” she said.
For Carr, watching the goats in action is another fun aspect to the job.
“They’re cute and fun to watch. We love answering questions and educating the public about the versatility of the goats, and they go places that we cannot. They kind of laugh at us when we try to go there,” he said.
Want to see the goats in action? Watch this HTV video.