Visitors to the Walkway over the Hudson expect to see many things when taking their stroll: beautiful vistas, the City of Poughkeepsie, historic mansions along the riverbank. They probably aren’t expecting a small herd of goats underneath the bridge. Yet, as of Tuesday, July 13, those animals are calling the Walkway home.
The dozen four-legged creatures belong to Green Goats, a Rhinebeck-based invasive species management company that has been helping large, public properties eliminate unwanted plants for nine summers.
“Goats easily get rid of vegetation in places where you can’t use machines, like very steep slopes and rocky ground,” says Larry Cihanek, who owns Green Goats with his wife, Ann. “They also eat invasive species that kill the native plants.” And they can eat a lot — close to 30 pounds a day. More environmentally friendly than pesticides, Cihanek says hungry goats are also much more effective at keeping unwanted plants from re-growing.
The goats’ workspace doubles as a zoo for passerby. At right: Bo Peep is a bit too small to work just yet. (Green Goats takes kid labor very seriously)
The New York State Bridge Authority (NYSBA) — the organization that owns the land on which the Walkway stands — recruited the furry weed whackers, who have taken up residence under the bridge on the Poughkeepsie side for the summer. It is reported that the goats will save the NYSBA close to half the money they had previously spent paying employees to keep up the land. Those workers haven’t lost their jobs: They now work in other places that are free of poison ivy, which caused a problem for them in previous years.
Cihanek says not to worry about the itchy plant bothering the goats. “For some reason, their favorite food is poison ivy. And anything with thorns. Everything people don’t want, they like.” They also have more shade and shelter under the Walkway than they normally do with just trees in pastures. “We treat them like pets but in reality they’re livestock. They can take basically any weather unless it’s really, really inclement,” Cihanek says.
Green Goats suffered a devastating fire back in February, which decimated their entire herd. “That was the worst day of my life,” Cihanek recalls. “Goats are affectionate animals. It was like losing 100 dogs at once.” But in just three months, thanks to a bevy of generous donations, the company replenished the herd. Cihanek estimates they will have close to 150 four-legged friends by the time the summer ends.
In addition to the Walkway, goats also maintain local properties at Marist and Vassar Colleges, and have been at Vanderbilt Mansion in the past. Green Goats also has working goats in Staten Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Property owners check the animals daily and provide water, and a Green Goats representative monitors each group weekly.
Wherever they go, Cihanek says, the goats are welcomed by the community, especially with kids. “I’ve talked to neighbors who live next to the Walkway property, and they’re delighted. They think the goats are cute — the goats really are cute as hell — and they like to have the land next to their homes kept up better.”
And it sure beats being blasted awake by a lawnmower in the mornings.
Find more information about Green Goats by visiting www.green-goats.com.