Detroit officials may collaborate with goats to solve landscaping issues

Sep 25, 2013

When things get tough, Detroit City Councilman James Tate digs deeper.

He (at the suggestions of residents) might have a way to maintain Detroit's miles of vacant lots. 

At tomorrow's city council meeting, he'll talk about the possibility of allowing goats and sheep to graze on tall grasses. 

According to MLive, Tate is bringing in a grazing expert to speak at the meeting. 

"Urban cities are doing this all across the country and having absolutely no issues, whatsoever," Tate said. Allowing the animals into neighborhoods could require changes to the city's urban agriculture ordinance.

Chicago recently used goats (some of whom are named Cream Puff, Orca, and Nugget) to clear invasive plants from a park. 

The grazing expert, according to MLive, was also involved in a similar livestock endeavor in Cleveland. The Cleveland project used sheep -- and one llama -- to maintain a vacant lot. The project received a $2,000 grant from Charter One's Growing Communities program. 

In 2012, the Growing Communities Program awarded about $100,000 in grants to Detroit's farmers markets and urban farmers. 

Livestock can't be underestimated.

Goats are practical.

In 2008, the Environment Report's Rebecca Williams featured a farmer who used baby pigs to help take care of a beetle problem in his apple orchard. They ate fallen apples with beetle larvae so the worms couldn't spread to other parts of the orchard.  He preferred to use baby pigs because they have tender noses. 

Lambs are used to maintain vineyards, too. Joyce Krszak reported in 2009 that a southern Ontario winery used lambs to prune grape vines.  The owners, David Johnson and Louise Engel, despite being skeptical at first, said it worked.

Only a targeted area of leaves is removed from the lower part of the vines to help the fruit grow better.

But Engel and Johnson say the lambs are perfectly designed to handle the job. The young, spring lambs aren't tall enough and their necks can't stretch up to reach the grapes. And, since they only weigh about 50 pounds, they don't trample the soil. And, yes, their droppings do make excellent organic fertilizer. 

Organic fertilizer would be a great bonus to razed city blocks in Detroit.

Essentially, goats may be the future.

-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom